Can you identify a city by its skyline? It you're looking at Seattle's Space Needle or the Empire State Building, it's not that hard. But what can you tell about a city just from the sum of its buildings?
According to The Atlantic magazine's Atlantic Cities website, quite a bit. It has separated cities from around the world into 10 categories and suggests that a skyline can tell us everything about a city from industry to political history to location.
The Atlantic names Houston as a prime example of an "oligopolis," a uniquely North American city that's marked by not one downtown corridor but several distinct zones.
There's the "power broker," cities like New York, Chicago and Tokyo whose skylines mix commercial and residential buildings and boast a "heterogeneous architectural fabric, indicative of a constantly evolving urban landscape."
In post-communist cities like Warsaw, Beijing and Moscow, decades of "austere and functional" (aka boring and ugly) state-built structures are giving way to modern development, while Dubai and Panama City fit the 19th-century term of "shock cities" that develop seemingly overnight.
But it's not just about how tall the buildings are. The Atlantic names Houston as a prime example of an "oligopolis," a uniquely North American city that's marked by not one downtown corridor but several distinct zones of towers developed to suit separate industries. Think of the array of high-rises in the Galleria area (the largest group of skyscrapers outside a central business district in the world), the aptly named Energy Corridor rising in the western part of the city, the bustling Texas Medical Center and even the petrochemical plants dominating the southeastern outskirts of the metropolitan area.
Atlantic says these cities can often be identified by parking lots of the central business district ("a clear indication that CBD land isn’t exactly in high demand") and a downtown corridor that empties out at night. Despite the city's best efforts, Houston is guilty as charged.
It's interesting to think of Houston's legendary sprawl as a function of its disparate business environment as much as a function of a city that grew up in the automobile age. Do you like our oligopolis, or would you prefer a city like those under "Urban Living" or "Zoned Out" or even "Surf Cities"?