Spokane, WA is in an exclusive club of the United States’ cities. Only it and Minneapolis, MN hold the nation’s first skywalk systems. Skywalk systems (or sometimes referred to by locals as “skybridges” or “skyways”) are utilized by these cities in an attempt to make their downtown central business districts compete with climate-controlled suburban malls. Both Spokane, WA and Minneapolis, MN have harsh winters which, without skywalk systems, may diminish their central business district activity to nothingness.
Many believe in both cities that the skywalk systems encourage a division of the classes. The “haves” get to use the skywalks: well-dressed businesspeople who work in the many office buildings, up-scale shops, and restaurants which the skywalk system connects. While the “have-nots” must use the street: those small businesses whose owners cannot afford the higher rent on the “skywalk level” (as it is referred to locally on official signage) and those who can only afford to patronize those low-income businesses and are forced to access them from the street.
A small study performed by the Spokesman-Review in 1984 explains, ”Skywalk traffic peaked at 12:30pm, with the three-hour period from 11am to 2pm carrying 48 percent of the daily traffic. Only 10 percent of the traffic was before 9:30am or after 3:30pm.” This “busy time” from 11am to 2pm still stands true today. The majority of the system’s users are businesspeople who are commuting from their office to a restaurant from work or perhaps a few tourists from the River Park Square Mall who got lost on their way to P.F. Chang’s. Arguably, the skywalk connection most used by those who do not fit one of those stereotypes is the connection between the Spokane City Library’s downtown branch and River Park Square Mall.
At the time of its construction, the city believed that, “the skywalks will carry 75 to 95 percent of the foot traffic during inclement weather,” based upon a similar system’s success in Minneapolis. Upon opening, everyone saw a bright future for the system. But after many businesses have tried and failed to find success on the skywalk level, what would make people want to invest in the spaces which dot the system?
What would you do to make the skywalk system in Spokane flourish? Do you think Spokane was right to assume success simply because the same idea worked in Minneapolis?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.