polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Moving On Up? Outdoor Escalators in Cities

by Min Li Chan

Source: Daily Mail

Escalators are usually associated with the internal workings of multi-level buildings. On notable occasions, moving staircases appear outdoors in an urban environment, even if perhaps rather incongruously.

In Hong Kong, outdoor escalators carry city folks and tourists up the slopes of Central Mid-Levels, an expatriate enclave and hangout for the affluent. In Barcelona, I recall hiking up to the neighborhood around Parc Guell — only to notice a few thoughtfully placed escalators on my way down, where I met locals carrying bags of groceries up to their homes. In Comuna 13 of Medellin, Colombia's second largest city, a recently built 1,260-foot long escalator snakes across the hillside shantytown in six separate divisions. As part of the neighborhood's larger urban regeneration project, this massive outdoor escalator cuts down the time to traverse Comuna 13, reportedly one of Medellin's poorest and most violent neighborhoods, from 35 minutes to six minutes on foot.

The integration of conspicuous technologies into unlikely environments inevitably raises questions from skeptics: Is this an appropriate use of technology? Is this simply a shiny new idea with press value that leaves unintended social consequences in its wake? How should we measure its impact on people's lives, and its return on the city's investment?

In explaining what makes cyber-culture so compelling, Ted Friedman notes in "Electric Dreams" that its debates take place in "the utopian sphere: the space in public discourse where, in a society that in so many ways has given up on imagining anything better than multinational capitalism, there's still room to dream of different kinds of futures." Friedman's observations ring true beyond cyber-culture. With the introduction of new technologies into old, seemingly entrenched circumstances, there is a sense of uncharted opportunity — the possibility of discussing and enacting alternate futures that improve on existing paths.

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