Downtown Miami Skyline

At least 74 high-rises have risen in Miami since the year 2000. Dozens of other high-rise residential buildings have been built in nearby cities such as Miami Beach and Sunny Isles Beach. Image credit: Wikipedia user LonnyPaul

Skyscrapers and skylines have long played a role in the perception of major U.S. cities. The decision by an individual developer or company to “build high” is driven only in part by corporate office space needs or by local market demand for apartments, condominiums, or hotel rooms with a view. The construction of high-rise buildings is also influenced by ambition, ego, and other non-economic factors.

Skyscrapers play a unique role in the urban landscape, serving as a source of civic pride for local residents (for whom the buildings can serve a physical embodiment of the economic vitality of their chosen home city), as a symbol of power and economic might for their developers, owners, or occupants, and as a visible manifestation of human ingenuity and engineering prowess.

Since 2000, the development of high-rise buildings in the U.S. has been influenced by a series of economic and other events. These have included:

  • the 2001-02 recession;
  • the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks – which added a new element of risk for owners and occupants of the highest towers, as well as led to an increased perception of some major U.S. urban areas as being potential targets weapons of mass destruction;
  • the significant rise in oil prices beginning in 2000, and further escalating during 2003-2008;
  • Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – which increased the potential long-term risk associated with high-rise developments in cities on the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts;
  • the real estate boom of the early to mid-2000s – which resulted in an unprecedented wave of construction of residential towers in many major U.S. cities, followed by the real estate market collapse beginning in 2006, and later the financial crisis of 2007-08 and Great Recession;
  • the slow recovery in both real estate and the U.S. economy that has been in progress since 2009

As these events were unfolding, the construction of high-rise buildings outside of the U.S. accelerated, and the status of the U.S. as a center for high-rise building construction continued to diminish. Evidence for the global increase in the construction of high-rise buildings includes the completion of 58 of the 78 one-thousand-foot or taller skyscrapers that currently exist in the world having occurred since 2000. Evidence for the diminished status of the U.S. as a center for construction of high-rise buildings includes the completion of 54 of the 58 recently constructed 1,000-foot or taller buildings in countries outside of the U.S. – with the most noteworthy of these likely being the 163-story, 2,717-foot tall Burj Khalifa completed in Dubai in 2010.

As a frequent visitor to both Chicago and Miami, I was aware of the boom in high-rise construction that occurred in at least these U.S. cities since 2000. However, I was curious as to the actual extent of high-rise construction that occurred not only in these cities, but in other major U.S. cities this century, and what insights this might provide into the patterns of urban development occurring in different major U.S. urban areas. This article presents the findings of an investigation I performed to find answers to these questions, based on a review of construction data for high-rise (18-story or taller) buildings completed in 67 major U.S. cities during 2000-13.

Las Vegas skyline

Las Vegas has a greater number of hotel rooms than any other city in the U.S. (more than 152,000 as of 2012), with significant numbers of these rooms located in high-rise hotels constructed since 2000.

Methodology

The approach I used to perform this study was to make use of the building construction database available on the skycraperpage.com website. The database at this website includes data for nearly 1,300 U.S. cities and a comprehensive listing of nearly all buildings either 12 or more stories or greater than 115 feet in height, as well as select listings for shorter but otherwise noteworthy buildings. The data for each building typically includes the number of floors, years of construction and completion, current building uses, as well as many other types of information. I restricted my analysis to buildings that are 18 or more stories in height, partly to facilitate an analysis of New York City (for which information on over 5,800 buildings is included in the database) but also in recognition that buildings with a lesser number of stories have limited impact on the skylines of most major cities.

I included in my analysis data for the 50 largest U.S. cities, as well as 17 additional cities representing the principal cities of one of the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. The city and metropolitan area rankings were based on populations as reported by the 2010 census. I included the 17 additional cities in recognition that cities such as St. Louis and Pittsburgh may no longer rank in the top 50 U.S. cities by population, but remain the principal cities of major metropolitan areas as well as cities with large central business districts that have been historical centers for construction of high-rise buildings.  For each of the 67 cities, I tabulated the number of buildings having a specific number of floors (ranging from 18 to 108) for various construction completion dates including the periods pre-1960, 1960-69, 1970-79, 1980-89, 1990-99, and each individual year from 2000 through 2013.  As of June 2013 (when I performed the analysis), a total of 5,398 buildings 18 or more stories in height were present in these 67 cities, including exactly 1,000 completed since 2000.

One limitation for my analysis is that the construction completion dates were not listed for 225 of the buildings (or approximately 4.2% of the total). However, nearly all of the undated buildings are likely to be older buildings, constructed prior to 2000 for which historical construction data are not readily available, that are not relevant to my primary focus on buildings constructed since 2000. One further limitation is that the data are of unknown completeness and accuracy. As a long-time resident of the Milwaukee area, I was able to review the data in detail for the City of Milwaukee, and did not note any errors or omissions in the buildings listed, their construction dates, or listed building heights. Although I cannot vouch for the completeness and accuracy of the data for other cities, the skyscraperpage.com database has reportedly been available on-line for 15 years, providing ample opportunity for errors and omissions to be noted by on-line “champions” of various major cities, and corrected through the crowdsourcing process that includes input from greater than 40,000 registered members. Therefore, I believe the data are accurate enough for my intended purpose of evaluating the relative performance of the major U.S. cities in terms of the completion of high-rise buildings this century, as well as to provide insights regarding differences in recent development patterns in these cities as expressed in the form of high-rise buildings.

To gain further insight into the dynamics driving construction of high-rise buildings in different major U.S. cities and metropolitan areas, I also calculated two ratios: (a) the number of high-rise (18-story or taller) buildings constructed during 2000-13 per 100,000 metropolitan area residents, and (b) the number of high-rise (18-story or taller) buildings constructed during 2000-13 per 100,000 person increase in metropolitan area population from 2000-10. The first ratio was calculated based on a presumption that that the number of high-rise office and residential towers is likely more closely correlated with the size of metropolitan areas than the size of the principal cities. The second ratio was calculated based on the presumption that metropolitan areas experiencing significant population growth since 2000 should see a certain amount of new construction driven solely in response to population growth and increased market demand for new housing (one form of which would be new high-rise residential buildings), and market demand for additional commercial space that should be associated with the increases in the number of jobs and local business activity that typically drive or accompany significant population growth (a portion of which could be met through the construction of new high-rise office buildings).

Rankings of Major U.S. Cities Based on the Number of High-Rise Buildings Completed Since 2000

The data for the highest ranked cities based on the total number of new high-rise buildings constructed as well as the ratios of the number new high-rise buildings per 100,000 metropolitan area residents and per 100,000 increase in metropolitan area population, are presented below together with discussions of key observations related to each ranking method. Table 1 presents the top 25 ranked cities based on the number of buildings with 18 or more stories completed since 2000 for the top 25 ranked cities.  The table also includes data on the current total number of high-rise buildings in these cities and their associated rankings.

Table 1. Top 25 U.S. Cities for High-Rise Buildings Constructed 2000-13

City

Total New High-Rise Building Completed (2000-13)

Rank

Total High-Rise Buildings (as of 2013)

 Rank

New York

281

1

2,151

1

Chicago

149

2

701

2

Miami

74

3

130

7

Atlanta

50

T4

134

6

Las Vegas

50

T4

96

11

Houston

38

6

174

3

San Diego

35

7

67

15

Seattle

30

8

100

10

Dallas

22

T9

116

9

San Francisco

22

T9

149

4

Boston

21

11

89

12

Arlington

17

12

47

19

Portland

14

T13

41

T21

Austin

14

T13

27

T32

Los Angeles

13

15

127

8

Philadelphia

12

T16

135

5

Charlotte

12

T16

31

29

Tampa

11

T18

28

T30

Denver

11

T18

69

14

Orlando

11

T18

27

T32

Milwaukee

10

21

40

23

Minneapolis

9

22

76

13

Baltimore

8

23

51

18

Phoenix

7

T24

34

T26

San Jose

7

T24

10

T50

High-rise = 18 stories or greater.  Totals are as of June 2013.

One surprise for me was the very large number of high-rise buildings completed in New York City since 2000. I was surprised because none of the post-9/11 news stories I recall reading noted the extraordinary boom in high-rise construction that apparently occurred in New York City since 2000 (at least 98% of which was unrelated to construction occurring at the site of the former World Trade Center). The high-rise construction boom was robust both in the number of buildings completed (281) and in the number of buildings having 40 or more stories (53). I also hadn’t fully appreciated the historical dominance of New York City in terms of high-rise buildings in the U.S., with the current total of 2,151 buildings nearly equal to the combined total of 2,499 for the next 24 highest ranked U.S. cities.

The boom in high-rise construction in Chicago was even greater than that for New York City on a per capita basis, and was also expressed both in the number of buildings constructed (149) and in the number of buildings having 40 or more stories (42). These included residential towers of 71, 86, and 98 stories completed in 2009-10. Together, Chicago and New York City account for 430 of the 1,000 high-rise buildings completed this century in the 67 major U.S. cities evaluated.

The boom in high-rise construction in Miami (which includes completion of at least 74 high-rise buildings since 2000) has been widely recognized, partly as a consequence of the frequent appearance of the Miami skyline on various TV shows and movies. It should be noted that the data for Miami perhaps to a greater degree than any other principal city do not fully reflect the magnitude of high-rise construction that occurred in the metropolitan area as a whole, as dozens of high-rise residential buildings were completed since 2000 in other cities in the Miami metropolitan area (such as Miami Beach, North Miami Beach, Sunny Isles Beach, etc.).

The relative performance of Los Angeles and San Diego was also interesting to me. Nearly three times as many high-rise buildings have been completed in San Diego since 2000 as in Los Angeles, even though the population of the Los Angeles metropolitan area is more than four times greater than that of the San Diego metropolitan area, and in spite of both cities being southern California coastal cities that are major tourist destinations.

One additional surprise for me was how few high-rise buildings were completed since 2000 in the other 42 major U.S. cities evaluated but not included on Table 1. A combined total of 72 high-rise buildings were completed in these 42 cities since 2000. This is 2 fewer than the 74 buildings completed in the City of Miami alone during this period. The individual totals for these other 42 cities are summarized on Table 2.

Table 2. Summary of High-Rise Construction in Other U.S. Cities (2000-13)

Total # of High- Rise Buildings Constructed 2000-13

U.S. Cities

5

Nashville-Davidson, Sacramento, St. Petersburg

4

Jacksonville, Long Beach, St. Louis, Salt Lake City

3

Indianapolis, Norfolk, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, San Antonio, Virginia Beach

2

Cleveland, Columbus, Fort Worth, Hartford, New Orleans, Omaha, Providence

1

Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Louisville/Jefferson Co., Oklahoma City, Richmond

0

Albuquerque, Birmingham, Buffalo, Colorado Springs, El Paso, Fresno, Memphis, Mesa, Newark, Riverside, St. Paul, Tucson, Tulsa, Washington D.C., Wichita

The lack of high-rise construction in several of the “rust belt” cities included on Table 2 is probably not too surprising given widely reported population declines and economic contractions in several of these cities.  Washington D.C.’s lack of high-rise construction represents a special case, in that the Height of Buildings Act of 1910 limits building heights to the width of the adjoining street plus 20 feet (resulting in a maximum allowable height of 160 feet).

Devon Energy Center

Oklahoma City had 7 high-rise buildings constructed during the period 1971-1984, but only one, the Devon Energy Tower, during the past 29 years. Image credit: Wikipedia user urbanative

I was surprised by the relative lack of recent high-rise building construction in cities such as Columbus, Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, St. Paul, and Tucson. All of these cities have a favorable reputation in terms of economic growth, quality of life, etc. All of these cities are located in metropolitan areas with population growth rates during 2000-10 that exceeded 10% (and in the case of San Antonio, exceeded 25%). The lack of high-rise construction in these cities during a period that included perhaps the greatest boom in high-rise residential construction in U.S. history potentially does not bode well for major enhancements to these cities skylines over the next several decades.

Although my analysis was focused on the total number of new high-rise buildings constructed, it is probably important to acknowledge that quantity does not necessarily equal quality.  The most compelling example of this may be Oklahoma City, where the single high-rise building constructed this century was the 52-story 850-foot tall Devon Energy headquarters – which is both an attractive building in its design and execution, and noteworthy nationally in being the tallest building completed in the U.S. in 2012.

One interesting aspect of high-rise construction during the period 2000-13 is the apparent lack of a boom in the construction of high-rise office buildings in the major U.S. cities that are centers for the oil and gas industry (such as New Orleans, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City) in response to the significant rise in oil prices that has occurred this century (with oil prices increasing from an annual average of $11.91 in 1998 to $91.48 in 2008). The lack of high-rise office building construction in these cities is in marked contrast with booms that occurred in nearly all of these cities during the energy crisis and period of escalating or high oil prices from approximately 1974 through 1985.

For example, in New Orleans, 28 high-rise buildings were constructed during the 1970s and 1980s, including one residential tower, 10 hotels, and 17 office buildings. Only two new high-rise buildings have been constructed since 1989 (one hotel and one residential building). Similarly, 14 high-rise buildings were constructed in Tulsa during the period 1970-1986 (10 of which were office buildings including major towers of 52 and 60 stories), but only one high-rise building (an 18 story office tower) has been completed during the past 26 years. Oklahoma City had 7 high-rise buildings constructed during the period 1971-1984, but only one (the Devon Energy headquarters) during the past 29 years. Denver had 45 high-rise buildings constructed during the 1970s and 1980s, but only 11 since 1990 (and nearly all of these are residential high-rises rather than corporate headquarters which dominated the previous energy-business related building boom).

Rankings of Major U.S. Cities Based on the Number of High-Rise Buildings per 100,000 Metropolitan Area Residents

In order to better understand the relative performance of U.S. cities in terms of high-rise construction, I “normalized” the results based on population by calculating the number of new high-rise buildings per 100,000 metropolitan areas residents. Higher ratios indicate a greater ”intensity” of high-rise construction relative to the population of a metropolitan area.  The results for the 15 highest ranked major U.S. cities based on this ratio are summarized below.

Table 3. Top 15 Cities Based on Number of New High-Rise Buildings (2000-13) per 100,000 Metropolitan Area Residents (2010)

City

Metro Area Population (2010)

Total # of New High-Rise Buildings Completed in City (2000-13)

Rank

High-Rise Buildings Completed (2000-13) per 100,000 Metro  Residents (2010)

Rank

Las Vegas

1,951,269

50

T4

2.56

1

Chicago

9,461,105

149

2

1.57

2

New York

18,897,109

281

1

1.49

3

Miami

5,564,635

74

3

1.33

4

San Diego

3,095,313

35

7

1.13

5

Atlanta

5,268,860

50

T4

0.949

6

Seattle

3,439,809

30

8

0.872

7

Austin

1,716,289

14

T13

0.816

8

Charlotte

1,758,038

12

T16

0.683

9

Milwaukee

1,555,908

10

21

0.643

10

Houston

5,946,800

38

6

0.639

11

Portland

2,226,009

14

T13

0.629

12

Orlando

2,134,411

11

T18

0.515

13

San Francisco

4,335,391

22

T9

0.507

14

Boston

4,552,402

21

11

0.461

15

Las Vegas ranks the highest based on this measure, which is likely attributable to its status as a major tourist destination having a greater number of hotel rooms than any other city in the U.S. (more than 152,000 as of 2012), with significant numbers of these rooms located in high-rise hotels constructed since 2000. These hotels reportedly include 25 of the 50 largest hotels in the world based on the number of rooms.

Chicago Skyline

Chicago, pictured here, and New York City accounted for 430 of the 1,000 high-rise buildings completed this century in the 67 major U.S. cities evaluated.

The next two highest ranked cities by this measure are Chicago and New York City, with ratios of 1.57 and 1.49 recent high-rise buildings completed per 100,000 metropolitan area residents. Both cities are very similar in being: (a) historical centers for high-rise construction in the U.S., (b) major business centers, and (c) major tourist destinations.

Although Miami ranks 4th based on this ratio, I suspect that it might challenge Las Vegas for the top spot if the number of high-rise buildings constructed in the metropolitan area as a whole was used for the calculation rather than just those high-rises constructed within the city proper.

In general, three categories of cities appear to rank highly by this measure: (a) the two traditional centers of high-rise construction – Chicago and New York City, (b) other major business centers (having greater relative numbers of major corporations and corporate headquarter buildings), and (c) major tourist destinations (with greater relative numbers of major hotels and high-end residential developments targeting retirees or seasonal residents). Because New York City and Chicago represent all three categories, it makes sense that they rank very highly on this measure.

Similarly, Miami is both a major business center and a major tourist destination and should therefore be expected to have a disproportionately large number of high-rise buildings relative to its metropolitan area population. The four cities ranked in the top 15 that don’t necessarily fit into one or more of these categories are Austin, Charlotte, Milwaukee, and Portland. I suspect that high-rise development in these cities is being driven by their status as significant regional business centers, as well as cities with high quality downtown or near downtown urban environments. Overall, I believe that the ratios on Table 2 offer the best rankings of major U.S. based on the “intensity” of high-rise construction this century relative to other cities.

Rankings of Major U.S. Cities Based on the Number of High-Rise Buildings per 100,000 Person Increase in Metropolitan Area Population

The final analysis I performed was to evaluate the intensity of high-rise construction relative to the growth in metropolitan area population, recognizing that increases in population (and the associated increases in jobs and local business activity) should serve as a driver for new residential and office construction – some of which should occur in the form of new high-rise buildings. Therefore, I calculated the ratio of the number of high-rise (18-story or taller) buildings constructed since 2000 per 100,000 person increase in metropolitan area population from 2000 to 2010. Table 4 summarizes the results for the 15 highest ranked U.S. cities based on this ratio.

Table 4.  Top 15 Cities Based on the Number of New High-Rise Buildings (2000-13) per 100,000 Person Increase in Metropolitan Area Population (2000-10)

City

Metro Area Population Change (2000-10)

Total # of New High-Rise Buildings Completed in City (2000-13)

Rank

High-Rise Buildings Completed (2000-13) per 100,000 Increase in Metro Area Population (2000-10)

Rank

New York

574,107

281

1

48.95

1

Chicago

362,789

149

2

41.07

2

Milwaukee

55,167

10

21

18.13

3

Miami

557,071

74

3

13.28

4

Boston

161,058

21

11

13.04

5

San Diego

281,480

35

7

12.43

6

Providence

17,855

2

T40

11.20

7

San Francisco

211,651

22

T9

10.39

8

Las Vegas

575,504

50

T4

8.69

9

Seattle

395,931

30

8

7.58

10

San Jose

101,092

7

T24

6.92

11

Baltimore

157,495

8

23

5.08

12

Atlanta

1,020,879

50

T4

4.90

13

Portland

298,128

14

T13

4.70

14

Philadelphia

278,196

12

T16

4.31

15

New York City and Chicago are again ranked highest among major U.S. cities, and by a significant margin. Milwaukee and Providence have the greatest increase in their rankings based on this ratio versus their rankings based on the absolute number of high-rise buildings constructed. They are also the two smallest metropolitan areas represented in the top 15. The significance of this ratio is probably a good topic for debate, as only a small percentage of the population resides or works in high-rise buildings. Slow growth cities score well based on this ratio.

Summary of Key Findings

In summary, the most significant or most surprising findings for me included:

  • The dominance of New York City and Chicago which accounted for 430 of the 1,000 total new high-rise buildings completed this century in the 67 major U.S. cities evaluated.
  • The apparent lack of any negative impact from the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the boom in high-rise construction that occurred in New York City, as well as Chicago.
  • The magnitude of the high-rise construction boom in Miami, as well as the apparent lack of impact from Hurricane Katrina in dampening the enthusiasm for constructing new high-rise buildings in oceanfront locations that are likely most at risk from future major hurricanes.
  • The surprising lack of recent high-rise construction in a majority of the cities evaluated, with the combined total of only 72 new high-rise buildings in 42 cities (2 fewer than were constructed in in the City of Miami alone).
  • The higher than anticipated performance by several cities, in particular Milwaukee, which ranked 21st, 10th, and 3rd by the three measures, in spite of its current status as only the 39th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. (and a city not frequently recognized for its skyline).
  • The apparent absence of recent high-rise office construction in the major U.S. cities that are centers for the oil and gas industry, in response to the recent period of high oil prices, which is in marked contrast with booms in the construction of high-rise office buildings that occurred in nearly all of these cities during the 1974 to 1985 energy crisis and period of escalating or high oil prices.

David Holmes

David is an environmental scientist and grant writer specializing in the assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment of brownfield sites. David is also currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. David was previously the coauthor of a book on the history of the Chinese community in Milwaukee (Chinese Milwaukee).