Lessons from other Cities

July 3, 2013

London. Paris. Barcelona. Vancouver. San Francisco. Just the name of each city conjures up vastly different images.  Like Washington, each has attempted to maintain its distinctive character while accommodating growth. So, as we develop a Height Master Plan for Washington, DC it is only fitting that we look at the series of regulations and policies used to manage building heights in these cities and more.

In short, here’s what we found...London protects historic viewsheds and cluster tall buildings that define its identity as a financial center; Paris protects the central core and allows taller buildings at the gateways and edges of the city; Barcelona allows taller buildings outside historic areas, but limits them to less than the spires of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral; San Francisco clusters taller buildings that step down in scale towards natural features, waterways, and open spaces; and Vancouver is a city where height restrictions protect views out to the natural beauty of the mountains and water.

Read more about these exciting cities and how building height polices shape city identity. Use the comment section below to tell me what you think and which approach might best apply to Washington.

Case Study Research
St. Louis zoning restricts building heights to an elevation of 751 feet mean sea level through a district zone which surrounds the Jefferson National Memorial. The Memorial consists of the Gateway Arch and designed landscape, the Old Courthouse, the Museum of Westward Expansion housed within the Arch, and areas east of the Mississippi River in Illinois. The Arch structure is 630 feet high (approximately 1100 feet above mean sea level at its highest point) a difference of approximately 350 feet relative to other structures.


Height Master Plan: Case Study Research >>



Angela Mar is an Urban Planner in the Policy Research Division and is an integral member of the Height Master Plan team.


The cities chosen all have skyscrapers. It is highly misleading to omit capitals such as Amsterdam, St. Petersberg, Prague, Budapest, etc. The unique low skyline of Washington defines the capital. This is just a push by Issa, Mayor Gray and the development community to insure a higher yield from DC real estate. Nothing more. NCPC should uphold its integrity and debunk this land grab which would debase the city and nation.
I attended the height meeting in Mt Pleasant on 8/7 and began thinking about ways to protect viewsheds. Are there any examples of other cities that have specifically created viewshed protection zoning?
Kayla, I’m glad you asked this question. As seen in our Phase 1 case studies (, many cities like Madison, St. Louis, and London use planning and regulatory actions to protect views. A variety of laws have been adopted around the United States to protect historic and scenic viewsheds and specifically preserving natural resources, scenic views, and views and settings of landmark buildings. A few communities protect views by using design criteria while others apply prescriptive zoning restrictions. For example, Sacramento, CA regulates height and setbacks of surrounding buildings to protect views of state capitol building and surrounding grounds by restricting maximum height and setback requirements, which vary according to the distance of the project from the capitol building and its location within a pre-defined area. Another example, Austin, TX regulates height in established view corridors and areas within ¼ mile radius from the capitol building, with view corridors and capitol dominance district established as zoning overlays. For more examples of other cities, take a look at the National Trust for Historic Preservation law educational materials on ‘Approaches to Viewshed Protection Around the Country’ (