Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Surely You Can’t Be Serious

Dateline: 3:56 pm January 27, 2012 Filed under:

And stop calling me Shirley! This week’s response to last Sunday’s Strib article about skyways suggests that we look to Venice for ideas about our skyway system is creative at best, loopy at worst, I cannot decide. What I do know is it would be horrendously expensive and legally impossible to achieve, so let’s just move on.

But before I dismiss the entire idea, there are some nuggets of good ideas here. I love the idea of naming the skyways. Why not? Even if I were in charge, the skyways will be here for a while and they are hard to navigate, so sure, name them.

The most practical idea is to have regular opening hours for skyways. The catch is most skyway businesses close by the time or before office workers head home, so standardizing skyway hours, while a fine idea, may not result in much improvement with most businesses closed during evening hours anyway. Second, is the city really the best entity to regulate hours of the shopping district? Wouldn’t that decision be best left in the hands of the Downtown Council or Downtown Improvement District? And finally, we already have pedestrian passageways that are open 24/7 – they are called sidewalks!

My biggest problem with this issue is the real world – does Mr. Sykes understand eminent domain laws? They have been severely curtailed in recent years, making eminent domain extremely difficult for even the most worthy redevelopment projects. If you can prove the skyways are polluted and neglected, then have at it. Professor Sykes says, and I quote, “Good real estate lawyers can figure this out.” No, they can’t! No disrespect to real estate lawyers and Professor Sykes, but even this nut would be too tough to crack!

And even if we could use eminent domain, how much would that cost? Furthermore, are the overburdened taxpayers of the city willing to spend more for a takeover of the skyways as public space when we already have public space downtown that is sorely underfunded? Let’s pool what resources we have, primarily private dollars to improve our existing public realm at the street level!

So, if the skyways are around to stay, perhaps a more reasonable option is to create a system whereby every dollar, public and private, spent on skyways in the future is matched by an equal investment in the public realm at the street level. How does that sound?

Let’s stick to reality here, folks. What we have on our hands is an expensive system that keeps people warm for a fraction of the year, but funnels precious dollars and even more precious citizens away from the thing we all share, the public realm – the thing that sets us apart from being a truly world class city.

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