Do I come to your town, wander around for 36 hours, buy booze and lap dances on the city’s expense account, take a hit of X at 6am then scribble some sweeping, inane urban planning proposals during the cab ride back to the airport? Huh? Do I?
The Strib ran a story last week detailing proposed “improvements” to Nicollet Mall. Among some of the more befuddling observations made by people who clearly don’t live, work or shop downtown was that the Skyway was somehow responsible for spookily empty sidewalks and street-level retail failure, noting that Borders Books and Polo were the latest casualties. Sure blame the hapless Skyway. It probably has nothing to do with the internet (cheaper and more convenient than Borders) or style and name brand popularity fluctuations (Oh Polo, I hardly shopped at thee).
Equally absurd is the notion that we re-introduce cars onto Nicollet Mall. Why not? How about some nice oil drum fires while we’re at it? The quote by Macy’s North CEO Frank Guzzetta (hometown not Minneapolis) is hilarious: “Look at Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It’s just as cold, and it’s windier. But the traffic moving up and down that street begets traffic. People beget people. It makes things happen.”
Is Michigan Avenue only two lanes wide with no parking, no place to pull over and no immediately adjacent parking ramp entrances? And does it cost $9 an hour to park within two blocks of Michigan Avenue? OK, it probably does cost at least that much to park near Michigan Avenue, but equally don’t most people in Chicago therefore opt to shop in the suburbs where the parking is free and they don’t have to spend five minutes bundling up to walk 25 feet from Starbucks to Macy’s?
Why spend five years tearing up Nicollet Mall to satisfy some street level traffic pipe dream, where we effectively dare people to shop downtown, when we’ve already reached shopping perfection one level up on the Skyway? This sounds suspiciously like Street Level Retailer Schadenfreude (or aspirations thereof).
If you live, work or shop downtown, the Skyways are probably the city’s greatest asset. Seven cumulative miles of store front, without ever sticking a toe into inclement weather! People who plan their lives meticulously, arranging to live, work and shop all within these boundaries, can conceivably go weeks without facing the elements. Certainly there’s the potential for this to be a Gerbil Habitrail Hell of sorts, but most winters I rarely want to go outside between January 2nd and March 31st anyway, unless it’s to get into a cab to the airport so I can fly to somewhere warm, so give me that Habitrail and throw in a running wheel and some omelet-flavored food pellets while you’re at it!
I love it that I could potentially just put on my over-sized Dilbert slippers and do two hours of shopping without ever touching pavement. The Skyway opens up all kinds of crazy possibilities for people who, for whatever reason, have outdoor aversions due to cold, snow, rain, heat or post-op infection. (I still tell the story – possible urban legend – of the HCMC patient wearing slippers, an open-backed gown and pulling an IV stand who, after a brief moment on the streets outside the hospital, ducked into the Skyway and made it all the way to Saks before someone suggested that he should consider turning around.)
But back to the handful of street-level retailers stewing over business lost to the Skyway passing over their entrances. I’m convinced that there’s a better solution than defacing the Mall with five years of construction shenanigans, thereby screwing all retailers, and needlessly spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. So, I’ve had a sit-down with the TIWILM Urban Planning Panel and we’ve narrowed it down to a two word solution:
[Photo credit: Fatty Tuna]