Stuck in the Middle with You

On the same day I learned that Edmonton is going to build an 80-storey building, Ben Carson, the US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, got stuck in an elevator in Miami. So, of course, I put two and two together. Sooner or later, elevators fail, or break down, or get stuck. Those possibilities are in the back of everyone’s mind when they enter an elevator, and we are all a whole lot happier when we step out of them than we are when we step into them.
A rendering of the Quarters Hotel and Residences. (Alldritt Land Corporation) via CBC News

As magnificent as that huge building in Edmonton might be, it all comes down to the nuts and bolts. In this case, the most important consideration has to be what happens if the power goes out. What if there is a fire and everyone has to use the stairs?

People with disabilities may be able to successfully live, stay, or work in high rise buildings, but only for so long as the elevator is working. Otherwise, they are obliged to wait for assistance. A discussion in Quora points out this problem, and such individuals are advised to call 911 during an emergency to let police or fire fighters know of their situation. In the event of a fire in a high rise, though, it may not be easy to get through on a 911 call.
Monadnock Building, Chicago, Fire Escape by David Silverman via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

In Canada, some of the most dysfunctional elevators are in public housing, and we hear horror stories about elevators becoming magnets for crime. We know that they sometimes stink from being used as urinals, and that they can be non-functioning for long periods of time. Landlords of multi-story rental apartment buildings are understandably reluctant to pay out large sums of money to modernize or fix elevators that may be over fifty years old, so repairs are delayed or intermittent. The elevators in downtown office buildings are more likely to get routine maintenance than are those in residential buildings, but even those are getting less frequent attention than they used to because owners are increasingly budget-conscious.

I am quite happy that Edmonton is going to have a magnificent new building, and I’m even more-or-less accepting of the fact that they will be taking up a little bit of parkland to build it. I can’t help thinking, though, that there will be only two safe ways to exit, and one of them means walking down eighty flights of stairs. I wouldn’t want to live, work, or stay in a building any higher than I can climb the stairs, and as I get older, that distance gets smaller.
Ben Carson by Elevator by Getty Images via Elle.

Of course, if, like Ben Carson, I was stuck in the elevator, I would probably wish I could take those stairs. All of them.

Clearly, the use of stairs as a failsafe has problems. If a person with both a creative imagination and engineering skills could come up with an alternative, they would make a fortune.

As I started thinking about this I imagined having people getting to the next building via tubular slides like the emergency chutes from airplanes. Then I thought about the kind of platforms with ropes and pulleys that window cleaners use. If there were enough they could help people with disabilities or infirmities to exit safely. There must be better methods of helping people out of a building than making them use eighty storeys of stairs. Any ideas?



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