LeadingCities: A healthier height

Healthy cities make for healthier employees, and that is a plus for all leading companies. Happy, alert and fit employees are clearly preferable to unhappy, sleepy or out-of-shape ones. Leading companies have a role to play in achieving change in our city profiles.

Ground level is the level of community interaction. It is here – and not in the stratosphere of high buildings – that we interact with each other, stroll, window shop, make purchases, meet, sit, drink coffee, wine and dine.

When we put people high in the sky, they feel isolated, says Tim Hurburgh, a director of H2O Architects, a company that designs commercial buildings and institutions for their owner-occupiers.

People around the world search for the human scale in buildings, Hurburgh says, and Australians are no different. “We are great travellers, and most of us go to Europe,” he says. “Typically the cities we rave about are those with low-rise profiles, big cities like London, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, and St Petersburg. But at home we have an obsession with building tall buildings. They take people away from the ground where people associate and communicate. The only connection they have is via a lift.”

It’s not just the loss of connection that is affected by height. Tall buildings create wind tunnels and block sunlight to the streets, choking off any chance for communities or greenery to develop and flourish. Unfriendly streets do not inspire us to promenade or cycle, but to hurry back to our cars, or our office chairs, or scoot up the lift to our high-rise homes.

As we know from Paris and other gorgeous cities, our streets are the home of the thriving commerce that create interest and intrigue in our cities. Following a trail of delightful shops, we might walk for hours. Bustling streets discourage and slow down traffic naturally without the need for policing and fines. They are safer for children, encouraging a cohort of consumers onto the streets that too easily defaults to car travel to overcome the hostilities of our urban design.

But to achieve lower building heights, we need to more land to build than if we submit to high-rise.

This is where leading companies come in. Many leading companies influence the design of the buildings that they occupy; others are in the position to support – or oppose – progressive urban planning policies.

Urban planners such as Rob Adams, at the City of Melbourne, has proposed that we build many five- to- eight storey apartment blocks, with ground-level shops, along roads and public transport routes. As well as enlivening these streets, and accommodating our growing population, such a plan leaves tracts of our cities to remain suburban paradises, where the home and garden can rein supreme.

To remind city residents of their importance and status, leading companies once built or occupied high-rise buildings. Today, leading companies can impress the communities in which they operate by taking a more sophisticated approach, one that supports the health and cohesiveness of our cities, and has the added benefit of fostering a thriving economy.

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