Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Those Skyways Won’t Go Down Without a Fight

Dateline: 11:01 am January 24, 2012 Filed under:

While my post on this website and at suggesting that we gradually remove the skyways from downtown Minneapolis over a 50-year timeline got a couple compliments and a rebuke by’s own David Levinson, it was also picked up by the Star Tribune. In that piece, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak was quoted as saying “I don’t think we need any more skyways…I don’t think they don’t help at all.” Well, there are 68 comments and counting on the Star Tribune website, most of them over-my-dead-body defenses of skyways. Many are outright angry at the mayor for suggesting they aren’t helpful in sub-zero January.

I get it! And I expected when quoted in the Star Tribune piece and my own post that I’d hear that. I don’t disagree that skyways are comfortable. What is crazy, as’s Bill Lindeke points out, an original idea for skyways was that they be open to the elements, and simply grade-separated from those busy streets. Wow! How Corbusian (look it up)! But how interesting that it has been burned in to our folklore that winter weather is the reason for skyways. It isn’t. I will say this, though, thank goodness they are enclosed! Skyways would not be so

But winter. What a shame one defense of skyways is defense against bitter cold that really only occurs one week or so per year. Is that one week really worth the sacrifice of our sidewalks and public space the other 51 weeks of the year? And the notion that we don’t embrace winter is ludicrous! We’re Minnesotans! We embrace winter – we ski, we snowmobile, we ice fish, we have the Winter Carnival, the Lakes Loppet and outdoor ice bars. When it is cold, we’re out in it, and it’s a badge of honor! We traverse sidewalks in all our great urban neighborhoods year-round – Uptown, Grand Avenue, Highland, near northeast, you name it, we’re out there. We are outdoors downtown in the winter – Peavey Plaza has ice skating, and we have Holidazzle with sidewalk concessions at Brits! Why not have outdoor fireplaces and more outdoor activities around downtown?

Some suggest retrofitting the skyways to make them more easily accessed, like adding glass-enclosed elevators, and outdoor or semi-enclosed stairways or elscalators. These all cost substantial sums of money, and enough is already being spent on skyway construction in the first place, I just don’t think a major retrofit is responsible economically.

My biggest arguments are these:

1. What if all those millions of dollars spent on skyways had instead been spent on sidewalks, benches, trees, and other public realm improvements that improve the livability of downtown? Just think about it. Instead of spending increased amounts on both, let’s cut our losses and focus on the pubic realm from now on.

2. It would be expensive and reckless to “tear down” the skyways right now, and I’d never suggest such a thing. However, I do believe we’ve built them over 50 years, and let’s take the next 50 to remove them gradually. If not in 50 years, at least when they require replacement due to age and deferred maintenance.

I cannot argue that skyways aren’t comfortable on a cold winter’s day, and I will admit they aren’t coming down without a fight. I do, however, believe this is a critical aspect of the discussion of our vision for Minneapolis as an urban place in the future. As well, I believe over time our focus will turn more to sidewalks and our public realm, and skyways will fall out of favor, if not for aesthetic reasons then certainly for financial ones.

And that’s all I care to say about this right now. On to a new topic!

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