Tuesday, February 21, 2017

An Indoor 9-Mile Urban Hike

A fierce rainstorm had hit California. People had died, a reservoir was bursting at the seams, evacuations had been ordered in several counties.

The storm weakened as it crossed the Rockies on its way to Minneapolis and points east. On Monday, Presidents' Day, the storm finally hit Minneapolis, dropping 0.6 inches of rain. This may sound wimpy, but the average precipitation for Minneapolis for the whole of February is just shy of 0.9 inches.

I decided this was a good day to walk nine miles of the Minneapolis skyway system.

In 1956, Southdale Center opened in a Minneapolis suburb, the first climate-controlled shopping mall in the United States. Minneapolis had to do something to keep downtown vibrant, and skyways were seen as the answer. Skyways started to appear in the early 1960's.

What, you may ask is a skyway? It's basically a system of corridors, usually at second-floor level, connecting downtown buildings. They cross roads and go through buildings. Heated in winter, cooled in summer, it's always shirt-sleeve weather in the skyways. Workers can go from car to office, and residents can go from condo to concert or sports game without ever going outside. 

The Minneapolis skyway system is the longest contiguous system in the world, or at least that's the claim I keep reading. There are other longer systems, but they are more fragmented.

On Presidents' Day I set out to walk nine-miles through the system. The rain started to come in from the west as I walked from our home to the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel, the closest skyway access point.
I exited the Hyatt through a set of doors. The route took me past another hotel, then through the lobby of the convention center, then more corridors.
And more corridors. And more hotels. And atriums in office towers. And more corridors.

I lost my mental relationship with the city and its landmarks.

At the AT&T Tower, I realized I was only one hour into my journey, with several more hours of indoor walking to follow. I couldn't stand any more of this sensory deprivation. Everything was so clean, so comfortable, the carpets were soft under my feet, everybody looked professional like they had good jobs. It was stultifying.
I looked out of a window and saw the rain pelting down. I took an escalator down into the AT&T lobby, and headed out onto the street, the glorious rain, and reality. I never would complete the nine-mile skyway walk.

I'm not ready to sign the oath of the Minneapolis Skyway Avoidance Society. When there's a -50°F windchill, it is wonderful to take a skyway from a concert venue to an elevator to a warm car in an underground, heated parking garage. However, the skyway system robs the city of street life, and that bothers me.

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