There’s a recent Star Tribune Op-Ed by Eric Dayton, son of Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, that’s gotten a lot of attention. Dayton’s main point is that we should get rid of the Minneapolis Skyway system all together. Dayton’s point is that it’s existence threatens the vibrancy of Minneapolis. I’m for the effort to revitalize downtown Minneapolis, but Dayton’s argument is a simplistic solution to some complex problems.
Dayton makes some interesting and fair points. He addresses that we need to improve accessibility in Downtown Minneapolis.
“As part of rethinking our city’s infrastructure, let’s look at what other cold-climate cities around the world are doing to keep their sidewalks clear and safe for wheelchairs and pedestrians alike (Edmonton has some innovative ideas) and become a global leader in urban design for year-round accessibility.”
I’m all for that. And he makes a fair enough point that the skyways are a creation of the sixties and probably aren’t in line with city planning today. Again 100% agree with that. Building more skyways in a congested downtown is probably not a wise solution.That said, the evidence he claim in his favor is faulty.
He claims that the weather is no longer an important factor in keeping the skyway.
“To those who claim that the skyways are essential to our winter survival, you might be surprised to know that Minneapolis has averaged only 3.5 days per year with below-zero high temperatures since we began keeping track in 1871. And the “we need them” argument is only getting weaker with climate change. Since 2000, the average is down to one below-zero day each winter. One day!”
The thing about climate change is that it doesn’t only effect temperatures, but precipitations patterns as well. In regards to the effects of climate change, the EPA says that “It is likely that the frequency and intensity of extreme winter precipitation events will increase in some areas of the United States, particularly in the northern states.” In the summer months, “Scientists are highly confident that across most of the United States, the heaviest rainfall events have become more intense and frequent, especially in the Midwest…” Saying that it’s not cold enough doesn’t really present the whole scope of the weather benefits of the skyway.
Dayton later contends that skyways is to blame for retail business, such as Macy’s and Barnes & Noble, closing down in downtown Minneapolis. He cited a 2007 study from the Downtown Council which mentioned “bifurcation of foot traffic by the skyways” as the #1 reason for retail decline. That may have been the case then, but the fact of the matter is that online shopping has changed the landscape of retail in a huge way. Retail businesses are closing across America in plenty of cities without a skyway.
He goes on to use a dangerously basic line of reasoning saying that skyways are to blame for crime.
“The skyways are also a detriment to public safety, perhaps the most pressing issue we face as a city. We can try to achieve safe streets in one of two ways. One is through escalating the police presence. We’ve tried that. It’s simply impossible to police every last troublemaker away from a city, and even if it did work, do any of us really want a downtown Minneapolis that feels like a militarized zone? The other option is to take back our streets. As the old saying goes, there’s safety in numbers, and right now downtown’s streets are dangerously empty. Putting all pedestrians onto street level would mean any troublemakers would be vastly outnumbered by people heading to work, home, shops and restaurants. Streets would feel safer, and be safer. That’s how it works in other cities across America, and it will work here, too.”
This was the most insulting to me, because it doesn’t address crime reduction in a serious way. The root of most crime is due to the lack of opportunity. Closing skyways has nothing to do fixing income or racial inequalities. Nor does it have anything to do with keeping people employed, housed, and educated. Those are the effective strategies cities across America do to reduce crime. Saying more people walking downtown will reduce crime is like saying “I’m hungry, let me buy a hammer.”
Look the Minneapolis Skyway system is far from perfect. I’d like to see a better focus on integrating small business there. I’d love to see a greater focus finding technologies and innovations for improving navigation and access to the street level. There’s even some opportunities to be made in making the skyway an attraction for renewable energy projects. But saying closing the skyway will solve retail, transportation, and crime is hubris.