Downtown Minneapolis is a unique place. The midwestern values are ever present and celebrated in the downtown. Public At, historical plaques, and numerous cultural centers, line the streets sharing the rich culture of the region.
Downtown is also built in a form that reflects the hard working attitude of the region. So much so, the Minnesotans have built not one but two downtowns. I would describe the second downtown as the Second City.
Let me first describe the first city. Downtown Minneapolis is one of the nicest and active downtowns I have visited in a very long time. During the work week, there is a warm bustle and movement through the city. There are a healthy balance of uses. Retail fronts line the Main Street, and there are the traditional storefront displays drawing you into the store.
At night and after the work day, the sidewalks become inhabited with outdoor dinning. The workday bustle transforms into visitors headed to theater shows, and dinning. The downtown has the healthy balance of active daytime and evening activity. Like a responsible person, the city goes to bed at a responsible time, and awakens at the crack of dawn.
This street ballet all occurs in one of the country’s coldest downtowns, in a region with Country’s largest indoor mall, and a region with the ever expanding suburban belts.
After my tour of the first city, I was drawn to a strange oddity that crisscrossed over my head. Like the freak shows off the circus midway, I was drawn to these floating glassy bridges. I had to investigate these strange objects and see where they would take me.
A simple escalator ride dropped me into Minneapolis’s Second City. Locally known as the Skyway. I felt as though I had entered into an entire second city floating above the original downtown. Shops, offices, and restaurants populated this second city.
The grid of this place is rotated 90 degrees from the city below. Each Skyway bridge is composed of glass and steel. These hamster tubes provide the users of the second city in obstructed views of the first city below.
Most of you would describe this as the Jekyll and Hyde of cities. The well behaving civic street on the ground, enslaved by a heavy handed evil beast. The knee jerk reaction is to villainize this second city, and demand its termination or removal. My first impression was such, and I did have my angry mob of Urbanite Villagers at the the ready to kill the beast.
I stood back and took another look at this Second City. The Skyway grew on me and I wanted to study this oddity before I persecuted it. I actually came to several realizations, that have changed my initial opinion.
My first observation is that the local planners and architects have a really hard time describing and explaining the Second City. The Skyway was either described to me as a necessary evil due to the extreme winter cold, or as the Anti-Christ to the city sucking the life from the street. There is no real good middle ground on the issue, and I got the impression that this debated is fueled with the regular retail battles between the first and second levels of the city.
I have a completely different outsider’s perspective. I understand this as a Second Downtown. The two downtowns have may pro’s and con’s, but the fact that they both survive and thrive says something. There is a positive polarity between the street level and the Skyway.
I also would attach credit to the people of Minneapolis for the success of having two downtowns. There is nothing more midwestern and reflective of their hard work ethic then the fact that they have built not one, but two downtowns. Embrace this as a positive, and leave the negativity at the suburbs.
The Skyway debate is very similar to the pedestrian only malls. So many downtowns have been destroyed when the political leadership permanently close the Main Street to pedestrians. However, there are several examples that are extremely successful. Lincoln Road in Miami Beach is one of the most successful pedestrian malls, so we cannot jump to a single conclusion on these issues. The complexity and combination of the parts of Lincoln Road support its success.
The complexity and combination of many parts contribute to the success of downtown Minneapolis. The first and second cities of this downtown should be studied. To be clear, I am not suggesting adding sky-bridges to your downtown. However, if your city has started a second downtown in the sky, then come to Minneapolis and learn from their success.