4.3.13

The Case Against Skyways in Ten Easy Steps

[Blank walls are an inevitable consequence of skyway buildings.]
I found myself having another skyway conversation last week. It's difficult to boil down the reasons why these architectures are problems. Here's my attempt to do so using bumper sticker logic.
Skyways are not a conspiracy. They emerged slowly over time. (Though there are many examples of skyway plans, mostly effects of the skyways are “unintended consequences.”
Here are ten intended and unintended consequences…
1. They increase the speed and flow of car traffic because they remove pedestrians from the streets.
2. Building owners and office workers like them, and they helped keep some companies in downtown St Paul and Minneapolis.
3. They are good for people with limited mobility: the elderly, those in wheelchairs.
4. Almost without exception, buildings designed around skyways create terrible street fronts: walled buildings with few doors or windows, many parking garage exits. Architecturally, it’s a zero sum game.
5. The confusing nature of skyway spaces means that, even if technically “public,” they exclude many people. Most people who don’t have a job downtown (or money to spend) feel “out of place."
6. This spatial alienation means that public money spent on skyways becomes a subsidy to private property owners. In Minneapolis (and St Paul) skyways “close” at certain times. Compared to streets, they are not public.
7. Intentional or not, this exclusion is a de facto segregation of downtown according to race, class, and transportation modes. The literal social stratification of downtown is obvious to anyone waiting for a bus in either city.
8. Economically, skyways cause the downtown retail economy to struggle because they separate and segregate the potential population of customers. If starting a store or restaurant, you must choose either 9 to 5 office workers or after-hours sidewalk strollers. Catering to both is almost prohibitively expensive. This reduces the entrepreneurial potential of both downtowns.
Thus…
9. Creating a city with diverse and dense street activity is extremely difficult in areas with skyways. In both downtowns, the recently “successful” areas are those where the skyway system does not exist.
10. Both cities should stop building new skyways, and begin phasing them out as buildings get remodeled.

[Skyways force you to look down on people.]

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