In recent decades, public staircases have been subject to a great deal of controversy in most cities, often viewed as places which are commonly associated with dangerous illegal activities such as crime, drug use, and even violence. In Cincinnati, Ohio – these staircases can be found in various urban locations throughout the city – some still commonly walked by pedestrians, while others remain obstructed by thick green foliage, trees, or sealed off with metal signage that reads, “STEPS CLOSED.”
According to Soapbox Media, the historic importance of urban staircases in Cincinnati was created in part because of geographic contrasts poised by steep inclines situated between neighborhoods. As the city continued to expand in the early nineteenth century, the logical way to connect people and neighborhoods to employment centers was to install convenient footpaths for pedestrians. Today, there are 399 known staircases.
According to a recent episode of 99% invisible, changing uses (or misuses) for public staircases, also called “invisible staircases,” according to Roman Mars, were the result of shifting attitudes by urban planners and architects who were themselves willing participants aboard the rise of auto-oriented development. The true social and economic cost of this can be seen daily in terms of how public attitudes and behavior have slowly shifted away from the intimately connected walking city, which Cincinnati used to be.
Growing interest in Cincinnati public staircases continues to receive attention from urban explorers in search of history. The topic has even sparked an ongoing investigation from two Northern Kentucky University (NKU) students who plan on publishing a book entitled, “Descent: A History of the Staircases of Cincinnati.”
Andrew Boehringer, one of the two students working on the project, believes Cincinnati public staircases to be “…a lens for looking at a city and how it changed over time.”
Where can you find public staircases in your city? Are they subject to the same negative criticisms in Cincinnati or are they viewed as public assets, which enable more walkable cities? Please share your thoughts.
Credits: Data linked to Sources. Photos by Geoff Bliss.