Mayor Bloomberg Says You're Not Using the Stairs Enough

NYC to use building regulations to fight obesity

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - 03:23 PM


NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg issued an executive order Wednesday requiring all new government facilities to be designed in a way that encourages physical activity, like taking the stairs. He wants to help the rest of the city do the same with new legislation and a new academic center. It's all part of a push to spread a philosophy called Active Design. 

As the there-term mayor leaves office, he's pushing to institutionalize his expansive efforts to promote public health already codified in bans on smoking and transfats and attempted more recently on large sugary drinks. In this latest initiative, Bloomberg is turning to architecture and design requirements to fight obesity. 

Contemporary design tends toward sedentary. Many contemporary office buildings discourage people from taking the stairs or even walking more than a few feet to refill their coffee. Some offices do this in overt ways like placing parking lots right next to entrances or locking stairwell re-entry doors, other buildings promote sloth through subtle or even unintentional signals like poor signage that implies the stairs are for emergencies only.

That's bad design in the eyes of Mayor Bloomberg and advocates of active design. By this view, places can be built to foster walking and a range of physical activities accommodating all ages and abilities. Promoting stairs though, is the most often cited example of the practice applied to buildings.

Bloomberg announced two separate pieces of legislation to encourage—though not require, the city stresses—stairway access. Both require City Council approval.

The first would mandate that building owners make one well-marked stairwell available for use in every building and add signage near elevators "prompting stair use." The other proposal would allow landlords to use devices to keep stairwell doors open for up to three consecutive floors to make it easier for workers to take those short, intra-building trips on foot instead of by elevator. 

To make government offices more active, Bloomberg's executive order obliges all city agencies to use active design strategies on new constructions and major renovations. The city released active design guidelines in 2010 and the office of Design, Development and Construction put them to use on various public space projects, city buildings and two affordable housing projects by Blue Sea developers. 

As with his previous health initiatives, Mayor Bloomberg wants this idea replicated beyond the five boroughs, so he also announced the launch of a nonprofit institution to spread the active design gospel. The Center for Active Design "will serve as an international resource to communicate best design practices and share health research as we seek to reduce obesity and chronic diseases by promoting physical activity and healthy eating through design,” said Executive Director Joanna Frank in a statement. 

The three-person center is funded mostly from $285,000 from the Mayor's Obesity Task Force, as well as other municipalities and regional governments around the world. 

The organization's website already has case studies of actively designed places including the the High Line and the New York Police Academy.


Comments [13]

eliza loehr from United States

I think "As the there-term mayor leaves office" is supposed to be "As the three-term mayor leaves office"?

Just thought I'd point that out

Dec. 02 2014 09:04 AM
John C. Anderson from Quint Cities, IL

I finished 700 flights of stairs a few hours ago.

I'm fortunate enough to be fit, I'm a very determined little vermin, and I trained for it.

I wouldn't expect most people to do what I did.

I wouldn't expect someone who is wheelchair bound or who has heart or lung issues to take the stairs and I wouldn't expect someone to go through agony to take them. But I'd like to think that in time that more people who are capable of doing it will take more stairs.

Stair climbing or descending is, or could be, one of the ADLs (activities of daily living) that many of us have access to, which could help us stay fit or get fitter.

On behalf of those who work hard at being fit and are proud of themselves for it, "Please don't hate me because I'm fit.*"

* borrowed from the old "Please don't hate me because I'm beautiful", bit.

Sep. 02 2014 04:11 PM
John C. Anderson from Silvis, IL

Mayor Bloomberg is right. If you take the stairs, every step you take is a step in the right direction.

I'm one of the fittest people on Earth, in part because I take the stairs and say "See you later, elevator.

In fact, on September 2nd at 9 a.m. at Warren Tower in Silvis, Il I intend to run up and down 700, that's SEVEN HUNDRED, flights of stairs as a tribute to Shirley Johanson and in celebration of my 70th birthday.

Aug. 21 2014 01:38 PM
Ms. from NYC

For those who would like to walk up/down the stairs, great! I'm in favor of building internal stairways that are out in the open making them safer to use throughout the day, especially in the workplace.

For those who have physical injuries/illnesses obviously should use the elevator.

Nobody should be frown upon for using the elevator, even if just for one flight up. Just because a person looks and walks ok (at any age),it does not mean they do not have an injury or illness that is keeping them from using the stairs for the safety of their own health.

In my case, I am very athletic, but due to knee problems I avoid going up the stairs when possible. This is my choice & it should be respected:)

Jul. 23 2013 06:03 PM
Nancy from Brooklyn

Bloomberg thinks we're not using the stairs enough. Ah, now I understand why most subway stations remain inaccessible to anyone with mobility problems.

Jul. 22 2013 11:52 AM
Matthias from Harlem, NY

This is great! I would love if it were easier to take the stairs. I hate poorly designed, dingy stairways that say "you don't belong here".

Jul. 19 2013 05:21 PM

Duffy is incorrect that his buildings are the first - there are others out there. And as he's not able to respond to public health outcomes - it's notable, as there is a gap between architects designing without real knowledge or public health tools - a typical architectural gap. Lastly, just a comment to note the interesting commentary that we have to make "not-sedentary design" - a tale of our current "civilized" society.

Jul. 19 2013 10:40 AM
Ann from Manhattan

Everyone should be encouraged to walk up and down the escalators. WHY do most people just stand??? They need to be educated.

Jul. 19 2013 10:34 AM
TOM from Brooklyn

Why dwell on no union contracts when we can dwell on another 'white people' fixation.

Jul. 18 2013 02:06 PM
Brian S.

I use a wheelchair, but I work in an office building in the Midwest that only allows its stairways to be used in case of emergency! And the apartment building I live in allows use of the stairs at all times but they're well hidden in comparison to the elevator.

Encouraging people to use the stairs would make the people around me more pleasant to look at as well as reduce my wait times at the elevator. A win-win indeed, another win for a rare time I actually agree with Bloomberg.

Just as long as you put signage directing people to the elevator at the eye level of people who use wheelchairs, so they'll less likely be noticed by those who can and should take the stairs, and more noticeable to those actually needing the elevators.

J McDonald, the people you describe are exactly the types of folks who should be using a wheelchair, but don't because they can't get over the social stigma of using one (generally older folks who equate wheelchair use with giving up). Where possible, use of ramps in lieu of elevators where the change in level is little more than 6-7 or so feet.

Jul. 18 2013 11:15 AM
Hiyyavrom from senfrenciskoville

Sad last signs of an expiring regime. Get those last noble intentions, at the back of the book, onto media. You're a better man than the Clintons, or the scavengers that will succeed you, Mayor. These won't succeed, not enough time. Don't know if Good Egg Elliot will focus in this direction, although he MIGHT not be so subservient to Real Estate and Elite Fun.

Jul. 18 2013 02:55 AM
John Q. Private from nowhere

Bloomberg steps out of his limo and announces that News Yorkers don't walk enough. I'm searching for the right descriptive term to describe the arrogance of Spitzer, Weiner and Bloomberg.

Jul. 17 2013 08:10 PM
J McDonald from West Village NYC 10014

Extra walking is a great way to exercise if able, What if your permanently disabled (not in a wheelchair) and every step is agony.

Jul. 17 2013 05:19 PM

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