Skyways

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Winning Nomination

Something as pedestrian (sorry--I couldn't help myself) as skyways may not seem to merit consideration as one of the honored 150, but I think their unexpected impact makes a good case for their importance.

It had to do with Minnesota's weather. People going shopping don't relish the idea of leaving their cars. The first skyway, put up in St. Paul in 1956, linked the Golden Rule department store with their parking ramp across the street.

But probably the development of a skyway system, rather than an isolated structure, started in Minneapolis in 1961. The idea was to link up a series of buildings so people could move around without going outdoors. It was one answer to indoor shopping at the malls.

Here's where the impact beyond warm convenience comes in. The new system eventually changed a basic rule of real estate--that first-floor locations went for premium rents. When more people moved through the skyways, stores sprung up on the skyway level and, for the first time in history, second-floor space was more expensive than street level.
~Steve Trimble, St. Paul, MN



Runner-up Nominations

They provide the only way non-Minnesotans can conceive of life in the frozen north. The downtown population could work, eat, shop and socialize regardless of the weather. Many cities copied this pedestrian wonder but we were the originators.
~Ronald Ricci, Bloomington, MN

I never realized how amazing and iconic the Minneapolis skyways were until I moved away for school. They serve as both a reminder of cold and snow that are truly part of living in Minnesota and also the ingenuity, creativity and interconnectedness of thriving dowtnown Minneapolis. Both functional and aesthetic, they are largely unique to the largest city of the great state of Minnesota.
~Jon Hoffman, Athens, GA

The Minneapolis skyway is what many Minnesotans would call a lifesaver especially on those FREEZING winter days. The skyway system connects 52 blocks, almost 5 miles of downtown and it makes it possible for people to live, eat, work and shop without having to deal with the harshness and extremes of Minnesota's weather.
~Thomas J Rosengren, Belgrade, MN


Contents

History

Rising above the cold

There comes a time in every Minnesotan's life when a single truth becomes crystal clear: It's cold here. Sometimes very cold.

Reactions to this realization can vary. Some people just put on an extra layer of clothing and tough it out. Hardier sorts embrace winter sports and try to act like they're having fun. Many people just give up and move away. Then there are the few who seek to improve the hand we were dealt eons ago, back when the glaciers didn't recede quite far enough.

One of those visionaries was Edward Baker, known as "the father of the skyway system." He designed the first skyway, which spanned Seventh Street South between Marquette and Second Avenues in downtown Minneapolis, in 1962. Today there are miles of skyways in Minneapolis and in St. Paul, and both systems support a thriving second-story retail world catering mostly to downtown workers.

Since the 1960s, skyways have been built throughout the country. They're not without their detractors--critics in many cities charge that they have led to the demise of street-level storefronts and have sucked the life out of downtown neighborhoods. But here in Minnesota they're still going strong. They've become such a part of life, in fact, that a website catering to Twin Cities visitors recently posted an article, "Acceptable Behavior in Minneapolis Downtown Skyways." The author offers pointers on opening doors safely, steering clear of children, and avoiding uncomfortably close quarters. The most quintessentially Minnesotan tip, though, is this one: "Unavoidable transgressions should be apologized for, but more often than not, the person inconvenienced will apologize to you. If someone says, 'excuse me,' and you don't think he has done anything wrong, try to figure out what you did."

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