Fifteen feet above ground, Calgary is buzzing. Inside’s Calgary’s Plus 15 network is an extensive network of shops, businesses, buskers and downtown commuters.
And that has some wondering if the city shouldn’t bring the benefits that come with two-foot traffic down to the ground.
“It’s not just taking the life off the street,” said Byron Miller, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Department of Geography and coordinator of the Urban Studies program. “It’s making the street less pleasant.”
Today the Plus 15 network includes 86 bridges connecting some 130 downtown buildings. At 16 kilometres long it is the world’s most extensive pedestrian skywalk system.
“This is an outcome of a longstanding planning tradition that is largely rejected today,” suggested Miller.
But during a cold snap, talk of dismantling some or all of the walkways is met with a somewhat frigid reception.
“I don’t know. I work down here and I utilize the Plus 15 on a daily basis,” said Terry Ferguson. “If you have more time you walk inside. If you have less time you walk outside. I think it’s pretty valuable.”
Olga Bolysova agrees. “They can park the car, take the time, just look around, move between the streets … not worry about the parking or about the cold.”
But for those who opt to move about outdoors, the Plus 15 also complicates cold days, creating wind tunnels that make each icy underpass a little less enticing.
Some also suggest the network drawing crowds away from the street level also has impacts on crime.
“The more you can bring people onto the street level the safer you’re going to make it,” said Miller.
“It’s a sort of organic social surveillance that reduces the amount of crime.”
About twenty years ago, the City of Cincinnati used the same thinking in its decision to dismantle its skywalk system, bringing people and their patronage to the street level.
And while Calgary’s mayor admits it’s a debate worth talking about, Jyoti Gondek isn’t leaping to either side of the Plus 15 fence.
“The debate about whether we need a Plus 15 system or whether we need to better activate our sidewalks has been raging for years,” said Gondek. “This is something we will continue to discuss as a council.”