Buildings in Winnipeg's downtown are connected by a system of elevated pedestrian skywalks. I find these pedestrian corridors intriguing and disturbing on a number of levels. These walkways first emerged in Winnipeg during the 70's and 80's and belong to an urban revitalization movement common to many north american cities that saw similar grade-seperate pedestrian path systems established (see Calgary's +15, Montreal's RÉSO "underground city" and Toronto's PATH). In Canada particularly with our long and cold winters, but also in American cities of a northern latitude, these systems were considered a progressive and modern means of shuttling the urban masses between buildings without the need to brave the elements. From the outset however, in Winnipeg at least, the walkway system proved to be confusing to navigate. Today the Winnipeg walkway is a system of of 14 skyways and 7 tunnels connecting 38 buildings and allowing for a maximum protected walk of 2 km.
This humorous segment from a 1980's era late night Winnipeg news program shows how public appreciation for the Winnipeg walkway system was lukewarm even in its early days:
In recent years, new urbanist critiques of elevated path systems have found fault with the system on the grounds that it disrupts the vitality of street-level pedestrian zones, and are generally seen to be an aesthetically demoralizing feature of the urban environment. I agree with these criticisms and have to say that I find the Winnipeg skywalk system to be horribly planned and designed (as with so much of the city's planning and design). But these are the obvious critiques. My fascination and repulsion towards these structures is more nuanced. In the next few posts I hope to elaborate on these aspects in more detail.
For now, however, I'll share one aspect of the skywalk system which I adore: they present delightful and unexpected perspectives of the city.