Why do we need a highrise, anyway?

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By Tim Redmond

KQED's Forum did an entire hour this morning on the proposed Transbay Terminal project, and the best question come for a seven-year-old.

The panelists were not exactly offering a visionary approach to urban planning: Dean Macris, the interim city planning director who never met a tall building he didn't like, was on, along with the Chronicle's John King, who thinks at least one of the projects is beautiful, and Clark Manus, past president of the American Institute of Architecture. The panel talked about public space and the beauty of these various buildings until a call came in from someone who wouldn't give her name.

Michael Krasny, the host, asked why she wanted to be anonymous. "Because I'm only seven," she said.

Then she asked her question:

Why do we need to build a big highrise anyway? Why not a park?

Well, the guests hemmed and hawed a bit, but Macris finally acknowledged the truth: We're building a highrise not because we want or need another tall building, or because there's such a pent-up demand for highrise office space or because we want to be cooler than Chicago, which is building an even bigger tower. It's because this is how we're going to finance the Transbay Terminal. Period.

Terrible reason to build a highrise. Thanks, kid, for at least raising the issue.