Click a presenter to see a video of their presentation, and the accompanying paper and PowerPoint presentation.

Robert Cotter

Robert Cotter

Planning Director
Jersey City
“Jersey City on the Rise”
James Parakh

James Parakh

Urban Design Manager
City of Toronto Planning Department
“The Network of Urban Spaces Surrounding Tall Buildings”
Craig Schwitter

Craig Schwitter

Buro Happold
“The High Line Effect”

Session Summary

The resurgence of skyscraper construction around the world has allowed architects and urban planners to reconsider the role that tall buildings play in relation to their surrounding built environment. Although many contemporary skyscrapers continue to be designed primarily with the goal of creating an icon, more thought is being put in designing for the ground plan and at a human scale. This session examined the ways in which cities are responding to increasing skyscraper density through zoning initiatives and innovative public spaces like New York’s High Line. These ideas were discussed critically, with special attention paid to the ability for public spaces to invigorate development and vice-versa.

The session began with a presentation by Robert Cotter, Planning Director, Jersey City Planning Department, who gave a detailed history of urban planning in Jersey City. As the commercial capital of New Jersey, Jersey City has seen several waves of development that have transformed the city over time. Cotter detailed these historical trends, noting the causes and effects of each separate wave. He gave special attention to the work that Jersey City has accomplished over the years to attract development. This included changing zoning laws and drafting redevelopment plans.

The zoning bylaws in Jersey City are quite unique in the way that they encourage the fine detail of the redevelopment of the urban fabric. They have overlay districts that can accommodate new and old uses. To create a streetscape that is more reminiscent of the old town they require a different architect every 100 feet to create natural changes in the appearance of buildings. Cotter noted that some developers voluntarily decreased this to every 50 feet.

James Parakh, Urban Design Manager, City of Toronto Planning Department, continued the theme of the session with a presentation focusing on the network of urban spaces surrounding tall buildings with a focus on the spaces between tall buildings that tend to get overlooked in design planning. Parakh began by describing the Winter Spaces Walking Tours that he organized as the chair of the CTBUH Urban Habitat / Urban Design Committee.

Summarizing the mission of the committee, Parakh stated "Our role is to really think about tall buildings as they relate to the city. So not just the tall building in isolation, but the tall building within the city and the role of the tall building within the city. And also quality of life issues are very important to us. So what is it like to live and to work near or in a tall building? These are the issues that our committee is actually quite interested in."

The Winter Spaces Walking Tours took place in seven cities around the globe with the purpose of observing how public spaces operate in dense urban environments. Parakh summarized the findings of these tours, including the necessity for cities to offer multiple forms of public space ranging in size from massive parks to small winter gardens. The tours were carefully timed so that people needed to only be outside for 10 minutes at a time. This allowed them to experience the connecting spaces in the cities. He also talked about the initial findings of the Warm Weather Spaces Walking Tours that were held in September 2015.

Craig Schwitter, Principal, BuroHappold Engineering, delivered the final presentation of the session, which focused on the history and development of the High Line on New York’s West Side. Schwitter described the history of the rail line as well as the process of converting it into a linear park. He next described the wild success that the High Line has experienced, citing not just the tourism statistics that put it on par with other New York attractions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the 9/11 memorial, but also the long list of urban renewal project that it has spurred. It was noted that the High Line had a cost of $200 million in contrast to the World Trade Center at $3.9 billion. He noted how many benefits the project had on the city, particularly given its low initial cost. It is the second most visited public attraction in New York City.

Drawing on the success of the High Line, Schwitter advocated strongly for copying the model in other urban areas, citing several examples that the High Line has inspired, such as the 606 in Chicago and the BeltLine in Atlanta.

Session Photo Gallery