The Associated Press provided an article, reprinted Sunday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, that holds a lesson for Little Rock, if the right people pay attention.
It’s about skywalks — enclosed tubes that interconnect downtown buildings so that building inhabitants never have to go outside or walk on street level to move around town.
But one era’s brainstorm has become the next generation’s headache as cities are now desperate to add life to downtown. For them, the question is how to create lively streets when no one walks outside anymore.
Across the country, a debate is growing over what to do with the cozy corridors, bridges and tunnels that have helped create urban ghost towns. Cincinnati decided to dismantle half its 1-mile-plus system and Baltimore has taken down seven bridges, with plans to remove two more, to push people back onto the streets. Minneapolis, which is spending $50 million to overhaul its glitzy Nicollet Mall downtown, is being urged by some residents to do the same. Spokane, Washington, which has one the most extensive systems, is turning away from any further expansion.
The skywalks take people off streets, and the streets become derelict. It’s the opposite of what you want to build to make downtowns into places enticing to residents. See the Third Street corridor in Little Rock, east from Cumberland, where condos, street-level restaurants and other developments, have created a tiny taste of Manhattan-style street life.
The few skywalks in downtown Little Rock have done little to contribute to making downtown a welcoming place. See the blighted streetscape near where they are in use.
The current pressing problem: Some of the same people responsible for the dead end of Main around Seventh Street — where a hulking parking garage further encourages a battalion of state workers to drive to work and commute home without ever touching the soil of Little Rock — want to build more of these things in the Little Rock Tech Park that taxpayers are financing a few blocks farther north on Main.
No more skywalks. Send a copy of the article linked above to anyone you know who might have influence on design decisions.
I happen to believe our our whole Tech Park direction is misbegotten. We began with real estate and taxpayer money, not private capital or, most important, a cadre of thinkers. What we need are more of the latter and maybe a few garages for them to work in, a la Silicon Valley.
But skywalks? No.