The age old skyway debate has flared up again in the Star Tribune this week (see links below for the back and forth), but this time with an interesting twist – comparing Minneapolis to, of all cities, Venice; our skyways to their calles (pedestrian streets) and our streets to their canals.
It’s less of a stretch to compare our skyway network to Toronto’s network of tunnels. Like Minneapolis, Toronto is cold (20 degrees F on average in January compared to our 16). And, they boast of 17 miles of “shopping arcades” rivaling the West Edmonton Mall for retail shopping (does our skyway rival the Mall of America?). I just about booked airfare when I read that the Toronto PATH, as it’s called, hosts the world’s largest underground sidewalk sale! No thanks. I’ll take the Minneapolis Skyway Open over a sidewalk sale.
Public or Private?
Like St. Paul’s skyway system, Toronto PATH is government owned and maintained, whereas, Minneapolis skyways are privately owned. In fact, owners of the Accenture Tower just spent $3M on a new skyway (not to mention the $3M for the land underneath) hoping for higher rent from tenants. Unlike St. Paul’s city-owned skyways, Minneapolis features unique bridges designed by world-class architects and designers. Two of my favorites are Philip Johnson’s IDS skyways and Siah Armajani’s Wells Fargo bridge across Marquette Ave. They’re not only a pleasure to walk across in January, but they are pleasing to the street viewer as well.
Skyways – Like Minnesotans – Are Practical
Critics have long said that our skyways deprive our streets of vibrancy and street-level retail. But, in the winter months, it’s just practical to use the skyways. You avoid the street traffic and most importantly you don’t have to bring your parka, hat, and mittens to grab a sandwich. On the other hand, in the summertime, Nicollet Mall is alive with patios and the farmers’ market as well as welcomed influx of gourmet food trucks.
It’s been 50 years since Ed Baker built the first skyway in Minneapolis, and I for one am glad he did.
- Eric Roper’s article “Maze of Minneapolis skyways: A dead end?”
- Robert D. Sykes, associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota, writes “Instead of dissing Minneapolis skyways, look to Venice“
- James Eli Shiffer blog post “The first skyway was really a sigh-way”
- And finally Rob Godfrey’s orny letter to the editor