Jason M. Barr February 10, 2020
In 1956, Frank Lloyd Wright unveiled his design for a mile-high skyscraper (1.61 km)—The Illinois. Since then, the mile-high has become the Holy Grail of skyscrapers. What are the key bottlenecks preventing its construction? One is the current elevator technology. The maglev MULTI elevator might pave the way for Wright’s vision to be realized. Read More »
Jason M. Barr January 14, 2020
Rent regulations and limits on new construction in New York City increase housing prices. This blog post discusses the relationship between housing vacancy and affordability. In short, more housing equals less expensive housing. Read More »
Jason M. Barr December 19, 2019
Skyscrapers are surrounded by fierce winds. This blog post discusses the economics of embedding wind turbines into skyscrapers, and some recent case studies. Read More »
Jason M. Barr November 18, 2019
Across U.S. cities, perhaps nothing is more controversial than the issue of gentrification. The post reviews some cutting-edge research to see what the data say about the impacts of gentrification on residents and their neighborhoods. Read More »
Jason M. Barr October 23, 2019
A skyscraper’s core–the non-income generating parts used for elevators, stairwells, and plant and equipment–can take up a significant portion of a building’s total area. As a result, developers are engaged in a kind of “space race” to shrink the core in order to increase the amount of usable (and “billable”) space. This blog post discusses the evolution of building core technology. Read More »
Jason M. Barr September 24, 2019
What came first: fast elevators or tall buildings? While we don’t know the answer to this chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, we can say that elevator speed and skyscraper height have a symbiotic relationship. This blog post chronicles the history of elevator speeds and the quest to deliver people higher into the air. Read More »
Jason M. Barr September 3, 2019
At the time of his death in 1848, John Jacob Astor, America’s first millionaire, was one of Manhattan’s largest landholders. While dying, he expressed regret that he hadn’t bought even more land. This blog post introduces a new price index, called the Astor Index. It compares the prices of vacant land to those with buildings. What does the index reveal about Manhattan’s real estate market? Read more to find out…. »
Jason M. Barr August 6, 2019
Why did Midtown Manhattan arise as the nation’s largest skyscraper district, and only three miles north of Downtown? The answer is not due to access to bedrock or because of Grand Central Station–these are just myths and misconceptions. This blog post chronicles the real reason for the birth of Midtown. Read More »
Jason M. Barr July 29, 2019
A popular anecdote says that the shape of the Manhattan skyline is due to the accessibility of bedrock in Downtown and Midtown, but not in between. This story is false. It is what I call the Bedrock Myth, and is a classic example of confusing correlation with causation. This post discusses the real reasons for Manhattan’s peculiar skyline. Read More »
Jason M. Barr July 16, 2019
How are the world’s tallest buildings able to stand up? This blog post discusses the evolution of skyscraper structural technology, which allow skyscrapers to keep getting taller and taller–and at lower costs. Read More »
Jason M. Barr July 1, 2019
In this Q&A interview (Part II), Professor Ingrid Gould Ellen of NYU offers her thoughts on housing affordability, climate change, and the future of cities. Read More »
Jason M. Barr June 17, 2019
In this Q&A interview (Part I), Professor Ingrid Gould Ellen of NYU offers her thoughts on housing affordability, gentrification, and urban policies. Read More »
Jason M. Barr June 4, 2019
What does it cost to build a skyscraper? The blog post reviews the economics of skyscraper supply. One of the reasons why we increasingly see supertalls in Asia is the because of cost of construction is so low there. So, what are the “costnomics” that generate building height? Read More »
Jason M. Barr May 16, 2019
The New York City transportation system has not grown in over half a century. Today, commuters are traveling on virtually the same roads as when Richard Nixon was president. New York’s transportation infrastructure was not built to accommodate the region’s current population; as a result, traffic congestion causes tremendous losses in time, productivity, and well-being. This blog post offers a plan to better use the current system we have to reduce commuting times and increase mobility. Read More »
Jason M. Barr April 30, 2019
Why is housing so expensive today? To answer this we need to go back to 1916, when New York City enacted the nation’s first comprehensive zoning ordinance. At the time, planners and city officials were attempting to impose order on a messy, congested city. But, unwittingly, they planted the seeds for today’s NIMBYism and housing affordability problems. Read More »
Jason M. Barr April 10, 2019
In 1916, New York City enacted the first comprehensive zoning ordinance in the United States, which established regulations on building height and bulk. One of the aims of the reformers was to de-densify the city. This post reviews the economics of population density and compares it with the thinking of the time. Much has changed in the last century, and we need to reconsider how the 1916 rules laid down the path on which we currently walk. Read More »
Jason M. Barr March 27, 2019
New York City’s giant Art Deco skyscrapers were the result of the 1916 New York City Zoning Resolution, which mandated that buildings be set back from the street as they rose taller, producing the so-called wedding cake style of architecture. This blog post discusses the history and thinking of the zoning reformers, who aimed to rein in the unregulated growth of a crowded metropolis. Read More »
Jason M. Barr March 13, 2019
Humans, like all biological life forms, need sunlight to survive. The paradox of cities is that they help improve our well-being, yet they can also have the negative consequence of putting us in shadows. The newly developing field of “shadowology” measures how much of cities are covered in shadows and their impacts on urban life. We can use this information to make our cities work more efficiently. Read More »
Jason M. Barr February 20, 2019
As we rush headlong into the quest for artificially intelligent machines, it might pay to take a step back and try to anticipate some of the unintended consequences of our actions. The original series of Star Trek did just that. The show suggests some problems that could befall humanity if machines learn to think. Read More »
Jason M. Barr February 5, 2019
Alain Bertaud argues in his masterful book, Order without Design, that city planners need to better understand economics in order to improve the well-being of cities. Read More »
Jason M. Barr January 21, 2019
Supertall skyscrapers are assumed to be driven by greed and ego. This blog post reviews the evidence for eight world-record-breaking buildings completed since 1930. The case studies demonstrate, however, that the reality is a bit more complex. Read More »
Jason M. Barr January 3, 2019
What drives the heights of the world’s tallest buildings? This post reviews some of the theories that may causes skyscrapers to be economically “too tall.” Some theories are “nefarious,” some are benign, while others are productive. Read More »
Jason M. Barr December 17, 2018
Many people look at skyscrapers around the world and conclude they are unnecessarily tall. This blog post discusses the economics of skyscraper height. Contrary to popular belief, most skyscrapers have a strong economic rational. Read More »
Jason M. Barr November 26, 2018
Technology can be used to improve the quality of life, but it can also exacerbate our tendencies for tribalism and division. In the future, will this technology be used to enhance the common good, or to push humans to turn on, and destroy, each other? Star Trek offers some lessons for a better future. Read More »
Jason M. Barr November 7, 2108
Since its inception in 1624, New York City has been home to countless strivers, who came to seek their fortunes. Yet, today, in the 21st century, the city’s expensive housing is acting as a barrier, keeping down it population and its economic growth. Read More »
Jason M. Barr October 19, 2018
Globalization offers the promise of prosperity for humanity. But technological innovations designed to increase economic growth and the quality of life are, for a growing segment of the American workforce, having the opposite effect. As a result, many are seeking comfort in tribe, as a backlash against the perceived unfairness of the rising global marketplace. Read More »
Jason M. Barr October 2, 2018
Throughout history, large urban fires, in cities like New York, Chicago, and Boston, were an ever-present fear and source of great suffering and damage. Recent research in economics, however, shows they had unintended benefits, and provides lessons for cities today. Read More »
Jason M. Barr September 12, 2018
In Part II of this two-part Q&A interview, Edward Glaeser, Harvard economist and author of Triumph of the City, offers his thoughts on skyscraper economics, urban growth, and the future of cities. Read More »
Jason M. Barr September 5, 2018
In Part I of this two-part Q&A interview, Edward Glaeser, Harvard economist and author of Triumph of the City, offers his thoughts on skyscraper economics, urban growth, and the future of cities. Read More »
Jason M. Barr August 23, 2018
In 1961, Jane Jacobs published her seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In it, she decries large-scale interventions by the government, and promotes small-scale ideas to create diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. This blog post argues, however, that truly implementing her ideas would require something of a revolution–a revolution that even her most devout followers would not be willing to do in today’s world. Her words are used to frequently justify actions that are the opposite of what she advocated for. Read More »
Jason M. Barr August 8, 2018
Today, Jane Jacobs is revered as the “Patron Saint of Livable Cities.” In her 1961 classic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, she provides the key ingredients for vibrant, safe, and diverse city neighborhoods. Yet, her economic philosophy appears to bear a strong resemblance to modern libertarianism. This blog post discusses in what ways her thinking is similar. Read More »
Jason M. Barr July 25, 2018
Glass covered skyscrapers are generally considered to be bad for cities (and are energy inefficient); yet their numbers around the world continue to increase. This has created the glass box paradox (or “parabox”): glass skyscrapers are good for their occupants, but are likely bad for urban life. This blog post discusses the reason for “parabox,” and how it might be resolved. Read More »
Jason M. Barr July 10, 2018
The Roaring Twenties remains a mythical time in American culture—an age of danger, of heroes, of unrestraint. During the period, Manhattan skyscrapers shot upwards to the heavens, and the world record for the tallest building was shattered three times in one year. From this, comes the belief that the rise of the skyline was due to the irrational euphoria of the age. This belief is wrong. Read More »
Jason M. Barr June 18, 2018
Have you heard the old joke about gravity—it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law! Ignore the law—say by jumping off a cliff in an attempt to fly—and suffer the consequences. The same can be said about supply and demand in economics—supply is not just a good idea, it’s the law. Evidently, when it comes to housing affordability, cities and nations world over are trying to ignore it at their own peril. Why is this so and what can be done about it? Read More »
Jason M. Barr May 31, 2018
What is the effect of building height and size on greenhouse gas emissions? Analyzing data provided by New York City, this blog post discusses how tall buildings impact CO2 production. Are skyscrapers better for the environment? Read More »
Jason M. Barr May 10, 2018
Critics of Manhattan’s new supertall buildings have a laundry list of complaints; one is that they are ugly and out of scale with their surroundings. Today’s beefs continue a 130-year tradition of grousing about skyscrapers. Some of New York’s most revered skyscrapers were originally reviled. Find out which ones. Read More »
Jason M. Barr April 10, 2018
Carbon Dioxide is the mother of all externalities. Most of us give little thought that every day we produce an odorless, invisible gas which is destabilizing the Earth’s climate. This blog post offers a politically feasible way for homeowners to begin paying for their carbon emissions based on how much they emit at home. Read More »
Jason M. Barr March 26, 2018
There are many local policies that cities and states can implement to increase happiness and well-being, such as improving urban transportation, promoting mixed-use neighborhoods, and redesigning streets and blocks to encourage walking and social interactions. These policies, however, are doomed to remain simply good ideas until cities can incentivizes residents to switch their positions from “Not in my backyard!” to “Yes!, in my backyard.” Read More »
Jason M. Barr March 8, 2018
Imagine that one day, walking through a crowded business district, you discover that you have a new power: you can see directly inside a skyscraper office building, as if one of the glass facades had just been removed. Before you is your very own ant farm.
Who goes where? Do different types of businesses sort themselves on different floors? If so, what might be driving this sort on high? Read More »
Jason M. Barr February 20, 2018
One of the most pressing issues today is that of income inequality. What has been causing it to increase over the last few decades? To that end, we are going to play a game: Name that Index! Here we view the relative prices of different types of inputs–land, labor, and capital–over the long run and see what they suggest about our access to vital economic resources. The answers might surprise you. Read More »
Jason M. Barr January 31, 2018
As the income of Planet Earth continues to rise, the construction of tall buildings proceeds apace. Many cities around the world are increasingly housing their residents in highrises. Yet, what does the research say about the impacts of highrise living on mental health, especially among the poor? Read More »
Jason M. Barr January 15, 2018
In the last decade, New York has seen the emergence of a new skyscraper type—supertall, superslim, ultra-luxury residential condominiums. As discussed in previous posts, the combined forces of new technology and economic demand have made them profitable projects.
However, they have attracted their share of controversy, riling up feelings of anger and frustration in certain quarters. Are they good or bad for New York City? Read More »
Jason M. Barr January 2, 2018
The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) recently issued its 2017 Year in Review for skyscraper construction around the world. As in prior years, the report has lead to a flurry of excited headlines. From The Times UK: “Taste for High Life Gives Rise to More Skyscrapers”; from ArchDaily.com: “The Results Are In: 2017 Was Another Record-Breaking Year for Skyscrapers,” and from CNN: “World Skyscraper Construction Hits All-time High.”
By why are so many skyscrapers being built each year? What is generating such dynamic growth in the world’s skylines? Read more.
“To boldly go where no one has gone before” is, at its heart, a call for humanity to explore itself, and seek what might be possible for our modern society a century or two hence. But, lest we forget, utopia requires an economic system: a means by which goods and services are allocated in a way that frees us from harmful competition and the drudgery of the rat race.
Enter Trekonomics, a book about the underlying economics of the Star Trek universe. It nicely parts the curtain, if you will, and shows the economic superstructure of this future. As such, it offers a lighthearted challenge for us to wrestle with the economic elements that will one day make up our future, and some of which are already here. Read More.
Jason M. Barr December 10, 2017
While skyscrapers are primarily built for their occupants, they, perforce, impose themselves on the urban fabric. We can, for example, look at the prices that people pay to rent or buy space within them to estimate their value to the tenants. However, what measures do we have about how they affect citizens more broadly?
It is important to know how skyscrapers contribute to the quality of life and our sense of well-being. Do they make us happy? While there are many angles to approach this question, the goal here is to take a “satellite view” and look at skyscrapers and the happiness of nations. Read More.
The Manhattan skyline was created by developers seeking their fortunes. Skyscraper heights, frequencies, types, and locations are based on the profits they generate. Today, the princes of height are the superslim luxury residential towers, such as 432 Park Avenue, 225 West 57th Street/Central Park Tower, and 111 West 57th Street/Steinway Tower.
These towers, like all supertalls before them, are controversial. To understand a bit more about them, however, it might be of interest to play developer, and estimate the profits to constructing one. To do this I have created plans for a hypothetical 80-story superslim condo—the Barr Tower—on 57th Street. Read more.
By Jason M. Barr November 19, 2017
In the last decade, New York has seen a resurgence of skyscrapers. In particular, has been the rise of the superslims—super-tall, ultra-thin luxury apartment buildings.
The definition of a superslim comes from the ratio of the building’s ground floor width to its height. The Empire State Building, for example, is relatively chunky, with a base-to-height ratio of 1:3. On the other hand, 432 Park Avenue has a slenderness ratio of 1:15; 53 West 53rd Street (the MoMA Tower) is 1:12; and 111 West 57th Street (the Steinway Tower), when completed, is to have a record-breaking ratio of 1:24. 1:10 is the benchmark for a slim tower.
Why are so many being built? Read more…
By Jason M. Barr November 5, 2017
In 1999, an economist named Andrew Lawrence thought he saw a relationship between the business cycle and skyscrapers; he dubbed this the “Skyscraper Index,” and it purports to demonstrate the “Skyscraper Curse,” which is,
an unhealthy correlation between construction of the next world’s tallest building and an impending financial crisis: New York 1930, Chicago 1974; Kuala Lumpur 1997 and Dubai 2010. Yet often the world’s tallest buildings are simply the edifice of a broader skyscraper building boom, reflecting a widespread misallocation of capital and an impending economic correction.
It has proven a very seductive idea, and the media and public have glommed onto it as some kind of infallible truth. But the idea that the construction of the world’s tallest building is a harbinger of economic doom is specious. Read more…
By Jason M. Barr October 20, 2017
In the year 1848, a stroll down lower Broadway in Manhattan would have revealed a decidedly low-rise town. The reason was simple: the only way to get to the top floor was to climb the stairs. Humans, unlike birds, do not have the anatomy to defy gravity (what would offices for birds look like anyway?). As a result, property owners had no incentive to build taller, since few would pay to be on higher floors. Read more…
By Jason M. Barr October 7, 2017
What was the world’s first skyscraper? If you do have an answer, you would be, most assuredly, wrong (sorry). Any skyscraper that we claim as the “first” is merely a convenience—a social convention to provide a simple answer to a complicated question.
But why would it be wrong? For two reasons…Read more...