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The anticipated growth and urbanization of the global population over the next several decades will create a vast demand for the construction of new housing, commercial buildings and accompanying infrastructure. The production of cement, steel and other building materials associated with this wave of construction will become a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Might it be possible to transform this potential threat to the global climate system into a powerful means to mitigate climate change? To answer this provocative question, we explore the potential of mid-rise urban buildings designed with engineered timber to provide long-term storage of carbon and to avoid the carbon-intensive production of mineral-based construction materials. Increasing urbanization will lead to a significant expansion of buildings and related infrastructure, major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. This Perspective discusses the possibility of constructing mid-rise urban buildings with engineered timber for long-term carbon storage and carbon emissions reduction.