Older buildings, like The Superman Building in Providence, once sported only
a few group elevators, and stairs for the intrepid.
I heard Sam "Gridlock" Schwartz say once that having everyone drive to work alone makes about as much sense as giving everyone their own personal elevator.
I got thinking about this the other day, and I would like to extend the metaphor.
Imagine a world where the dominant way to get places is in a private elevator. What would such a world be like?
At first, there would appear to be a shortage of elevators--many buildings having been built without them even in mind--so cities would require a ratio of one elevator for every person. First generation buildings under this policy would be built with huge central columns of elevator shafts, thousands deep, while the newest buildings would have one and half or even two elevators per person, in case someone might come to visit. Reformers would harken to the days when only one elevator was required for every two people, but wouldn't get very far implementing their plans.
Housing at the top of buildings would be sought after for the clean air it offered away from the street, and because of government-backed loans to add additions to the tops of buildings. Ground floors would be excluded from such loans.
Environmentally-inclined persons might invite a coworker to take their elevator with them to the ground floor, where they worked, but this would be rare.
The poor, unable to afford their own elevators, would take crowded group elevators. The funding for these would be sparse, and sometimes an elevator would be too full and would pass people by entirely. In some cities, group elevators would not exist.
Committeemen on finance panels in state governments would ensure that elevator shafts were built to where their great-aunts lived, though these relatives might be the only person on their floors. The routes would take Wonkavatoresque dips and turns to get to the great aunts' apartments.
At first, a financing system would be devised to pay for the expansive elevator programs, but over time the legacy costs would grow, and as elevators needed replacing their riders would begin to complain that they were being overtaxed for their maintenance, and that too many slackers were taking the group elevators. Elevators would break down, ensuing in embarrassingly predictable sit coms that delayed people's normal lives but reminded them of the importance of connections to strangers in a way they hadn't thought about for years.
Whole cities would be abandoned and new ones built to escape the costs. The new cities would have so many elevators that some would complain that it was hard to walk from office to office on the same floor, but engineers designing the cities would point to overcrowded hallways as evidence that they were needed.
Architects would question the ban on ground floors. Doesn't a region based on higher floors need ground floors? What about the old days when buildings were at a human scale? Talking heads would call these architects elitists. Regional planners in the most forward-thinking cities would suggest that maybe a better solution to elevator shortages would be to build shorter buildings that required fewer trips to the top and bottom, but would only allow pilot projects to be built in very circumscribed areas.
The cost of lower floors, artificially banned, would skyrocket. A movement of wealthy individuals would take over all ground-floor space, and soon fourth and fifth floor walk-ups would cost an arm and a leg.
Active-risers would decide that stairs were the thing, but their numbers would be few and far between. Affluent stair-climbers, especially, would have access to stairs taking them to their refurbished offices on the ground levels of buildings. Less affluent members of society would have to jump from building to building to get to work. Safety statistics would downplay the workers who fell in the process. Media accounts of active-rising would focus on the spandexed few who lived close to work, and occasionally to some wild-eyed athletes who climbed fifty stories once a week, but would not visibly demonstrate an awareness of these less fortunate active commuters.
Activists would chant against the construction of new buildings with ground floors attached to stairs and group elevators. The right would claim these new buildings were a war on solo elevatoring, while the left would claim the new buildings were going to price more people out of their floors.
As the world faced energy crises, a lack of affordable housing, rising taxes and cuts to services, existential challenges to the environment, and a decaying stock of elevatorless buildings, dealing with the roots of the problem would grind to a halt.