long . lines and ripples

Vertical and Horizontal Symmetries in the City

From William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis, about the pattern of growth in Chicago during the post-fire (1871) era:

The higher the downtown became, the greater the horizontal spread of the residential neighborhoods that housed its daytime inhabitants: skyscraper and suburb created each other.

Chicago Vista Tower under construction, 2019
The still under-construction (2019) Vista Tower in Chicago

At first it seems trivially true (the taller the skyscraper, the more people you can fit in them), but then again this is only because we expect it. Vertical work environments paired with horizontal living arrangements are an important standard, by both custom and law, in many parts of the U.S. The rebuilding of Chicago after the great fire helped set this precedent. Americans can tolerate working in the cloud(s), but a strong preference remains to live with one’s feet on the ground.


William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis. Norton, 1991.