With the District of Columbia’s height restriction entering its 100th year, Lydia DePillis from the Washington City Paper explains why downtown DC is all superblocks with so little natural light:
While reading about the new Safeway-anchored residential development just approved in Wheaton, all I could think was: Why can’t we get these kinds of buildings in the District? It’s a 17-story, 486-unit, 195-foot-tall apartment complex that will add density and vibrance to the suburb’s delightfully diverse and quirky town center. But it won’t look like the superblocks that proliferate within the D.C. diamond, which are the way they are because developers must ask their architects to pack as much square footage under the 130-foot height limit as possible to make the deal work financially. Since Wheaton is not bound by such restrictions, this development can achieve a kind of light, airy quality with towers on each corner and quite a bit of open space in the middle of the block. That also creates higher-quality living spaces for apartment dwellers, many more of whom will be able to have natural light.
The NYT also points out that “[b]ecause they cannot build up, developers have pushed out, helping gentrify less affluent parts of the city.” And as I’ve noted before, Matt Yglesias has blamed DC’s higher-than-Manhattan office rents on the height cap.
Confusingly enough, the height restriction is enshrined in federal law and is thus in Congress’ hands – so the question is, do legislators just not give a shit because none of them are elected by DC residents, or do they actually have an active interest in the status quo?