In Praise of Six Storey Cities
Much is written about the difference in form between towers and street walls, active edges and mix of uses, the need for density and the challenges of form, but here is perhaps one of the more subtle differences between cities worth noting - the difference between cities below and above six storeys.
This area is beginning to get attention - Alex Morton's personal think-tank, the Policy Exchange has written a policy piece "Create Streets" addressed at bringing down form from high rise to under six. But this is purely done by a select survey of sixties and seventies failures - architectural criticism as policy - and ignores the successes from Tokyo to Paris.
Yet, yet, there is a difference, palpably, between those cities and cities like London.
The reason (perhaps) that London feels like a vast town, while Paris is a city, is the trees. London rarely gets above four storeys outside the City (or six in Westminster) other than the skyscraper districts (Canary Wharf, Bishopsgate etc), while Paris is uniformly 6 storeys or more.
Trees, specifically street trees like the London Plane, Zelkova, Birch and Ginko trees (to choose a few common species) grow to 20, 30, 18 and 15 metres respectively - approximately 6, 10, 6 and 5 storeys. In other words, in London, the tree crowns will mostly dominate the streetscape, giving the city a 'green' and natural feel, while in Paris the skyline is dominated by rooftops. Beautiful, certainly, but not green. A highly urban setting. The pattern repeats elsewhere - Tokyo, New York - buildings dominate. Sydney, Berlin - trees.