Fear of Heights
November 4, 2009 6:15 PM
One of my favorite places on Earth is the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The place is packed with activity all the time. I love to stay at a little hotel across the street from the Museum of Natural History. A block one way is Central Park. A block or two the other is Zabar's, one of the best deli-grocery stores in the world. In between or within a short walk are dozens of other restaurants, museums, places to hear music or places to just watch the world go by. And the world literally goes by, with people from all over the world.
The thing you might not suspect about the Upper West Side though is that it's also packed with families with young kids. Ok, they're all rich young kids, but still. These are families who could choose to live anywhere, and they choose a dense neighborhood with tall buildings.
This takes me to my point about the proposed Edgewater Hotel, which would be all of eight stories tall. Predictably, I've gotten correspondence from Madisonians who refer to this proposal as a "monstrosity" and "lacking human scale." I received the same kind of messages when I was supporting redevelopments at Hilldale, Sequoya Commons and Monroe Commons. These three or four story buildings were also described as monstrosities lacking the coveted human scale.
But let's go back to 81st Street and Central Park West. Stand there for a few minutes and see all those people and all those young families with strollers and ask yourself why so very many humans like their neighborhood of tall buildings so much if it doesn't have "human scale."
Madison will never have truly tall buildings. The Capitol View Preservation Limit written into both Madison ordinances and state law will see to that, and I don't have any objection to those reasonable limits. But if we are ever going to have a really vibrant, diverse and exciting downtown, we need to get over our fear of heights.