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Local view: Skywalks, poor decisions sucking life from downtown

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Reading the June 27 Local View commentary, “Duluth skywalkers help keep downtown on its toes,” got me thinking about Chuck Marohn, a civil engineer and a land-use planner from Strong Towns (strongtowns.org), a nonprofit in Brainerd. Marohn visited Duluth this summer to lead a series of talks and community discussions on economic resiliency. One of the points he drove home was that people are the indicator species of success. A street bustling with people is how you know you’ve got a vibrant place. People is what produces wealth in a community, he said.Yet, in Duluth, we located our transit center in a place that eliminates people congregating on our sidewalks as they did at the previous location. We are planning for a bikeway on Michigan Street in lieu of one on Superior Street, so people can’t easily or safely bike through the heart of our downtown. And we’re redesigning Superior Street to be made up of mostly parking spaces - and the type that take up the maximum amount of space, no less.Not only could much of this car-storage space be used instead for people space, such parking encourages people to be in, out and on their way instead of sticking around to enjoy the downtown.We celebrate a skywalk system because we can put on our “neon-tinted athletic shoes” and go buy “that perfect engagement ring or that tie for your partner,” as the column stated. But the skywalks are effectively taking the life out of our downtown by keeping us from experiencing our downtown.A vibrant place is one with people on the street, experiencing the place: giving high fives to Grandma’s runners, getting hugs from the Bentleyville characters in the winter parade, smelling the popcorn as we walk by the candy shop, taking the chill off by sipping hot chocolate on a winter day, and bringing our kids for a treat at a parklet. We can’t do any of that from the skywalk. Intuitively, we know people are what make a place. Why bother with Sidewalk Days if we don’t understand that? Thousands of people manage to find their way to Superior Street for Sidewalk Days without all those parking spaces, I might add. Why do we think such activity in our downtown has to be limited to three days of the year?We seem desperate to add life to our downtown; but at the same time we continue to push people away from the street and siphon them off to Michigan Street and into the skywalks. We need to get people back on the street if we ever want a truly vibrant and thriving downtown. Shawna Mullen of Duluth works downtown for a nonprofit.
Reading the June 27 Local View commentary, “Duluth skywalkers help keep downtown on its toes,” got me thinking about Chuck Marohn, a civil engineer and a land-use planner from Strong Towns (strongtowns.org), a nonprofit in Brainerd. Marohn visited Duluth this summer to lead a series of talks and community discussions on economic resiliency. One of the points he drove home was that people are the indicator species of success. A street bustling with people is how you know you’ve got a vibrant place. People is what produces wealth in a community, he said.Yet, in Duluth, we located our transit center in a place that eliminates people congregating on our sidewalks as they did at the previous location. We are planning for a bikeway on Michigan Street in lieu of one on Superior Street, so people can’t easily or safely bike through the heart of our downtown. And we’re redesigning Superior Street to be made up of mostly parking spaces - and the type that take up the maximum amount of space, no less.Not only could much of this car-storage space be used instead for people space, such parking encourages people to be in, out and on their way instead of sticking around to enjoy the downtown.We celebrate a skywalk system because we can put on our “neon-tinted athletic shoes” and go buy “that perfect engagement ring or that tie for your partner,” as the column stated. But the skywalks are effectively taking the life out of our downtown by keeping us from experiencing our downtown.A vibrant place is one with people on the street, experiencing the place: giving high fives to Grandma’s runners, getting hugs from the Bentleyville characters in the winter parade, smelling the popcorn as we walk by the candy shop, taking the chill off by sipping hot chocolate on a winter day, and bringing our kids for a treat at a parklet. We can’t do any of that from the skywalk. Intuitively, we know people are what make a place. Why bother with Sidewalk Days if we don’t understand that? Thousands of people manage to find their way to Superior Street for Sidewalk Days without all those parking spaces, I might add. Why do we think such activity in our downtown has to be limited to three days of the year?We seem desperate to add life to our downtown; but at the same time we continue to push people away from the street and siphon them off to Michigan Street and into the skywalks. We need to get people back on the street if we ever want a truly vibrant and thriving downtown.Shawna Mullen of Duluth works downtown for a nonprofit.

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