Monday, March 21, 2011

Discovering the City, One Staircase at a Time

In the modern American city stairways have largely fallen out of use for public access, in part because of the challenges they pose to the disabled community and in part because most of us are, well, just too lazy to take the stairs. For some, however, public stairways offer a great excuse to walk through the city and experience street life in a neighborhood you might not otherwise visit.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Stairway Walks

At first I thought this was just an LA phenomenon, spearheaded by author Charles Fleming, who penned Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles after chronic back problems led him to seek relief through walking--which in turn sparked his curiosity about the city's nearly 400 stairways. He's walked up and down nearly 300 of them, and has been known to lead tours for the equally intrigued.

But Fleming isn't the only one. Health-related circumstances turned into a similar quest for one Seattle couple, who made it their goal to climb all 500 stairways in the city. (You can check out the cool Google Map they made here, so you can follow in their stairsteps). And then there's the runner they met along the way, who actually ran up all those stairs. And West Seattle residents Jake and Cathy with their blog Seattle Stairway Walks. And finally, the mother of all stair walking sites:, with maps to stair walks in dozens of cities across the world.

I'm sure for some stair climbers it's the physical challenge that draws them up the staircase, but for me stair walks highlight one of the great joys of pedestrian travel: they let you experience places that you'll just never see from the seat of a car--or even a bike. Well, unless you're a lot braver than me...

1 comment:

  1. I love the stairs of Los Angeles, and have walked many of them.

    If you haven't seen it, here is one of the best resources for the steps in LA: