GRDadof3

Should a city be judged by its tallest buildings...

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..or conversely, by how wide its highways are?

Asking this question in all seriousness, as I've gotten into some heated discussions about the "tallest buildings that a city has or has planned" in direct relation to its future prosperity, and even a city's  supply of super-wide freeways relating to its prosperity.  

I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this...

 

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53 minutes ago, GRDadof3 said:

..or conversely, by how wide its highways are?

Asking this question in all seriousness, as I've gotten into some heated discussions about the "tallest buildings that a city has or has planned" in direct relation to its future prosperity, and even a city's  supply of super-wide freeways relating to its prosperity.  

I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this...

 

No... its all about density. I dont care what a city looks like when im driving towards it. Im more concerned with the life at the street level.

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As much as I would like to see the GR skyline reach for the sky. I'd much rather see street life, walkability,  density, and anything that would encourage the people to gather. In short people before tallness.  

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32 minutes ago, joeDowntown said:

 I don't think so at all. While I think we often look at Chicago as an example of what a big city looks like, a lot of cities are not defined by large skyscrapers. The Washington DC area had skyscrapers (outside of DC proper), but isn't defined by it. LA isn't really defined by it's buildings (and I'd dare say the expressways are a negative). There are also a lot of cities that have large buildings, but don't have a vibrant downtown. Denver can be quite a ghost town at night (and actually, the areas in the city with smaller 1-4 story buildings have more night life). Dallas is like a vertical office park. Same with Houston. 

Even cities like London and Paris are not defined by their large buildings (people who haven't visited would probably be surprised they even have them). 

I think street level activity and a vibrant mix of residential, night life, restaurants, retail (though that is a bit tough anywhere these days) and other amenities are a bigger indicator. 

I used to spend a lot of time in downtown Denver for work, and it was pretty depressing at night, even though they had large buildings, stadiums,  etc. 

Joe

Agreed. I also think of Munich, Germany (pop. 1.5 million). The Munich skyline is dominated by bell towers. 

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I think we as an internet community are more in tuned to these things compared to the average citizen.   To be clear no I don't these are good metrics to judge a cities health.  

I can definitely say when I am on a road trip and passing through a city I am not familiar with, the width of the freeways, along with the passing views of the downtown area  do play a part in my overall impression of the city.   A cities tallest building alone doesn't impress me.   If you've ever driven through Oklahoma City and seen the sheer dominance of the Devon Tower, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that the entire state of Oklahoma suffers from a Napoleonic complex.  

I assume your arguments centers around GR's under built freeway network, and the inferiority complex that we don't have the lane miles metro areas 1/3rd our size do.   I do think the area image/impression to outsiders would benefit if the state of Michigan right sized the freeway network here.   I'm not saying the freeways should be widened so that GR feels bigger to outsiders, that's ridiculous.  They should be widened because they are literally carrying double the volume they were intended to.  A fringe benefit would be the optics :)

In terms of downtown I think GR punches above it's weight.  Once people actually get on our freeways and drive through the core they are typically impressed at the size and modern scope.   People who aren't city or architecture nerds have no concept of building height, and think places like Riverhouse and the AGP are twice as tall as they actually are.  

Volume of construction is a much better indicator of prosperity over a singular tall building.  What is the pro argument that a shiny new tall building =prosperity?  Does this stem from the Hinman Tower being cut down to size?  My issue with the Hinman Tower was that it was yet another tall building residential in nature.   Grand Rapids hasn't had an office building of significance built since 1992.   I'd get more excited if an  office building or two (400ft+)  were going up downtown.  If there were demand for that , I think it would say a lot more about the prosperity of the city over one singular apartment tower in an over built market.   The only way that would happen is if we were to snag corporate relocation for downtown.  I have no faith that will happen in my lifetime. 

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9 hours ago, tamias6 said:

As much as I would like to see the GR skyline reach for the sky. I'd much rather see street life, walkability,  density, and anything that would encourage the people to gather. In short people before tallness.  

More people will mean more density eventually, which will mean more demand for height, right?

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2 hours ago, ironyisadeadscene said:

More people will mean more density eventually, which will mean more demand for height, right?

 New York City is a good example. Building height has been prompted by density and the subsiquent high cost of real estate especially in Manhaten. Tall buildings give more bang per buck than low rise structures. However note that there are exceptions. Washington DC is a densely populated city. However due to building codes strictly limiting building height there are no epic skyscrapers despite the demand being their for them to sprout up. Then there are European Cities most of which are low raise but still dense.

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2 hours ago, ironyisadeadscene said:

More people will mean more density eventually, which will mean more demand for height, right?

Not necessarily. Look at Metro Detroit. Sure, Detroit has some tall buildings, but many were built just prior to the Great Depression. The advent of the automobile meant (and still means) that people can spread waaaay out and maintain a uniformly low-rise building style. I think more people --> higher density --> taller buildings will arise out of economic and environmental need. The surge in urbanism helps, too. :)

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18 minutes ago, 54equalsunity said:

Not necessarily. Look at Metro Detroit. Sure, Detroit has some tall buildings, but many were built just prior to the Great Depression. The advent of the automobile meant (and still means) that people can spread waaaay out and maintain a uniformly low-rise building style. I think more people --> higher density --> taller buildings will arise out of economic and environmental need. The surge in urbanism helps, too. :)

Well respectfully I'm not sure I agree with your post.   Detroit has actually lost 2/3rds of it's population since it's skyline last matured, that's less people, less density.   Per the post you were responding to, if more people move in to city it will by definition be more dense, automobiles or no.  Especially in a city like Grand Rapids that is essentially built out with no room to annex.   There's no where to go but up.

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14 minutes ago, MJLO said:

Well respectfully I'm not sure I agree with your post.   Detroit has actually lost 2/3rds of it's population since it's skyline last matured, that's less people, less density.   Per the post you were responding to, if more people move in to city it will by definition be more dense, automobiles or no.  Especially in a city like Grand Rapids that is essentially built out with no room to annex.   There's no where to go but up.

You're right, Detroit is a bad example. I was just casting about for a large metro area to try and make my point. When it comes to GR, I was also thinking more about the metro area than the city itself. I know the entire area, including GR proper, is growing, but as evidenced by the real estate market it's a lot cheaper to live in the metro and drive (hence spurring suburban development) than it is to try and accommodate oneself in the city (YMMV, of course).  You are right to point out that GR will become more dense and tall as time passes just because there is no choice. However, there is a lot of a room on the fringes and as long as there remains room a substantial portion of the population will continue to sprawl outward instead of concentrating all that potential density into the city itself, thus driving up height at a slower rate than would be expected otherwise.

By no means do I think GR will continue to remain a city defined by low-rises. I think the point I am trying to get at by rambling along here is that I think that in the case of GR it's difficult to judge the city's success based on its height due to the suburban growth pattern that is so easy to build out around the edges.

Of course, all of thisis just pure speculation based on the little bits and pieces I read and observe about the area. I'm probably wrong. Just enjoying the discussion. 

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I would say that the height of the buildings may not be important but the quality of the architecture is.  London was mentioned earlier by someone.  While London may not have supertall skyscrapers, the do have some iconic buildings - both old and new.  The Grand Rapids dedication to the the dual disciplines of homogeneity and value-engineering means we haven't seen much in the way of really interesting architecture since Van Andel Institute and Devos Children's Hospital were built.

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9 hours ago, MJLO said:

I think we as an internet community are more in tuned to these things compared to the average citizen.   To be clear no I don't these are good metrics to judge a cities health.  

I can definitely say when I am on a road trip and passing through a city I am not familiar with, the width of the freeways, along with the passing views of the downtown area  do play a part in my overall impression of the city.   A cities tallest building alone doesn't impress me.   If you've ever driven through Oklahoma City and seen the sheer dominance of the Devon Tower, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that the entire state of Oklahoma suffers from a Napoleonic complex.  

I assume your arguments centers around GR's under built freeway network, and the inferiority complex that we don't have the lane miles metro areas 1/3rd our size do.   I do think the area image/impression to outsiders would benefit if the state of Michigan right sized the freeway network here.   I'm not saying the freeways should be widened so that GR feels bigger to outsiders, that's ridiculous.  They should be widened because they are literally carrying double the volume they were intended to.  A fringe benefit would be the optics :)

In terms of downtown I think GR punches above it's weight.  Once people actually get on our freeways and drive through the core they are typically impressed at the size and modern scope.   People who aren't city or architecture nerds have no concept of building height, and think places like Riverhouse and the AGP are twice as tall as they actually are.  

Volume of construction is a much better indicator of prosperity over a singular tall building.  What is the pro argument that a shiny new tall building =prosperity?  Does this stem from the Hinman Tower being cut down to size?  My issue with the Hinman Tower was that it was yet another tall building residential in nature.   Grand Rapids hasn't had an office building of significance built since 1992.   I'd get more excited if an  office building or two (400ft+)  were going up downtown.  If there were demand for that , I think it would say a lot more about the prosperity of the city over one singular apartment tower in an over built market.   The only way that would happen is if we were to snag corporate relocation for downtown.  I have no faith that will happen in my lifetime. 

I do judge a city I've never been to before by its skyscrapers and its highways (confession). Not necessarily how wide the highways are, but how modern and "pretty" they are. :) I noticed in Denver that many of the bridges and sound barrier walls are very decorative. They were also adding/upgrading a non-motorized path along 470 in the midst of a huge expansion project.  And the practice of putting giant landscaped signs along the highway when you come into a new suburban city is something you just don't see in Michigan very much (at all).  "Welcome to Grand Rapids" would be cool to see near the I-196/96 junction for instance.  

As Joe said though, most downtown areas where the skyscrapers are tend to empty out after 5:30. 

If 201 Market happens as it was presented along with the restoration of the rapids, anything beyond that would be icing on the cake for me. I'd be all set. 

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For me, I just like tall buildings.  Of course something like the 800 foot Hudson block would look crazy in GR, but I feel like all of these 12 story developments and just kind of due to a small town mentality.  Warner Tower for example, why not stack the two buildings and have an empty lot of future development?  Would it really have cost any more?

As for our highways, I feel like we get stiffed and infrastructure money goes to the east side.  A lot of highways haven't been widened since they were built and traffic is a mess on a lot of roads, East Beltline being a prime example.  With the amount the Metro GR is growing it seems like most projects are too little too late.

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Colorado's taxes are also higher than MI, by about 10% compared to MI when I lived out there.  I didn't care, because almost everything was nicer.  People in MI still complain about high taxes and how they need to be lower.  Colorado also allows counties and municipalities to add to the sales tax, so in one town the sales tax could be totally different from the other.  It works out great for the resort towns and they invest it all back in the communities.  We used to have free public transits and most roads would be upgraded every year.

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13 minutes ago, Floyd_Z said:

Colorado's taxes are also higher than MI, by about 10% compared to MI when I lived out there.  I didn't care, because almost everything was nicer.  People in MI still complain about high taxes and how they need to be lower.  Colorado also allows counties and municipalities to add to the sales tax, so in one town the sales tax could be totally different from the other.  It works out great for the resort towns and they invest it all back in the communities.  We used to have free public transits and most roads would be upgraded every year.

I have read that the Colorado Department of Transportation is a wreck though, financially.  

But everything else you said I agree with.  The one section of I-196 that they rebuilt is about the only nice stretch of highway we seem to have, that is up to "modern" status in my opinion.  131 is abysmal for getting 120 - 150,000 cars a day in the peak areas. 

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18 hours ago, wingbert said:

I would say that the height of the buildings may not be important but the quality of the architecture is.  London was mentioned earlier by someone.  While London may not have supertall skyscrapers, the do have some iconic buildings - both old and new.  The Grand Rapids dedication to the the dual disciplines of homogeneity and value-engineering means we haven't seen much in the way of really interesting architecture since Van Andel Institute and Devos Children's Hospital were built.

Two counterpoints to the London discussion. one, a lot of buildings in London are older than our country. So quality of buildings/building materials is not apples to apples. Also, London DOES have plenty of beautiful skyscrapers. Buildings in “the city” (financial district) like the Gerkin, etc. Canary Wharf is basically like a mini Chicago, etc. But most outsiders think Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, tower bridge. So tall buildings don’t define the city, even though they are present. Same with Paris. Same with the surrounding areas of DC. 

Joe

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Should and do are different things and comparing cities not in this country is apples to oranges. To your average joe they compare by those things and GR has a smaller than avg skyline for a metro area of over a million and about the narrowest highway infastructure possible. Most people would be shocked to hear there are a million ppl in the area. It’s on a peninsula so far less passgheough traffic than most areas but could still use wider freeways in many areas. Des Moines is always a good comparison and has more and taller buildings along with similar density and street life with wider highways most people will assume it’s a larger area and yet it’s about 2/3 the size metro area.

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Agreed. To add to that, while I like a good skyline and tall buildings some of the areas with the tallest buildings in my favorite cities are the areas with my least interest. Sometimes those areas seem stale while the say meatpacking district and greenwich village's (NY) seems lively. 

At the risk of sounding too hipster; I'm just glad our downtown isn't filled with a lineup of ordinary corporate chain restaurants and the Disney/Cheesecake Factory vibes. Hold out GR hold out 

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131 is a cluster and embarrassment.  As far as building height would it hurt to build a few topping 20 stories at least?  Sure, demand needs to precede construction but yes, people DO judge the health of a city by its taller buildings which act as economic landmarks.  The squat nature of downtown conveys a picture of either a place prepared for the next tornado or a modestly successful,  conservative Midwest city which isn't far from the truth despite the ongoing eyesore known as the Keeler building.  

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8 minutes ago, arcturus said:

despite the ongoing eyesore known as the Keeler building

Was with you until that last statement. Why does everyone seem to hate that building with a burning passion?

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1 hour ago, arcturus said:

131 is a cluster and embarrassment.  As far as building height would it hurt to build a few topping 20 stories at least?  Sure, demand needs to precede construction but yes, people DO judge the health of a city by its taller buildings which act as economic landmarks.  The squat nature of downtown conveys a picture of either a place prepared for the next tornado or a modestly successful,  conservative Midwest city which isn't far from the truth despite the ongoing eyesore known as the Keeler building.  

The problem with this premise though is that if it's important to have a few buildings that go up higher than 20 stories, then the city is stuck at an impasse. They certainly don't restrict building heights in the core and even provide tax incentives, TIF and brownfield to help with these projects. So it's completely reliant on the marketplace and developers/lenders willing to stick their necks out.

I guess the city could provide a "vision" of building heights they'd like to see but it seems like the city currently is more interested in ground level amenities (parks, riverfront, bike lanes, etc.) and working on social issues.  Grand Action is not around anymore to help provide vision for initiatives like that. The only project that could encourage this is the new convention center hotel. 

Dan Gilbert's name gets thrown around a lot for what he has done in Detroit. But that downtown was in serious need of a "rescue" with 80% of its downtown buildings vacant and derelict less than 10 years ago. GR is certainly not in need of a rescue. Do we have a GR "Dan Gilbert?" Do we need one? 

The only other option is if a local company decided to make a "statement" about GR's prosperity by building downtown (as we've discussed many times here before). 

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16 minutes ago, GRDadof3 said:

The problem with this premise though is that if it's important to have a few buildings that go up higher than 20 stories, then the city is stuck at an impasse. They certainly don't restrict building heights in the core and even provide tax incentives, TIF and brownfield to help with these projects. So it's completely reliant on the marketplace and developers/lenders willing to stick their necks out.

I guess the city could provide a "vision" of building heights they'd like to see but it seems like the city currently is more interested in ground level amenities (parks, riverfront, bike lanes, etc.) and working on social issues.  Grand Action is not around anymore to help provide vision for initiatives like that. The only project that could encourage this is the new convention center hotel. 

Right, that's why I conditioned my statement that demand has to be there first.  With the vacuum left by Grand Action wouldn't this be an opportunity for The Right Place to step up to the plate?  This would seem to be a natural extension of what they're already doing and their mission according to their web site includes this statement: 'We work side-by-side with you, coordinating state and local resources to support your growth, lowering your business risk in the creation of new job and capital investment in West Michigan.'

You would think with the composition of their current board they should be up to the task.   https://www.rightplace.org/about-us/board-of-directors

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1 minute ago, arcturus said:

Right, that's why I conditioned my statement that demand has to be there first.  With the vacuum left by Grand Action wouldn't this be an opportunity for The Right Place to step up to the plate?  This would seem to be a natural extension of what they're already doing and their mission according to their web site includes this statement: 'We work side-by-side with you, coordinating state and local resources to support your growth, lowering your business risk in the creation of new job and capital investment in West Michigan.'

You would think with the composition of their current board they should be up to the task.   https://www.rightplace.org/about-us/board-of-directors

Currently the Right Place does not focus on downtown, since most of its members and the source of most of its funds comes from employers OUTSIDE of downtown. That's what they told me once (about 10 years ago, not sure if things have changed). If you look at their press releases and what projects they lend support to, they are mostly manufacturing and mostly suburban. 

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