Short Changed

Cities have been grounded, observes Robin Hanson in a down-to-earth post on the subject. Given strong evidence of increasing returns to vertical development, up to 20-stories in Shanghai (and 40 in Hong Kong), it is immediately obvious that the world’s major metropolises are far more tightly earth-bound than direct economic calculation would predict. Super-tall construction is challenging, but high-rise building to a moderate altitude is not being inhibited by any easily-identified economic or technical factors.

After running through an impressive range of possible explanation for urban stunting, Hanson reaches the conclusion:

City density, and hence city size, is mainly limited by the abilities of the conflicting elements that influence local governments to coordinate to enable taller buildings. […] Remember those futurist images of dense tall cities scraping the skies? The engineers have done their job to make it possible. It is politics that isn’t yet up to the task.

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