Would a Skyscraper Save the City, If It Could?

I catch all my news nowadays on my Android phone, using the New York Times app. I get the headlines pretty quickly, and then it lets me actually read the full stories. It’s nice. Up until recently it was free for everyone. But recently they started charging – we still get it free since we are subscribers of the old-fashioned, stodgy, paper edition.

I read the news on the train. The train is a bad place for me to spend the first 1.5 hours of my morning, since I am alone with my self, and I get all sorts of new project and research thoughts brewing. Some of those thoughts are planted by a story I read in the Times that morning. Often I feel like I need to blog about some news item or other. And, being on an Android, I can do it right then. In my worser moments, that’s what I do. The result of that this week caused a flame war on my Facebook wall about bike lanes and bicycle advocacy. It was depressing. Because everyone knows the world needs more bike lanes, and that’s that. 😉 Luckily, very few of my Facebook friends read my blog!

Today, I decided to turn off the Times app, and read a “real” magazine – The Atlantic. After getting through a fascinating article about the U.S. Secret Service, I read a story about skyscrapers, and how they are supposed to be able to save cities: How Skyscrapers Can Save the City – Magazine – The Atlantic.

I thought the story was kind of ridiculous.

To me, the author went on and on. He talked so long about New York City that I began to wonder whether he would provide coverage of any other cities to support his points. (He eventually did.)

Also to me, the author kind of missed the point because he talked a lot about the efficiencies of providing more living and office space, but didn’t seem to realize how crowded the trains that get people to the dense areas of New York City already are. It seems obvious that the trains are the limiting factor in how much population and business New York can handle, and my own commuting experience shows me pretty clearly that we are already beyond the capacity that is good for anyone. Well, at least it’s not particularly good for me – the many thousands of others I see daily during my commute don’t seem to mind it too much, although most of them seem to spend the entire commute with a face on as if they are being chased by Godzilla. It’s depressing.

As the author went on, he eventually dinged Mumbai for having an average commute of 50 minutes, blaming it on their draconian building policies. Jeez – I wish I had an average 50 minute commute! I would be shocked if NYC’s average commute was less than 50 minutes. In any event, for the more than 10 years I lived in what I consider to be the average sorts of places that I might choose to live in New York City, my commute averaged one hour. Or more. And there’s a reason why years ago I set an internal policy to never commit to be anywhere (outside of short walking distance) in New York City in less than an hour’s time. Getting off work at 5pm and committing to a 5:30pm dinner is like telling your friend that you don’t care if you make it even close to on-time. In my humbled experience, that is…

So, who knows – maybe a skyscraper would have the good ethical sense to save the City, if it could. But I think it’s a little weird to believe that it can. 😦


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