Fifteen feet above the ground, Calgary is buzzing. Inside’s Calgary’s Plus 15 network is an extensive network of shops, businesses, buskers and downtown commuters.
And that makes some wonder if the city shouldn’t bring the benefits that come with two foot traffic to the ground.
“It’s not just taking life off the street,” said Byron Miller, a professor in the University of Calgary’s Department of Geography and coordinator of the Urban Studies program. “It makes the street less pleasant.”
Today, the Plus 15 network includes 86 bridges connecting around 130 buildings in the city centre. With a length of 16 kilometers, it is the world’s most extensive pedestrian system.
“It is an outcome of a long-standing planning tradition that is largely rejected today,” Miller suggested.
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But during a chilly moment, talk of dismantling some or all of the walkways is met with a somewhat frosty reception.
“I don’t know. I work down here and I use the Plus 15 on a daily basis,” said Terry Ferguson. “If you have more time, you walk in. If you have less time, you walk outside. I think it’s pretty valuable.”
Olga Bolysova agrees. “They can park the car, take their time, just look around, move between the streets… not worry about the parking or the cold.”
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But for those who choose to move around outdoors, the Plus 15 also complicates cold days, creating wind tunnels that make every icy doom a little less enticing.
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Some also suggest that the network that draws crowds away from the street level also has an impact on crime.
“The more you can bring people to the street level, the safer you’re going to make it,” Miller said.
“It’s a kind 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, which brought people and their protection down to street level.
And while Calgary’s mayor admits it’s a debate worth talking about, Jyoti Gondek isn’t jumping either side of the Plus 15 fence.
“The debate about whether we need a Plus 15 system or whether we should activate our sidewalks better has been raging for years,” Gondek said. “This is something we will continue to discuss as a council.”
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