In January I was delighted to come across a post on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s blog containing the following sentence: “Prominent urban thought-leaders such as Edward Glaeser, Ben Adler, and Matt Yglesias have argued that cities need towers and skyscrapers if they are to remain (or aspire to be) innovative, affordable, and sustainable.” Me, a “prominent urban thought leader”? I promptly emailed my parents.

Unfortunately, I was being put in that category as a way of setting me up as a proponent of a supposedly wrong-headed trend toward pro-density thinking among urbanists. The post ended with this toss of the gauntlet: “This spring, the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab will release a report that builds upon extensive city mapping and analysis to demonstrate the important role that older, smaller buildings and mixed-vintage commercial corridors play in fostering vibrant communities. We will show, with data, just how right Jane Jacobs was: Older, smaller buildings and diverse urban fabric play a critical role in supporting robust local economies, distinctive local businesses, and unforgettable places where people connect and unwind.” [emphasis in original]

The report, released on Thursday, seeks to empirically demonstrate that human-scaled buildings create a better urban experience than skyscrapers. For example, the National Trust writes, “Nightlife is most alive on streets with a diverse range of building ages.” The report uses a rather odd metric to bolster its point: “San Francisco and Washington, D.C., city blocks composed of mixed-vintage buildings host greater cellphone activity on Friday nights.” Even so, the group is obviously right. One need only walk around D.C.’s low-scale, historic Georgetown neighborhood at night, followed by its sterile neighbors, Foggy Bottom and Arlington, which are full of taller, more modern buildings, to see that this is true. It seems as if virtually every city’s biggest nightlife district is in a historic quarter. It’s also true, as the report points out, that older buildings tend to house more independent businesses and fewer chain stores than new buildings.