The Bridge of Death.
I wasn’t feeling too well, so I went to see the doctor yesterday. Turns out miasmas from the Connecticut river are causing my illness, and the physician recommended a remedy of blistering with hot glass and mercury treatments. Yeah, I’m pulling your leg, the preceding would be almost as stupid as putting a “skyway” or “airwalk” in the heart of your city.
William H. Whyte dedicated an entire chapter in his seminal 1988 book “City, Rediscovering the Center” to eradicating this destroyer of cities: “They have not worked very well. When you take a street away from street level you take away what makes it work. Remove the intricate mixture of people, the pedestrian bustle, the shops, and the traffic, and what you are left with is a corridor. It can be…very bleak…”
You see, what makes the core of a real city exciting is the mix of people and uses. The desire to separate, isolate, and protect is understandable: It is at the core of the euclidian zoning which has created our neutered downtowns and given us the dysfunctional American happy motoring slumscape. Just as separating and isolating residential, retail, and commercial uses gives you Atlanta instead of Paris, Dallas instead of Madrid; isolating “these people” from “those people” within the city gives you a dead city.
This is especially true if you are proposing some kind of grand attraction, a mega development, that you envision will revitalize your city. If you attract people to your core, but they enter via motor vehicle into a hermetically sealed parking garage, and they never exit the development to explore the wider city then the megaproject might just as well be on Mars, those people will not create the “critical mass” which is the entire purpose for the development.
The fractal idiocy of an airwalk at the very center of a downtown is nearly impossible to exaggerate. The city of Springfield has had as a tenet of urban revitalization since at least 1989 the removal of these bridges of death. To quote from the “Visions” master plan: “Airwalks are not desirable. To activate the sidewalks and to avoid blocking vistas, pedestrian linkages should be planned at ground level only. The only exception should be above grade connectors over East Columbus Avenue, which is not a pedestrian street.”
The last 25 years has been spent walking back the idea of the sky-sewer-for-people in the downtown; keep the people on the street, it is the whole point of being a city in the first place.