Architectural Design  

America's Vertical Future

When will the United States face the growing need for building skyward?
 The United States needs to get over its vertigo

Check out this feature in our beautifully-rendered April issue of Construction Digital, now live.

Written by Joe Cohen

The future is looking up – literally – when it comes to the future development of the United States. For too long the low slung suburban office parks with huge parking lots combined with single family home developments have been the model of growth in American metro areas. Funny how people then complain about a "lack of open space" when tens of thousands of acres could have been saved with five floor buildings utilizing underground parking or structures for vehicles in the San Diego metro area alone. 

What I notice in America lately is a lack of big ideas and inspiring projects. This could be due to a lack of economic growth and solid job creation. When I point to Melbourne and various Canadian cities as examples of what my native San Diego could be doing people say "it has to do with their natural resource booms and small populations." My question is how much longer can we continue to use that as an excuse?  

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After spending a year in Busan, South Korea's second city, I saw what it takes to keep a metro region thriving. I was astounded at the virtually endless amount of vertical housing developments constantly under construction. I understand that US cities will never take the same course of rapid housing growth in that exact fashion but why not try to meet the Koreans someplace in the middle? The bottom line is people will need a place to live. Not just children who were born in the last five or 10 years but the masses of 25 to 40 year olds now living at home with their parents. 


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In the San Diego Metro area alone, 7800 multi-family dwellings need to be built every year through 2050, according to a SANDAG study released two years ago. This amounts to 26 apartment towers of 300 units every year. Now we are starting to see a correlation between Busan and a US metro area, rapid building is needed in both places. The problem in most US metro areas is that NIMBYism runs rampant and no one wants to see a 25 floor apartment building constructed near their home. When will a fundamental shift in how Americans view our housing shortage and style of living occur?  Will the "my property values come first" way of looking at how our cities are shaped need to be laid to rest?  


In South Korea people think about the benefit of all when it comes to density and constructing world class cities. Toronto gets it, Melbourne gets it. Here in the US,a paradigm shift is needed in how we view vertical density in our communities. I believe that unless America starts thinking big again our metro areas will seem outdated when compared to countless other places around the world,which all seem to be rushing ahead with big projects in housing and transit infrastructure.

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