Privatising air space?

According to RMIT academic Michael Buxton, quoted in The Age this morning, the increasing number of tall buildings on Melbourne’s skyline is bad because:

”What we’re doing with high-rise is privatising space at the public expense. If you buy your view, sure, you’ve got a wonderful view from the top of one of these towers but what you’ve done is bought airspace. So that airspace was once originally a part of the public domain … the public get no benefit.”

But how many members of the public would otherwise get to use the airspace at level 40 of a skyscraper? It seems to me that the higher the building the fewer issues ‘airspace’ use generates, at least until it reaches flight path levels (and as we don’t want low-flying planes in built-up areas, that is quite high).

There are ‘negative externality’ issues with the shadows tall buildings create, but Buxton’s dubious ideological claim does not seem to me to be helpful in deciding whether we should have more tall buildings in Melbourne.

12 Responses to “Privatising air space?

  • 1
    MichaelC
    April 10th, 2010 09:58

    I think it’s pretty clear Jan Gehl & Michael Buxton, haven’t read The Fountainhead.

    “Michael Buxton is unequivocal about the poor environmental and social outcomes of high-rise living. ”I would stop all high-rise now in Melbourne. I would say we’ve had enough,” he says.”

    - “I would stop”…”We’ve had enough” ? Social engineers, gah.

  • 2
    conrad
    April 10th, 2010 11:21

    These people against high-rise living need to get out a bit more (like to London, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, …). It seems to me they are falsely equating high-rise living to public housing towers. I’ve lived in high quality high-rises, and you get a really good quality of life — indeed, you get a lot of benefits you don’t in small apartments, which are going to be the main alternative in Melbourne unless Pakenham or Melton are going to become new city centres.

  • 3
    Sacha
    April 10th, 2010 14:51

    Australian CBDs, and the size and number of tall buildings in them, are pretty limited compared to many cities overseas.

    I suppose there is *some* cost to the public in building a tall building – views, shadows, potentially increased traffic – but this would likely be (partially) compensated by increased rates resulting from higher land values

    From the point of view of the space being directed towards higher-valued, as opposed to lower-valued, uses, tall buildings may do this.

  • 4
    Ken Nielsen
    April 10th, 2010 15:06

    When I studied law all those years ago I learnt that at common law ownership of land included everything above and below the surface. Of course many laws have modified this but I don’t believe you can say airspace above a piece of land is public property.

  • 5
    Sacha
    April 10th, 2010 16:08

    Ken, it could be said that the public “enjoys” the space even if it is privately owned.

  • 6
    Jeremy
    April 10th, 2010 20:18

    This is absolutely the dumbest most mind-meltingly stupid statement I have read all year.

  • 7
    JC
    April 11th, 2010 04:21

    It’s certainly up there, Jeremy.

  • 8
    Jason Soon
    April 11th, 2010 08:28

    There are ‘negative externality’ issues with the shadows tall buildings create

    Positive externality as far as I’m concerned. As a pedestrian, I sweat enough in summer. One reason I hate Canberra is there aren’t enough tall buildings to block out the sun.

  • 9
    Sacha
    April 11th, 2010 09:50

    What about in winter Jason?

  • 10
    Alan Anderson
    April 12th, 2010 12:51

    Quite apart from any economic or social arguments, his statement is legally incorrect. The traditional legal position gave the property owner rights to the corresponding airspace up to infinite distance.

  • 11
    MichaelC
    April 12th, 2010 13:13

    In Winter… they reduce the windchill, lol.

    Using ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ externalities, as some kind of justification for any kind of interventionism is a joke.

  • 12
    Alexander
    April 12th, 2010 17:00

    In winter you want verandahs to block the rain covering the footpath anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if there’s buildings blocking the sun before it reaches the verandah that would otherwise block it. (I assume we’re in the city, not a green leafy.)