Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Buildings, Weather and Interdependencies

One of the many things I love about DC is that while there aer certainly plenty of buildings of the tall sort, there are no real skyscrapers. The reason is that there is a rule in place that nothing can be taller (height-wise, hills and such are not counted in this) than the Washington Monument.
When I was travelling in Europe someone told me that Europe - having done much of their building prior to the skyscraper era - is experiencing space problems, while places where development came later, such as Asia are building up to make better use of space.
I also recently ran across a discussion about DC's height limit and how that may play into the high real estate prices since there is a finite number of dwellings that can be put in.
Well, the spring issue of UU World has an article talking about weather and the seventh principle. The seventh principle for Unitarian Universalists speaks to recognizing the interdependent web of existence, our connection to the world and each other.
Author Laura Lee talks about our effects - intended and unintended - on weather and states:
In urban areas, where greenery is scarce and pavement is not, tall buildings block the path of winds and expand the surface areas that absorb solar heat. The result is an effect known as the “urban heat island.” It is particularly pronounced in Japanese cities like Tokyo, where high humidity multiplies the effect of rising heat. Tokyo today is 3°c hotter than it was a century ago. Palm trees native to subtropical southern China are springing up in the city as flocks of parakeets native to southern India and Sri Lanka fly overhead. NASA scientists observing satellite images of Atlanta, Georgia (nicknamed “Hotlanta” for its nightlife), found that the hottest parts of downtown were as much as 10°f hotter than the surrounding area and that this difference caused air to rise and created thunderstorms. If you live East of the city and a tornado comes your way, you may have Hotlanta to thank.
So, there is a reason, aside from the historical and the aesthetic, to maintain DC's height limit. Because, it is certainly hot enough already. (Or it is in the summer, at least.)

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