April 12 2013

Cincinnati Public Staircases: A Walking History Abandoned But Not Forgotten

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.”

Cincinnati Public Staircases: A Walking History Abandoned But Not Forgotten

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.

Cincinnati Public Staircases: A Walking History Abandoned But Not Forgotten

Cincinnati Public Staircases: A Walking History Abandoned But Not Forgotten

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.

Cincinnati Public Staircases: A Walking History Abandoned But Not Forgotten

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.

Geoff Bliss

Geoff Bliss grew up in Woodstock, New York and will soon graduate from the Master of Community Planning program at the University of Cincinnati with a focus in Physical Planning. He holds a B.S. in Applied Arts & Science from the Rochester Institute of Technology where he studied Political Science & Archeology. With broad interests in Urban Planning, Geoff is interested finding relationships between Sustainable Development, Urban Archeology, Public Art, and DIY Urbanism. As a Grid blogger, Geoff reported on a wide range of Urban Planning & Urban Design topics in New York City and Cincinnati, OH.

Twitter - Facebook - More Posts

This entry was posted on Friday, April 12th, 2013 at 9:03 am and is filed under Engineering, Environment, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Housing, Infrastructure, Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Social/Demographics, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Share

14 Responses to “Cincinnati Public Staircases: A Walking History Abandoned But Not Forgotten”

  1. No name Says:

    Think about the staircase in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC made famous by the movie The Exorcist. Most cities are relatively flat, though.

  2. No Name Says:

    Today, such stairs have been renamed by the Federal Government under the American’s with Disabilities Act as ‘Public Facilities’. If repair work is undertaken by a city, under Title II of the ADA, the city would likely also be responsible for installing an ADA compliant accessible route (ramp or elevator) for those with disabilities who are unable to navigate the stairs. Thus – an enormous cost.

  3. Smart Growth News – April 17, 2013 | Smart Growth America Says:

    [...] Cincinnati Public Staircases: A Walking History Abandoned But Not Forgotten Global Site Plans – April 14, 2013 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.” This entry was posted in Blog, SGA News Clips. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  4. Geoff Bliss Says:

    I do remember the staircase shown in the Exorcist in fact and that would definitely be an alternative use for public staircases! And I also agree that making staircases ADA compliment would have an enormous cost associated with it. Public ramps and elevators would certainly help people with disabilities get around the city, but I could never rationally see a city installing them. Given the nature of their maintenance and exposure to weather, potential vandalism, etc., I wouldn’t think it would be largely beneficial for a city budget. Nevertheless, it would be a quite an idyllic vision for pedestrians! Thank you for your comments.

  5. Michael Farrell Says:

    Stairs cannot be made wheelchair accessible. Nonetheless, they may be provided under ADA as long as there is an alternate wheelchair accessible route. A sidewalk adjacent to a steep street counts. See page D-4 in the Portland Pedestrian Design Guide.
    Juneau, Alaska has an extensive system of stairs which it continues to maintain, as does Portland, Oregon. None of these stairs feature elevators. http://www.communitywalk.com/portland_stairs/map/394038
    http://www.portlandonline.com/index.cfm?a=437808&c=61813
    http://www.publicstairs.com/

  6. Geoff Bliss Says:

    Michael, these are great resources! Thank you. And yes, I can’t imagine public stairs featuring elevators. Nonetheless, I hope to see the same resources developed in Cincinnati someday. I’m also pleased to see such a wide interest in the discovery and maintenance of public stairs. I really like the pedestrian design guide. I’m going to read it as soon as possible.

  7. Paul McConaughy Says:

    As a kid I used to walk the railings of the public staircases on the north side of Pittsburgh. They were mostly wood. I haven’t gone looking for them in many years. They are probably long gone.

  8. Vicente del Rio Says:

    Urban staircases have been important connectors throughout history in many cities, and have always been regarded as fundamental elements of the urban morphology, at least in Europe. Think of all Italian hill towns without staircases? Think of the beauty of Piazza Di Spagna and Piazza Di Campidoglio, with their “scalinatas”! In my birth city, Rio de Janeiro – Brazil, staircases have always been fundamental in hilly areas and, particularly, withing squatter-settlements. Check out the link for an incredible staircase in the Lapa neighborhood, adopted by Jorge Selaron, a popular artist:
    http://www.google.pt/imgres?imgurl=http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-6F-i2TjwqSw/UO-aw5pPO8I/AAAAAAAAVdQ/LsvGe-6Ji_g/s640/brasil-escadaria-convento-santa-teresa-jorge-selaron-20130110-09-size-598.jpg&imgrefurl=http://sociedadedospoetasamigos.blogspot.com/2013/01/jorge-selaron-pintor-e-ceramista-chileno.html&h=336&w=597&sz=119&tbnid=sqAEJ-MUdF8gzM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=160&zoom=1&usg=__VtJrfNKDTrm-mbu3E_p6G6RDZWg=&docid=1O2Htt-7_T5w3M&sa=X&ei=pvNwUdmCDKyv7AbatYGwDA&ved=0CFcQ9QEwBQ&dur=7128

  9. James Zumwalt Says:

    In Seattle we have hundreds of them, and many have been refurbished recently. The Queen Anne neighborhood even has an independently published map of the ~120 of them that traverse the hill it sits upon. Perhaps seen as a little risky at night, the great majority see them as valuable assets in a city fraught with massive hills.

  10. Chuck Half Says:

    Perhaps you can “see” if those steps of your youth are still around? The City of Pittsburgh maintains 712 sets of steps, some of which are shown as streets on maps. Step locations are grouped by neighborhood.

    Prior to the October 2012 Step Trek, the 18th Street steps were lit up and the South Side Slopes will never be the same. http://blogs.post-gazette.com/news/city-walkabout/35643-18th-st-steps-light-the-way

    http://www.frontiernet.net/~rochballparks2/towns/pgh_steps.htm

  11. Diana Says:

    I happened upon one of these staircases last week after spending some time at Findlay Market. Just north of the Market, Ohio Avenue Steps lead from Phillippus United Church of Christ to Clifton Avenue (and beyond). I think Cincinnati’s many staircways are wonderful and plan to explore this one more as the weather improves.

  12. Cecelia Says:

    Not all Cincinnati’s public steps are abandoned or in disrepair. Others are actively used. Some have been rebuilt by the City. Some are contributing resources in historic districts. A local advocacy group leads cleanups: http://springinoursteps.com/

  13. californian Says:

    There are many stairways in San Francisco, Berkley, and other cities in California. I don’t believe there are ADA issues, particularly with historical stairways. The stairways in San Francisco, in particular, are well loved and commonly used.

  14. Carl Says:

    we have many like that here in the UK, some have been renovated.

Leave a Reply


9 × = thirty six

 

Follow US

Categories