While the number of escalators in the state of Wyoming is dominating the news today, New York City’s favorite Big Gulp-hating health-nut
also has modes of transporting oneself from one floor of a building to another on his mind.
At a news conference yesterday held at the New School University, exiting nanny/Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a series of anti-obesity initiatives that encourage — not force, as his other health-related crusades, both failed and realized, have tended to do — New Yorkers to hoof it up and down the stairs in lieu of taking an elevator (or hitching a ride on an escalator, I suppose) to get to their apartments, offices, and so on.
And haughty Bloomberg, who lives in a 12,500-square-foot Upper East Side townhouse
when not in the Hamptons or his second home of Bermuda, is leading by example, bless his heart: "I have five floors in my house, and I just take the stairs." He also prefers his fleet of SUVs to be rigged with room-size air conditioners
, but that's a whole other story.
Mr. Bloomberg said on Wednesday that he had issued an executive order requiring city agencies to promote the use of stairways and use smart design strategies for all new construction and major renovations. Mr. Bloomberg has also proposed two bills that would increase visibility and access to at least one staircase in all new buildings around the city. This would include putting up signs on the walls, especially near elevators, with one central injunction: take the stairs.
While Bloomberg’s stair-love officially went public yesterday — as did the creation of the Center for Active Design, a nonprofit that will “promote physical activity and health in buildings and public spaces" — the city has already begun developing residential buildings in which the pièces de résistance are, in fact, the stairwells.
Back in March, I wrote about Arbor House
, a 124-unit affordable housing complex in the Bronx boasting a massive hydroponic farm on the roof, a huge emphasis on indoor air quality, and LEED Platinum certification:
Incorporating health-promoting Active Design Guidelines established by the city, the ABS Architects-designed building’s windowed, easy-to-access interior stairwells also feature art and piped-in 'stair music' to encourage residents to skip the elevator and burn a few calories by hoofing it up and down the stairs. In addition to promoting zesty workout sessions in the stairwells, Arbor House features designated indoor and outdoor exercise areas that 'encourage active recreation options for people of all ages.'
Beyond the strategic — read: super-prominent —placement of stairwells in new buildings and the retrofitting of stairways in older buildings to make them more user-friendly, the Center for Active Design revolves around four key concepts that aim to “reduce obesity through the design of buildings, streets, and neighborhoods:”
• Active buildings: encouraging greater physical movement within buildings for users and visitors;
• Active transportation: supporting a safe and vibrant environment for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders;
• Active recreation: shaping play and activity spaces for people of different ages, interests, and abilities;
• Improving access to nutritious foods in communities that need them most.
Still, stairwells were the focal point at yesterday’s news conference. Proclaimed
Deputy Mayor Linda I. Gibbs:
We know that regular stair use increases physical activity and active stairways are one of many ways we are creating a healthy environment. As a result of these initiatives, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers may now take the stairs, saving the equivalent of 500,000 pounds of weight among adult New Yorkers annually.
Added the Center for Active Design’s Executive Director, Joanna Frank: “We want people to move, we want people to choose this option. The elevator is there, but it doesn’t have to be the first thing you meet.”
Naturally, there are some challenges involved, particularly when it comes to fire code:
Open staircases, however, pose problems as well, especially in buildings in which stair doors are kept closed as a safety measure against fires. Mr. Bloomberg is trying to circumvent this legal challenge by passing a bill that would permit the use of 'hold-open devices' to keep the doors open while allowing them to shut automatically in the case of fire.
Thus far, reaction to Bloomberg’s pro-stair/anti-elevator initiative has been positive, although its effectiveness is yet to be seen.
MNN food blogger Robin Shreeves, who, like myself, isn’t particularly fond of some of Bloomberg’s other health schemes (cracking down on cigarettes, salt, trans-fats, and, of course, oversized sugary drinks) thinks it’s a “great idea
.” And again, Bloomberg won’t be deploying a team of elevator police across the city to ensue that able-bodied folks take the stairs or require those who wish to take the elevator from the first to second floor (ugh) to brandish special elevator passes. “It's not to change what you have to do, but to give you the idea and the impetus to do something that is in your own interest," he explained.
Consider me a supporter this time around. In the nine years that I’ve lived in New York City, I’ve spent all of them living in fourth-floor apartments: the first three years were in an elevator-equipped building and the last six in a walk-up. And although it’s not exactly glamorous hauling laundry and groceries up four flights of stairs in 95 degree heat, it's cheaper than a gym membership and, in all honesty, can’t see myself going back to taking the 'vator. Just don't put me on the fifth floor.
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