skywalk

Thanksgiving weekend, dedicated bus traffic that has for decades sapped the vitality of a major downtown street, will relocate to the relatively unused Cherry Street two blocks south.

As the new DART transfer station nears completion, the powers that be are promoting potential changes on the soon-to-be-abandoned Walnut Street Experiment (worst band name ever). The City, Downtown Community Alliance, Downtown Neighborhood Association, and local business leaders have been engaged in planning for redevelopment of Walnut Street for some time (utilizing the services, of course, of the ubiquitous Mario Gandalsonas).

Juice has initiated a series looking at the future of Des Moines - starting off with redevelopment of Walnut Street. For some reason Juice, the Register's weekly free supplement dedicated to the young professional demographic, is leading the "re-imagine Walnut Street" publicity charge. (Of course, it is followed in this week's publication by an article on how to rock your look with patterned leggings.) Interestingly, Juice wears the "redevelopment guru" mantle well, with regular feature stories on urban design, government, and planning policy. They do a great job of digging in to the issues in a thoughtful and nuanced way (if necessarily focused on their 25-34 demographic).

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Dubuque Skywalk: Skywalk between the Grand River Center and the adjacent hotel in Dubuque, Iowa.Dubuque Skywalk: Skywalk between the Grand River Center and the adjacent hotel in Dubuque, Iowa.It might appear at first glance that I am anti-skywalk. And you would be right in most cases. I just found another egregious example in Dubuque, Iowa, of all places.

More about this later. First a little background. I am in Dubuque for a lead paint "visual risk assessor/sampling technician" training. After class today, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful spring weather and go for a self-guided tour of the downtown area. Downtown Dubuque is bordered on the west by the Mississippi River bluffs and on the east by Highway 61, which cuts between downtown and the industrial/recreational areas adjacent to the Mississippi River.

The historic downtown is fabulous, and quite a bit larger than I anticipated. In general, the streets are quite pedestrian-friendly, with trees, wide sidewalks, and relatively dense development. Despite the obligatory gas station and drug store teardowns, much of the historic building fabric remains, running the full range from row houses to 6-story mixed-use walk-ups. Most of the storefronts appear to be occupied, though by the time I got there I was relegated to peering in windows.

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I'm not a fan of the Des Moines skywalk system, but someone please forward this memo to the "At Least Des Moines Didn't Screw Up This Bad" department.

I am in Atlanta for a conference, and have spent a couple afternoons (yes, after classes let out) exploring downtown Atlanta on foot. There is a clear line of demarcation between the older portion where the streets were built to accommodate pedestrians comfortably, and the "urban renewal" portion where the historic buildings have been systematically replaced with brutal high rises and the streets can best be described as pedestrian hell.

The post 60's section has an extensive skywalk system, perhaps constructed as a response to the horrible street level pedestrian experience, perhaps a culprit.

The most egregious example I found is pictured below.

Peachtree Center SkywalkPeachtree Center Skywalk

What you see here is a two city block long, six story high, six foot wide intestine that collects nutritious pedestrians from nearby hotels and parking garages, digests them, and then poops them out into the Mall at Peachtree Center.

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Larry Bradshaw of the Living Downtown Des Moines blog has posted video of a Sunday Morning stroll through the downtown Des Moines skywalk system. This stroll (sans people due to the morning hour) makes me even more sure of my earlier analysis of the skywalk system: it needs to go.

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Before diving in to the reasons the Des Moines downtown skywalk system should disappear, I'll first lay out the reason why it should stay: Iowa gets cold. It's no fun walking anywhere when the thermometer reads 10 degrees below zero, particularly if young children are involved!

That said, I think the skywalks are holding downtown back from a complete revitalization.

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