Fayetteville Requires Broader Skyline, Narrower Sprawl

Illustration by Clair Hutchinson

In May 2018, the Northwest Arkansas Council found that the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan statistical area would join the top 100 fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country by the end of 2019, based on the council’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Despite this rapid growth, Fayetteville has maintained a relatively flat skyline and has opted for sprawling growth, probably in favor of preserving the integrity of its various historic districts and in the interest of preserving the city’s scenic nature. Regardless, the inevitable long-term effects of climate change are fast-approaching within the coming decade, so Fayetteville needs to update its architectural rubric if it is to become more environmentally sustainable.

This is not to say that the city’s legislators have done nothing to address Fayetteville’s environmental impact. In November 2018, the Fayetteville City Council approved the adoption of solar panels on municipal land to provide power to both the Noland Wastewater Treatment Facility and the Westside Water Treatment Facility.

This constituted a major development in the city’s greater plan to source 100% of municipal power from solar energy. Ultimately, this seems like an especially achievable goal for Fayetteville. Google’s Project Sunroof estimates that 81% of Fayetteville roofs are solar-viable, which is 2% higher than the national average.

That 81% is a number that could be improved, though. Solar energy availability is a factor that benefits greatly from increased vertical growth in any given city. Solar panels operate most efficiently if they are exposed to more uninterrupted contact with the sun, so it follows that building solar panels on the roofs of skyscraper buildings is the best way to avoid solar obstructions.

For this reason, Fayetteville’s buildings should ideally grow taller as the city itself expands in acreage to compensate for growing energy demand. This is particularly true if Fayetteville, as part of the surrounding metropolitan area, continues to expand at its current rate.

Cities can also decrease their environmental impacts by emphasizing vertical growth over sprawling growth. As cities consume more acreage, they require the development of additional infrastructure to extend municipal services to those living in the city’s outer perimeter.

Essential services like sewage, power lines, water treatment facilities and public transport routes should ideally be extended to all city residents. In this way, cities might easily produce needless waste through inefficient city planning.

Between the two aforementioned variables, solar panel placement and efficient city planning, the need for Fayetteville to promote vertical architectural growth is therefore twofold. On the other hand, I also recognize that planning for these factors might not be within the immediate fiscal capabilities of smaller cities such as Fayetteville.

It is worth noting, though, that Fayetteville zoning ordinances generally prohibit buildings taller than three stories, and this ordinance needs to be adjusted before my propositions are made possible. After that, it seems far more pragmatic for that responsibility to lie with the federal government, though such measures seem unlikely under the current administration.

Regardless, the push for environmental sustainability is not a vacuous movement. Efficient city planning represents a key component in the fight against climate change that is not addressed often enough, and the full compliance of every major U.S. metropolitan area will be necessary for a tangible difference to be made.


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