Schleicher: Questions for Defenders of DC's Height Limit

In an op-ed appearing in The Atlantic Cities, Professor David Schleicher considers the effect of the District of Columbia's Height of Buildings Act as a factor in the city's extremely high cost of office and living space.

The Act, imposed by Congress in 1910, limits all building heights in the District based on the width of the street they are on, with caps set at 90, 130, and 160 feet, with the latter allowed only in a very few places. 

"As D.C.'s economy has boomed in recent years, the Height Act has helped make it one of the most expensive cities in this country," explains Schleicher. "Office space in downtown D.C. is more expensive than in New York's financial district, and 850 square-foot apartments in Anacostia, one of the cheapest areas in the city, now rent for $1300 a month."

Schleicher poses six questions to proponents of the Height Act, ultimately asking the central question, "At what point would the value of keeping the aesthetic become too costly?"

Six Questions for Defenders of D.C's Height Limit, The Atlantic Cities, November 27, 2012. By David Schleicher.

"Many pro-Height Act arguments work from the premise that if the Act was repealed, D.C. would end up looking like Shanghai or New York. (As a native New Yorker, it’s hard for me to understand why this is a bad thing -- would Woody Allen have been able to romanticize "Foggy Bottom" the way he does Manhattan?) Except the D.C. government would still have the power to restrict heights. Repeal would merely allow the city government to permit higher buildings. There’s no reason to believe the next step would be a concrete jungle."