Building Height Restrictions: Where I Agree with Matthew Yglesias

Matthew Yglesias of the Center for American Progress links to a Washington Post article that notes that office rents in downtown D.C. are now higher on average than office rents in Manhattan. He correctly points out that Washington, D.C.’s building height restrictions are largely responsible:

Normally what happens when you get high rents is that people respond with bigger buildings. Which is why Manhattan has such big office buildings. DC office buildings, by contrast, are quite short. So are developers working on responding to the high demand by building taller buildings? Of course not! Taller buildings are illegal in Washington DC.

Consequently, instead of building up real estate developers in the DC area build “out,” putting more and more jobs in the suburbs.

By no means am I anti-suburb. Nor do I believe that minimum parking requirements and “free parking” are the evils Yglesias and Donald Shoup claim they are (that said, just like maximum parking limits, these distortionary regulations should be eliminated). But I do not support arbitrary aesthetic justifications for limiting urban development, which unfairly make the suburbs more attractive  to developers. Density and land-use patterns should be natural byproducts of development, rather than planning goals. If property owners wish to meet demand for leased space by building taller buildings, so be it.