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posted by LaminatorX on Saturday December 27 2014, @07:26AM   Printer-friendly
from the vertical-integration dept.

For most city-dwellers, the elevator is an unremarkable machine that inspires none of the passion or interest that Americans afford trains, jets, and even bicycles. But according to Daniel Wilk the automobile and the elevator have been locked in a “secret war” for over a century, with cars making it possible for people to spread horizontally, encouraging sprawl and suburbia, and elevators pushing them toward life in dense clusters of towering vertical columns.

Elevators first arrived in America during the 1860s, in the lobbies of luxurious hotels, where they served as a plush conveyance that saved the well-heeled traveler the annoyance of climbing stairs. It wasn’t until the 1870s, when elevators showed up in office buildings, that the technology really started to leave a mark on urban culture. Business owners stymied by the lack of available space could look up and see room for growth where there was previously nothing but air—a development that was particularly welcome in New York, where a real estate crunch in Manhattan’s business district had, for a time, forced city leaders to consider moving the entire financial sector uptown. Advances in elevator technology combined with new steel frame construction methods to push the height limits of buildings higher and higher. In the 1890s, the tallest building in the world was the 20-story Masonic Temple in Chicago. By 1913, when hydraulic elevators had been replaced with much speedier and more efficient electrical ones, it was the 55-story Woolworth Building in New York, still one of the one-hundred tallest buildings in the United States as well as one of the twenty tallest buildings in New York City. "If we didn't have elevators," says Patrick Carrajat, the founder of the Elevator Museum in New York, "we would have a megalopolis, one continuous city, stretching from Philadelphia to Boston, because everything would be five or six stories tall."

But the elevator did more than make New York the city of skyscrapers, it changed the way we live. “The elevator played a role in the profound reorganization of the building,” writes Andreas Bernard. That means a shift from single-family houses and businesses to apartments and office buildings. “Suddenly … it was possible to encounter strangers almost anywhere.” The elevator, in other words, made us more social — even if that social interaction often involved muttered small talk and staring at doors. Elevators also reinforced a social hierarchy; for while we rode the same elevators, those who rode higher lived above the fray. "It put the “Upper” into the East Side. It prevented Fifth Avenue from becoming Wall Street," writes Stephen Lynch. "It made “penthouse” the most important word in real estate."

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  • (Score: 1) by cellocgw on Saturday December 27 2014, @01:38PM

    by cellocgw (4190) on Saturday December 27 2014, @01:38PM (#129457)

    Me, I'd say the "war" was more a case of commuter options vs. elevator, not just the car. But even that's a bit off, since even with good trains or busses (there's never a good commute via car :-( ) it takes longer to get to your work destination than it does to drop down an elevator and walk a few blocks.

    Which leads to the next possible conflict: did elevators make it easy for bosses to force their entire workstaff to work at one location, rather than spread out over either a small-building "farm" or buildings in multiple towns? Was this a good thing or a bad thing for overall company productivity? and so on.

    Physicist, cellist, former OTTer (1190) resume:
  • (Score: 3, Funny) by frojack on Saturday December 27 2014, @08:15PM

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Saturday December 27 2014, @08:15PM (#129530) Journal

    You know, some things are actually NOT conspiracies. I know, right? Who knew!

    No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
  • (Score: 2) by GungnirSniper on Saturday December 27 2014, @09:16PM

    by GungnirSniper (1671) on Saturday December 27 2014, @09:16PM (#129554) Journal

    (there's never a good commute via car :-( )

    Yes there is, just come in earlier or later than everyone else. I live and work in suburbia, and my commute starts at 9:30. Unless there was a nasty accident earlier, it is smooth sailing. Now why everyone's start and end times have to be 8 and 5, I'll never understand. I think we'll eventually see tax credits to companies who allow earlier and later starts.

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by cellocgw on Saturday December 27 2014, @09:26PM

      by cellocgw (4190) on Saturday December 27 2014, @09:26PM (#129557)

      Dunno where you live, but shifting times has been tried here in Eastern MA and it didn't make much difference. Starting times range from 6:30 AM to 8:30 AM, and many companies allow "flex hours" whereby folks only need to be on premises for some core time like 10-2 , but our roads are systolic almost all the time.

      Fill any conduit with thousands of independently-operated vehicles and you'll exceed the Reynolds Number in short order.
      I'll take walking to a bus or subway stop, riding en masse, and walking from the other end any day.
      Then again, there's Boston's infamous Green Line :-(

      Physicist, cellist, former OTTer (1190) resume: