Should we pack everybody into a giant skyscraper?

At this year's eVolo Skyscraper Competition, a concept for a re-imagined Time Square – entirely contained within a mile-high tower – has gotten a lot of attention. Would it be feasible to pack whole city neighborhoods into skyscrapers? 

Hassan Ammar/FILE/AP
FILE PHOTO- In this March 14, photo, a model of a planned new capital for Egypt is on display at an economic conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. It's a monumental, ambitious project: An eco-friendly city the size of Singapore in the desert outside Cairo to serve as a new capital, with skyscrapers and a park more than twice the size of New York's Central Park. New modern city structures were on display at the eVolo Skyscraper Competition, models included super skyscrapers complete with stadiums, beaches and parks and much more as a part of these mega buildings.

Imagine taking in the New York Giants game on a Sunday afternoon. Ten minutes after the final touchdown, you step out of an elevator and take a hike in a redwood forest. How did they bring the forest to the city? 

That matter was taken up at this year's eVolo Skyscraper competition where one team put forth a design called "Times Squared 3015." The design was an enormous skyscraper – is over a mile tall – featuring modules that include over 4,000 acres of farm space, Giants Stadium, more than 800 retail shops, two elementary schools, residencies for roughly 32,000 people, a redwood forest to go alone with its 16 parks, and a re-imagined financial district and governor's mansion for good measure. The concept of the Times Squared 3015 was developed by Blake Freitas, Grace Chen, and Alexi Kararavokiris who received an honorable mention for their submission. 

It's natural to think vertically when attempting to fit more and more people into the world's cities. But would a tower like Times Squared 3015 really be a good idea? 

Compared to the rest of the US, New York City is incredibly dense already. The city's population density exceeds 800 times that of the rest of the country. And with density comes benefits and efficiencies – today's New Yorker uses gasoline at the rate at which the average American hasn't since the 1920's. Only 28 percent of New Yorkers drive to work, compared to 86 percent of commuters in the US as a whole. 

But density can have a downside. Stress from crowding can come with unplanned density, according to a research article from the World Health Organization. Experiments conducted by ecologist John B. Calhoun on rats in the 1960s pointed to increased stress and aggression in dense populations. Calhoun's "rodent utopia," in which rats were free to eat and reproduce without fear of disease or predation, rapidly became a violent dystopia before the population collapsed and went extinct.

In humans, the feeling of being crowded may not be a necessary result of density. Psychologist Jonathan Freedman's series of crowding experiments with people found that a range of social and psychological variables, such as an individual’s desired level of privacy, ability to control a situation, or their social role, could cause stress and feelings of crowding. 

These findings were applied to hospitals in prisons for Paul B. Paulus's 1988 research on prison crowding. The results indicated that stress associated with crowding could be mitigated by reducing the unwanted interaction between prisoners or patients. This took the form of having an individual cell or giving recovering patients an independent living area.

However, the final logistical hurdle in building super skyscrapers would be addressing just how high can they can physically be built. The Tall Tower Project, led by science fiction author Neal Stephenson and Dr. Keith Hjelmstad of Arizona State University, wants to push the limits of what is physically possible to build. In a video they explain their desire to build a 15 Kilometer-tall tower using advanced steel. If a project like this is achievable, Times Squared 3015 and its contemporaries at the eVolo competition just might be theoretically possible. 

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