To respond to James Lileks’ “In defense of the skyway, a wonderland in winter” (Jan. 30), I think it appropriate to mention two points Lileks does not address in his “common sense” approach to enclosed sidewalks.

The first is the makeup of skyway users themselves. Typical skyway users in both Minneapolis and St. Paul are those who work downtown. That might be obvious, but let’s think about what the average downtown worker looks like. They make more money than many, drive to and from work, and are more than likely white. And while some are residents of the cities, many live in suburbs or exurbs, and few use public transportation.

In other words, even without considering the privacy concerns and costs associated with outsourcing skyway surveillance and security to private companies, we have a multitiered sidewalk that privileges businessmen and women, giving them the advantages of never having to leave their spaces of enclosure or deal with the “riffraff” normally associated with downtown streets.

I’m not saying that people purposefully do this. It is easier to get a sandwich in a skyway than to layer up and walk around the streets. But there is a certain social level, a certain profession, one must attain before he or she can do so.

This year notwithstanding, January tends to be awful in our lovely cities. So, yes, more people use the skyways in the winter than they do in summer because “it’s painful outside.” But people who still use the streets in the winter are usually those who have no reason to navigate the skyways — aka the poor, the non-businessman class.

So, yes, since they’re there, and since it may be convenient for some, by all means use the skyways. But let’s be frank and not pretend like they were built with the intent to be used by every single resident of our cities.

This is the social cost of our skyways: They insulate a specific group of people from interacting with another specific group of people. And this is pure speculation, but with a political climate like we have in the metro area and across the country, and with rampant distrust among peoples of different races and creeds, wouldn’t it be better if, at the very least, we saw each other and noticed each other’s existence?


Kevin Priestley lives in St. Paul.