Jason Barr
Rutgers University, Newark

Relatively little research has focused on the causes and consequence of tall buildings in their respective cities. Investigations of skyscrapers in their urban habitats have tended to focus on architecture, design, or energy efficiency. But an important element of sustainability is the effects of tall buildings on the social and economic well-being of residents.

This presentation presents the results of a statistical analysis into the broader relationship between measures of city well-being and the construction of tall buildings. In particular, a data set has been created on 186 metropolitan areas across the United States, and which includes how many tall buildings a city has along with other measures of city performance, including income, population, and an index of social well-being, which measures the average life satisfaction, or happiness, of residents.

We find strong support that the number of both high-rises and skyscrapers are positively related to a city's economic activity, suggesting that tall buildings are an important element of economic growth. On the other hand, we find mixed results for the impact of high-rises and skyscrapers on happiness. On average, the number of high-rises has a negative effect on well-being; while the number of skyscrapers is positively related to happiness. A statistical analysis that looks at the effect of tall buildings on the components of the happiness index suggest that skyscrapers improve a city’s sense of community and foster more physical activity or better health. High-rises, however, do not seem to positively affect any of the subcategories.