Architects and developers make it hard to take the stairs; they locate them at the end of corridors to meet fire codes, treat them as dismal spaces that are for emergency use only. This is a shame; stairs are great exercise. Now Mayor Bloomberg of New York has stepped in to make it easier for people to use stairs. They are setting up a Center for Active Design to promote the use of stairs, and to encourage good design that makes it easier. Commissioner Burney is quoted in a press release:
For years, architects and planners have been making it easier for people to be sedentary, compounding the nation’s obesity problem. The active design movement asks design professionals to be part of the solution and find new ways to encourage movement, both in buildings and on the streets. The benefits of active design can be profound: just two minutes of stair climbing a day – rather than using an elevator – can help prevent annual weight gain.
This is terrific stuff. The goals of the Center of Active Design:
The Center for Active Design promotes four key concepts of active design 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; and
- Improving access to nutritious foods in communities that need them most.
Mayor Bloomberg says:
New York City has been a leader when it comes to promoting healthier eating and now we’re leading when it comes to encouraging physical activity as well. Physical activity and healthy eating are the two most important factors in reducing obesity and these steps are part of our ongoing commitment to fighting this epidemic.
Legislation will be introduced to require new and renovated buildings to provide access to at least one identified stairwell, and to permit the use of holdback devices like electromagnets that are interconnected to the fire alarm.
This is not going to be easy, particularly in the security-obsessed New York office towers. Even when companies occupy multiple floors of a building, one often finds that the fire stairs are all alarmed and if you want to go down one floor, you have to use the elevator where there is an access card reader. Emergency exits are often even covered in confusing illegal signs that will keep people out of them. Elevator lobbies are sealed often sealed off so that people don't even have access to the stairs unless the fire alarms are set off.
Perhaps New York City (and the rest of the world) should be changing codes to ensure that there is a separate stair accessible to every elevator lobby so that people have an an attractive and easily accessible choice; the dismal fire escape stair isn't going to do it, even with good signage. One great model is the New York Times building, where they put communication stairs so that people could travel from floor to floor easily. Instead of magnetic holdbacks on doors, they have elaborate horizontal fire shutters that are almost invisible.
My favorite stair
Meanwhile, at TreeHugger, we are going to bring back the Stair of the Week, where we look at stairs that so gorgeous that people just want to use them.