Which Way to Build?

The New York Times covers both ends of the spectrum with articles on mega suburban developer Toll Brothers and Shanghai's high-rise building boom.

A visual comparison of the two illustrates China's and the US's apparent dichotomy in viewing land and habitat.

Missing image - tollbrothers.jpg

The Toll Brothers view land (what they call "ground") as an investment to be bought up insatiably. If there's a market for real estate, they'll buy the land and develop it. A desirable Toll Brother situation might be covering the remaining buildable land in New Jersey with variations on the Estates at Princeton Grove, pictured above, which is not too far-fetched. The Times piece focuses on the economics, politics, and personalities at play as the Toll Brothers snatch up more and more land for more and more profit, at the expense of any critical thinking (or apparent mention) about long-term energy (covered by Kunstler) or house sizes, among the many questionable concerns with sprawl.

Missing image - skylinemansion.jpg

In sharp contrast to the American trend is China's vertical housing developments, the Skyline Mansions in Shanghai pictured here. With an additional 1,000 skyscrapers anticipated beyond its current crop of 4,000 by the end of the decade, China actually shares a similar delusion regarding energy and scale as the US. While many anti-sprawl people might advocate building vertically, the environments created with this method don't appear much of an improvement over suburbia.

What the US and China also share are completely blind, financially-driven developments that ignore quality of life and the environment at community and regional scales, in favor of cushy private realms. McMansions -- be they on a 1/2-acre patch of grass or 40 stories in the air -- serve the individual and family at the expense of these shared realms. My view isn't optimistic though, because both countries are feeding each other along the way, be it through cheap consumer goods or the model of Western society. But rather than contemplating when either bubble will burst -- a fascination of the Times in both regards -- I'm more concerned with the long-term effects of each type of development, from the environment on down to the individual. Which way to build? Neither.


  1. A middle point is the best ecologic and economic solution.
    Hector Corcin


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