Do most Americans not want to live near tall buildings?

Here is an email I received from James Liu:

I think metropolitan geography was underdiscussed in the Amazon-NYC breakup. If you look at the Seattle, DC, and NYC areas, the main-city–secondary-city dynamic explains quite a bit.

Apparently, Americans don’t like living near tall buildings. In DC, the tall buildings were banished to the suburbs, and so it seems not unsuitable for a 25,000 person office campus to be built in Crystal City. In NYC, the tall buildings have been banished to Manhattan. When I lived in Brooklyn, they were planning the complex where the Nets would wind up. I watched a great deal of rage about plans to have 30-story buildings put up in downtown Brooklyn. This even though Brooklyn was a city of a million people but had fewer towers than, say, Milwaukee, or Jersey City, or take your pick. The argument was that tall buildings were appropriate for Manhattan, but not Brooklyn.

And in the Seattle metro, there is a cluster of tall buildings in Bellevue, just across a lake from Seattle, which is home to some tech firms (Zillow, Expedia, companies you’ve heard of). I don’t know how the city government was prevailed upon to allow it, but anyway it is there. I don’t think Amazon has much presence there, but Microsoft does, I think to compete with Amazon for transit-preferring workers. In some ways, Bellevue is like a bridge-and-tunnel borough more than it is like a suburb (Jersey City is a borough too, in that sense). Those who prefer to see it that way call Seattle the West Side and Bellevue (maybe Bellevue/Kirkland/Redmond) the East Side.

So it was not beyond imagining by a Seattle company that it was possible to build a tech campus in an outer borough. I don’t know how in the world NY’s city government would have imagined that such a thing was possible. Perhaps because De Blasio drives to work. A subway mayor like Bloomberg or Koch would have insisted on Hudson Yard. And New York would still have an HQ2.5. But that is another story for another email.


One other point of note: the Seattle-Bellevue light rail line will open in 2022: The Seattle area is suffering infrastructure cost disease and general slowness, but when the line opens the analogies will be even more apt.

Tall buildings were not banished to Manhattan.

Banished has a totally different meaning for this blogger. The attack on Amazon in New York was an anti-gentrification move. They didn't want wealthy people moving into the community, bidding up real estate, attracting new upscale businesses etc. The hight of the buildings was not the problem, the influx of wealth was. The current inhabitants did not see a transfer of wealth to them, they saw them being forced out. The same reason New Yorkers fights for rent control.

But the current residents could become servants to the rich Amazonians driving up housing costs. Think of all those new service jobs - dog whisperer, kitty cuddler, boot licker, etc ...

Thank you for so clearly stating the AOC view. Take from the rich give to the poor, punishing the rich is more important than growing the economy

The story looks more and more like the work of east coast unions that ultimately drove out Amazon. Hudson Yards isn't far enough to run away from that. But Amazon is no saint in this. Just because Bezos had Cuomo and de Blasio on speed dial he thought his Dem buddies would give away the community for nothing and keeping it all secret the whole time. Welcome to New York, Jeff, we know how to hustle and not be hustled. Also, I put Northam in the loser category for coughing up all those tax breaks for something that's not even HQ. There isn't enough black paint to cover the smug look on that guy's face. Might need a white sheet.

NYC offered $3 billion in incentives for 25,000 jobs, while VA offered $550 million for 25,000 jobs. I'm not sure how Virginia is the loser here.

Virginia is fine. I think Paul wanted to rant about as many Democrats as he could in one comment.

I'm old enough to remember when the left protested wars not jobs.

Bezos wanted to be close to DC to get all the political clout corporate welfare he'll need in the next few years. He should have been paying Virginia, not the other way around.

I put Northam in the loser category because he rambled on and on about keeping potential infanticide victims comfortable while their fate was being decided.

That right there was Yul Brynner level bad Pharaoh bad optics.

HIs medical license should have been pulled the next business day. That was Mengele level malpractice he was advocating there.

The StepanFetchit Klu Klux Klan pix from his medical school days were bad optics too.

He would have had to resign if his vice governor had not been credibly accused of multiple rapes.

One hopes they both repent.

By the way, from the purely intellectual point of view, if you are interested in how an intelligent person can completely fail to understand a moral issue, read poor Scott Adams on the Northam infanticide debacle.

The average person is not very bright, and the average very bright person is not very bright, and the most bright people are not very bright.

Sorry Scott ....

Adams is mostly just a troll (or at best, compulsive contrarian) now that he hasn't produced a decent Dilbert comic in 10 years. I widthdrew caring about his blog and tweets long, long ago.

Infanticide? Hahahaaaaaahaha.

As you may or may not know, the word homicide covers both justifiable and unjustified violent killings of human beings.

You owe an apology to the letters "h" and "a".

Even if you are a malicious AI, you owe those letters an apology.

And if you are a pal of Northam's, tell him that there is time for him to correct his error.

The poor little fellow actually advocated for the abolition of the distinction between killing viable babies and not taking heroic action to save babies who had no chance of living out the next few hours.

His medical license needs to be pulled, of course, but he is not a completely unsalvageable human being, and he may one day apologize for saying one of the most evil things that any American politician has ever said.

As for you, little bot, your apologies to the letters "H" and "A" will be a good beginning.

God loves us all, and all of us have made mistakes, with very few exceptions.

No offense to Mr. Liu but does he know NYC? LIC already has lots of tall buildings. So its very easy to imagine there are tall buildings there. Don't believe me?

Also, who are these New Yorkers allergic to tall buildings? That's like a Texan that hates BBQ. Or like Trump complaining the name on his buildings are too bright. More seriously, the spin on this whole thing is incredible. It has nothing to do with tall buildings (in NYC!) and everything to do with subsidies to the world's richest company owned by the world's richest man.

100% - this is an extremely strange reading. Even his take on Barclays Center is bizarre, which is today... surrounded by 30-story buildings.

Besides LIC, how does this theory explain Jersey City?

No offense taken. I probably don't know it as well as you.

None of those buildings there (or by Barclay center) are all that tall, nor are there all that many of them. Compared to other 2-million population cities, Brooklyn and Queens barely have tall buildings at all.

I simplified the story quite a bit. But I think it works well as a mental model. You're right about some of the details. We disagree somewhere in the middle, but I don't think we've said enough to make that disagreement explicit.

Jersey City. I suspect it has something to do with the state line. Queens and Brooklyn politicians don't have any incentive to steal jobs from Manhattan. They have the same set of laws, including the city income tax.

Barclays Center is literally attached to a 32-story residential building. Anyone who can look at this image ( -- note Barclays Center is the green-roofed building at the bottom -- and say that the problem is that Brooklynites writ large don't want to live near tall buildings is not worth taking seriously.

I think you also very much overstate the separateness of Brooklyn/Queens and Manhattan. I was born in Queens, lived for ~5 years in Brooklyn, and currently live in Manhattan. While there is certainly a lot of "borough pride" as a matter of aesthetics, and certainly parts of Queens are very different than say parts of Manhattan, it's all one city, and considered as such by the residents. (Yes I'm aware that people from the "outer boroughs" generally refer to Manhattan as "the city," but that's decreasing among the younger generations.)

"Brooklyn was a city of a million people"

When was this, please?

1890s, right before merging with NYC

Houston has clumps of high-rises right next to fairly upscale housing scattered around the city. It makes for very efficient commuting and doesn't seem to degrade the neighbourhoods at all. But these grew up concurrent with each other. Given that most people's wealth is in their house nearby development is risky for them, it might improve or it might make worse. Given loss aversion local home owners probably will resist nearby business development unless a clear win for them.

No offense, but the main story is NYC pols with good incomes screwing over poor NYC residents who would like to get jobs in NYC.

Little conspiracy theories about rich company owners are trivial compared to the fact that the NYC pols with good incomes just screwed over tens of thousands of people who wanted good jobs in NYC.

Nobody deserves a job. You earn one.

What are "poor NYC residents" going to do for work at ultra-high-tech Amazon? Tech 'talent', by definition, isn't poor

Why don't Red States make the mother of all offers to Amazon and become the headquarters to a top tech company?

One of the problems of having low taxes is that you can't offer a tax break as an incentive. This means you have to dip into the state coffers and offer upfront cash. One of the benefits of being a place young people want to move to is that you can charge more in taxes and only a few people will leave but the vast majority will stay. The moral of the story is make your place an attractive place to be and you will have much more leverage than if you just offered low taxes. Incentives matter, yes, but the right incentives matter more.

Note that NYC and NY state have negative rates of out-migration. NY state more so than any other state, in fact.

GE's move to Boston wasn't as rosy as they said it was gonna be. That plus the disaster with Foxconn makes New York's NO DEAL look impressive. Businesspeople lie about all the jobs they'll create and politicians lie about all revenue they'll make. Our elected leaders need to change their tact. People are harder to fool these days. No wonder they are angry.

James appears to be confused about Seattle/Amazon, all the Amazon buildings are in south lake union, Denny triangle, which is basically downtown Seattle. Zillow, Expedia, Redfin, tableau, Facebook and google are all in Seattle, downtown, Denny triangle and Fremont.

Haven't been to Seattle in a while, but Expedia's main building used to be in downtown Bellevue, and Google's main office used to be in Kirkland. Though I can understand why they would want to move to Seattle proper. Their typical employees (until they get families and want to buy houses) would much prefer living in Seattle than east of the lake. I know Microsoft used to arrange Wifi-enabled shuttles for many of their employees to come east to work on a daily basis.

Not confused. The point was that Amazon executives could look across the lake and see a thriving hub of tech offices in the outer borough.

Probably true, but most Americans probably wouldn't even have a choice.

1A) Tall buildings are usually commercial use and in areas with few housing units.
1B) Land use restrictions often segregate residential uses from all other uses aside from schools, parks, and churches.
2) Tall buildings are usually in expensive areas where most Americans would be priced out of housing.
3) Tall buildings are infrequent: the median American's municipality doesn't have any tall buildings.

This answer may best be found in the fields of environmental psychology and economics.

What is the psychological response to living adjacent to (or in) tall buildings? My guess is that there are higher rates of mental disorders in people who live in these environments.

From an economic standpoint, are housing prices higher in low rise areas when adjusted for distance from city center? My guess is that they would be lower as land is usually more expensive in high rise areas.

But the mainly-white coalition against Amazon in NY is the archetypal tall-building lover. The problem is that they believe in a stationary bandit-and-hostage model where they mega-tax finance, entertainment and tourism businesses exporting out of NYC to the rest of USA/world. That is not "scalable" for new businesses so they assume a normal tax rate is a giant subsidy.

Does this stuff just get plucked out of the air?

Brooklyn has had skyscrapers for 100 years.

In 2014, I considered buying a penthouse on a new building 600 feet tall, at that time, and very briefly, the tallest building in Brooklyn. But the views were not protected, and have since been chipped away by other towers.

Does it count if I got the basic intuition about where the tall buildings are by looking at these places from airplanes?

Also, in 2014, very briefly, the tallest building in Brooklyn was 600 feet tall. Therein lies my point!

Does DeBlasio drive to work? Isn't he driven to work (in the transportation sense)? At any he isn't mixing with the great unwashed proletariat.

I suspect the issue isn't tall buildings but the parking and traffic congestion they bring.

Absolutely right,although the view of the sky being blocked is an issue, too. Most people hate termite towers and prefer to live in savannah given a choice.

Another GPT-2 essay?

This just seems confused. There are lots of tall buildings in downtown Brooklyn, and a there has been a tall building construction boom going on there for some time.

Why doesn't a friendly hypsographic demographer show or tell us the altitudes at which New Yorkers reside? (That is: how many New Yorkers LIVE in tall buildings, presumably above the second or third floors?)

This explanation of whatever it is it is trying to explain does not make sense as a matter of fact since New Yorkers are willing to pay (a lot) more to live among tall buildings than to live in the outer boroughs -- so what is the basis for the predicate, that tall buildings have been "banished," etc. ?

I suspect it’s a matter of putting up with tall buildings, rather than preferring them.

Most would prefer to live in a single family home with adjacent green space and water, but will accept a tall buildings environment to get the collateral density and proximity benefits.

And yet they're building the tallest building in Brooklyn right now...

Two of the most heavily trafficked airports are in Queens, which probably makes tall buildings there impractical.

Also, Crystal City's buildings are not that tall. Rosslyn, just up the river, has much taller buildings.

Here in Los Angeles, where homeowners have walls around their backyards, I suspect that backyard nudism has traditionally been popular, especially among transplanted midWesterners (e.g., in 1934 Robert Heinlein of Missouri chose Hollywood as his new home when he was invalided out of the Navy). This helps make tall buildings in residential areas unpopular.

Bellevue, WA has had tall buildings since the late 1970s, and the zoning allowed it, and the city wanted to have a high-density downtown core. Tacoma wanted to have a vibrant downtown core like Seattle but they didn't have a retail/residential base to make it work.

I think Liu is wrong. By my calculations, demand for housing grew most in the densest neighborhoods from 2012 to 2018. And this was not merely a dead cat bounce; rent (and, obviously, density) was highest in those areas in 2012 to begin with. There are too few skyscraper neighborhoods in the US to be sure about how people feel about extremely tall buildings, but we can say at a minimum that the willingness to pay to live in multi-story neighborhoods is high and has been rising.

I've lived in Seattle for decades and never heard "West side" but then again I very nearly no time in Bellevue

de Blasio is an outer-borough mayor, from Brooklyn, whilst Bloomberg and Koch were Manhattan ones.

2. Downtown Brooklyn has been rezoned--partly to take advantage of massive transit infrastructure-- and at least a dozen new apartment towers have gone up in the past five years (while still no 30-story buildings around the Barclays basketball arena development).

Where Brooklyn has massive transit infrastructure, Long Island City has a dearth. Another oddity of this plan.

This is the very first time I've ever heard Bloomberg described as a "subway" mayor!

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