The Oakland City Council approved a new downtown plan that essentially represents a giant prayer for tall buildings and a huge influx of upscale residents. The new zoning plan allows skyscrapers to be built throughout most of the downtown area. But as we noted last week, the plan threatens to stifle dense development because it could artificially raise land values and encourage property owners to demand high prices -- thereby discouraging developers from buying property and erecting buildings. And then even if developers decide to build skyscrapers, there's no guarantee that they will be able to attract residents.
That's because tall condo or apartment towers are expensive to construct, so they demand higher prices. As a result, the high rises will require wealthier residents to pencil out. But the question is: will they actually want to live in the downtown area?
The council should have looked more closely at the lessons learned by other cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, and attempted to encourage more mid-size buildings, while still allowing for some high rises. Mid-size buildings, those 55-feet to 75-feet in height, can house huge numbers of people, and because they're cheaper to build, they can accommodate the less wealthy.