Vancouver’s Yaletown.

One of the perennial topics for debate in Washington, DC is the 1910 Height of Buildings Act, which limited tall buildings and created the current “low-rise” skyline. Now, the Act is 100 years old. Has it served DC well or poorly?

Tomorrow, former Vancouver Planning Director Larry Beasley will talk about the Height Act at an NCPC forum, 6:30 pm at the Navy Memorial. Then, Mr. Beasley will come online to join us for a chat at 11 am Wednesday.

Vancouver has achieved tremendous success specifically through building high-rises. This has allowed the area to grow and prosper without massive suburban sprawl, and Vancouver neighborhoods have become livable, walkable, and lively.

Supporters of DC’s height limit, on the other hand, argue that the limit forces development of areas adjacent to downtown, like NoMA and the Capitol Riverfront for office districts, instead of concentrating jobs in downtown with dead areas and parking lots adjacent.

Who is right? Does the height limit make DC a more livable city or keep it from achieving its potential? Maybe DC should raise the limit in key areas outside downtown? After all, Rosslyn has tall buildings, and it’s closer to the Mall than Anacostia or Fort Totten. Or is spreading out office space inefficient?

Sometimes, tall buildings turn into mere “towers in the park”, gaining a lot of height but not much density. On the other hand, the limit makes developers mainly build giant boxes, to take maximum advantage of the limited building envelope.

Is it worthwhile to maintain a certain aesthetic of lower buildings? Vancouver’s towers don’t create “canyon effects” or dark streets, but do form soaring, glass slivers reaching into the sky. Some like that, some don’t. How worthwhile is maintaining the look if it increase sprawl? Does it, or do people just want single-family houses even if they’re two hours from downtown?

To attend the talk, RSVP at NCPC’s page. They anticipate the event filling up, meaning walk-ins might not be able to get in. To attend the live chat, just come online here at 11 am on Wednesday.

In the meantime, please submit questions you’d like to ask Mr. Beasley. We’ll also formulate some questions based on the topics that arise at the forum.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.