Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Skyways in Minnesota: Necessary or a city killer?
It's a debate I had just the other day with my wife. We were walking through downtown Minneapolis on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, worrying about the future of our city's core shopping district. I wanted to take the skyway. She wanted to take the sidewalk. Skyways killed the vibrancy of downtown Minneapolis, she said. C'mon, I replied, it's Minnesota. We'll freeze without them.

Jay Walljasper
has also been thinking about our lack of an urban fabric in downtown Minneapolis. In an op-ed piece in the Star Tribune, Walljasper argues that downtown St. Paul is more alive in the cold months than its bigger twin because of outdoor skating and the Winter Carnival. He also quotes Jan Gehl, an "urban-livability consultant" (that's a cool job) as saying, "When you glass in the city, you eliminate the 'bad' days but also all the 'good' days. That is too much of a price to pay. You miss the fresh air, the street life. You may have 20 bad days a year when you want to stay indoors, but 200 good ones you miss. I say you make the city as good as possible for the good days, and that will carry it through on the bad days." (Gehl is pictured at right above, with Helle SoHolt of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen.)

What do you think?

4 comments:

Abysmal Chick said...

It's friggen COLD OUT! I love the skyway. St. Paul is boring most of the year they just throw more winter events. There is a certain atmosphere the skyway creates that can be fun as well. I think it should be enhanced with longer hours of operation, more security, and an allowance for street performers to play inside. The subways of NYC haven't killed that city, have they?

Alex B. said...

Comparing Minneapolis' skyways to NYC's subways is categorically wrong. NYC's subway is a mass transit system. It's underground not for climate control but to provide grade separation and fast mass transit - indeed, visit in the summer, and you'd be appalled how stuffy and hot it can get in those stations.

Still, it's a mass transit system that brings people in from all parts of the city, and then lets them exit to the street. It concentrates people on the street level, where they walk and don't worry about parking (since they took the subway).

Minneapolis' skyways, on the other hand, are not a mass transit system, but an indoor alternative to sidewalks. Instead of concentrating people at the street level like NYC's subway does, it spreads them out on two different levels.

Anonymous said...

Minneapolis skyways are like horizontal elevators: They're artificial conduits in which people refrain from eye contact and move around like pasty-faced zombies. They also leech pedestrian movement and energy from the street, which only contributes to the death of downtown retail. (Though, that said, even the skyway traffic can't help us hold on to retailers like Williams Sonoma.)

And, sure, yeah, it's cold during 12 days of winter, and another 12 in heat of summer. But why are those zombies galumphing through the skyways when the outside air is fresh and the birds are singing? I say, let's dam the Habitrails!

Anonymous said...

I am new to Minneapolis and was enthusiastic about the skyway system before experiencing it first hand. After a few visits I have to say Minneapolis has one of the worst downtowns ever!

Who cares if it's cold. Suck it up and interact with complete strangers and your city. The skyway is a maze of corporate interiors that remind me of hospitals. Its morbid and depressing. Even the shops and cafes within the skyway have very little to offer.

The next step would be to develop the street level. Its absolutely bizarre to walk through that area during the week. There isn't a soul to be found and all you get to look at are empty clubs and bars.

Who has made these decisions for your city? Are they still in charge? If so, why?