The Iconic Skyline

The skyline of Omaha, NE taken from atop the downtown Qwest Center.

Often, our cities are measured on how many skyscrapers that they have.  The theory is that if a city has a beautiful skyline of large skyscrapers, it is a successful place and a successful downtown.  There is some merit to this theory, a successful city and downtown certainly attracts companies that demand the skyscraper (banks are the predominant leader).  So is it the inclusion of the skyscraper that makes a downtown successful, or is the success of the downtown that attracts the skyscraper?  Many of our major cities in the United States were built dense before technology allowed skyscrapers, but imagine if the technology were there before the city.  New York City, Chicago, etc. may be much different places than they are today.  Would we have the quaint villages and unique neighborhoods in these great cities or would have the density from places like Greenwich Village have been absorbed into other parts of the city?

This photo was taken in Boulder at the CNU Award winning Eighth and Pearl Project.

What is more important for a mid-major city, an iconic skyline with a few 20-30 story buildings in the core, or a continuous streetwall without parking lot interruptions?  It has been observed in multiple cities across the world (great examples in Europe, Barcelona, Rome, fill in the blank) that the first thirty vertical feet of building façade are the most important in place making (depending on width of right-of-way/horizontal distance between buildings).  Skyscrapers certainly have their appeal in a city, especially when there is a major company coming to a city demanding one. But if a city were asked to build it for a company to come to the city on a “build it and they will come” situation, I would prefer to have several two to six-story buildings creating the necessary streetwall than one skyscraper that may or may not be occupied.

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