Case Study

The skywalk system, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA (1959 to the present; planned completion 2015)

The Minneapolis skywalk system consists of pedestrian walkways that link the interiors ofbuildings in the office and retail core of the city at the second storey level (i.e. first floor level in countries using British English) (see Figure 10.22). These spaces consist of shopping galleries and hotel and commercial building lobbies. It is an indoor, climatically controlled network of links and places. It is not a unique example but it is the most extensive in the United States.

The idea to build such a system is credited to the president, Leslie Park, of a real estate company, Baker Properties. His goal was to have the city centre compete effectively with suburban shopping malls with their vast temperature-controlled internal spaces. Initially Park received little support from the city administration but in 1959, the Minneapolis City Planning Department commissioned him and an architect, Ed Baker, to develop a plan for such a system.

Park and Baker proposed a skyway scheme that would link buildings on Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis's main street. It would enable people to move from building to building without going outside. Escalators at the corners of each block at street level would provide easy access to the elevated walkways. To demonstrate the merit of the scheme, Park commissioned Baker to design Northstar Center, a mixed-use building. It was opened in 1959. The first link (1962) in what has become the skyway

Figure 10.22 The skyway system, Minneapolis. (a) The skyway pattern and (b) Nicollet Mall.

Figure 10.22 The skyway system, Minneapolis. (a) The skyway pattern and (b) Nicollet Mall.

system joined the Center to what was then floor values. As the system grew, however, the Northwestern National Bank. The con- ground floor rentals were, indeed, affected.

struction boosted the value of second storey Link after link followed. By 1990 there commercial space without reducing ground were 28 bridges connecting 27 contiguous blocks with the IDS Crystal Court as its primary hub. By 2002 there were 5 miles (8 kilometres) of skyways and tunnels, and 62 bridges (see Figure 10.22 for an example). They join 65 blocks linking 2000 stores, plus coffee shops and kiosks, 34 restaurants, 1500 apartment units, 4000 hotel rooms and 2 million square feet (190,000 square metres) of office space. In mid-2002, Minneapolis' city-planning department unveiled the final phase of the plan focusing on completing the remaining links by 2015. It also specified that the links (or alternatives) had to be operational while buildings were under construction or renovation.

The Skyway Advisory Service, part of the municipal government's Downtown Council, was formed in the late 1970s. While it is only an advisory service it has developed considerable political clout over the years. It is thus able to insist on particular types of links even though private corporations whose buildings are joined own the links. Building the links is not easy. To build across a street, owners first must obtain an encroachment permit and post a $500,000 bond to cover later removal costs if they become necessary. The cost of a link varies from about $550,000 to $6.3 million. The former is for a standard link between two buildings and the latter is the cost of the skyway and tunnel combination linking Minneapolis City Hall with the United States Court House, the Grain Exchange and the Jerry Haaf Memorial Ramp.

The design of the links must follow a number of guidelines and controls. The links must be at least 3.6 metres (12 feet) wide and no wider than 8.27 metres (27 feet), and be horizontal in appearance even if their passageway slopes. Street clearance must be 5.2 metres (17 feet) and they must have glass walls to make orientation easier for the users of the system. The trade-off is that heat gains and losses are high with such walls. The design guidelines for the exterior appearance are highly permissive so the look of the bridges varies considerably. They are supposed to be 'in harmony' with the buildings they link. Achieving 'harmony' is often difficult because the appearances of the buildings the links join are often very different. The links themselves cannot be used for retail purposes and the handing out of political literature is prohibited. They are truly just links. They do block certain vistas for the pedestrian in the street but they create new vistas for those on the links.

While the skywalk is in the ownership of many private hands, it is open to the public from 6.30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and for shorter periods on weekend days. It is very well patronized especially during winter months when temperatures often plunge well below zero degrees celsius and even fahrenheit. The busiest link is between the IDS Block and the Baker Block. Twenty-three thousand people use it each day. They are primarily middle class and almost 60% of them are women.

Is the skyway a success? One hallmark of its success is the increase in the number of links over the years. They have been deemed to be desirable. It is certainly successful in terms of the comfort, ease and sense of security that it provides pedestrians. It is in terms of second floor retail activity. It has, however, taken much business off the street level. Closed shops attest to that. At the same time, the downtown area of the city has become more attractive to investors in terms of what it offers. It has enabled the city centre to compete with suburban sites for development although the cost of building bridges has deterred some organizations from locating in the city. Parking lots in fringe areas have had their patronage boosted and the usage of the city's bus system has increased because of the added convenience provided by the skyway links in moving around downtown. Some people worry about the way the system provides shops catering to the middle class and in doing so separates middle-class people and the poor thus creating a dual downtown society (Robertson, 1994).

Major references

Robertson, Kent A. (1993). Pedestrian strategies for downtown planners: skywalks versus pedestrian malls. Journal of the American Institute of Planners 59 (3): 361-71.

Robertson, Kent A. (1994). Pedestrian Malls and Skywalks: Traffic Segregation Strategies in American Downtowns. Aldershot: Avebury.

Skyway, Minneapolis. http://www.cala2.umn.edu/ skywayminneapolis/

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