Monday, February 16, 2009

Take a Virtual Tour of the Cincinnati Skywalk - "Downtown's Ghost Town"



Queen City Discovery

Skywalks. "Modern" ideas of the late 60's/early 70's born out of a major city's desire to keep shoppers downtown and out of the suburban, indoor shopping mall. These enclosed bridges crisscrossing over city streets were envisioned to network hotels, office buildings and retail centers. In the summer months they kept pedestrians cool with air conditioning and warm in the winter months with heat. Ideally, these skywalks would provide one of the largest conveniences of the suburban shopping mall while keeping businesses downtown. The skywalk sounds like a great idea with the best intentions at heart, but there are those that argue they do more harm than good and over the past decades skywalks have had mixed results. This is especially evident in Cincinnati.



Many major cities began building networks of skywalks in the early 70's. In cities that featured much harsher winter climates like Chicago, Minneapolis, and St. Paul; Skywalks became relatively successful. In Cincinnati, however, the skywalks deteriorated over time and became an eyesore for many. Originally designed to link Cincinnati's hotel, commercial and retail business to a brand new convention center; the skywalks have become somewhat of their own "downtown ghost town."


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- A section of the Skywalk within the Chiquita Center.


Cincinnati's Skywalk is quite interesting to say the least. Along the route you can find many neat attractions and features of the city. Many parts of it are well kept and maintained, while others seem to have fallen into disrepair and feature old signage and panhandlers. The skywalk route is often hard to navigate. The day a friend and I tried to walk it all, taking photographs, we encountered numerous dead ends and sections where we had to go back down the street level and outside to reconnect with the skywalk...kind of defeating it's purpose. There are also a few sections that are above ground, yet are open air, again, defeating the purpose.


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-This section of Skywalk comes to a dead end adjacent to the Macy's downtown. Beyond this door is one of the bridges going over Race St. that leads to no other building and has sat abandoned for a few years now.



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-A section of Skywalk connecting to the Duke Energy Center. This section is not enclosed from the outside elements and has many burnt out lights.


The Skywalk is mostly utilized during business days by those working in the numerous office towers it connects. For others, it seems to be just a confusing network of above ground tunnels. With the recent success of the Fountain Square renovations and a push to complete "The Banks" and a new riverfront park, one is left to wonder how useful the Cincinnati Skywalk still is and whether it's worth it for the city to continue maintaining these bridges above the city streets. Have a look for yourself by checking out this interactive, virtual tour of the Cincinnati Skywalk that I created.


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Do you ever utilize the Skywalk? Do you think it should be kept around, expanded, torn down or renovated? Feel free to leave a comment in the section below. Thanks for reading!

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Previous Update: February 7, 2009 :: Cincinnati's Forgotten Railroad History.

14 comments:

  1. From an Architectural standpoint I hate skywalks. I will say however that Indianpolis's skywalk system works flawlessly and you can get just about anywhere downtown without ever going outside and has been a key 'sales' feature for conventions, but then Indianapolis actialy has things downtown that you need to get to.The real drawback with skywalks is that you dont really 'experience' a Downtown because you are nevera t street level.

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  2. The only time I use them is to get from Tower Place Mall to Macy's or Saks. Although I would much rather use the sidewalks if the Tower Place retail were oriented that way, but it's not.

    Great work though, this is a fantastically informative post with a great interactive feature. Thanks!

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  3. Excellent tour, Ronnie. My memories of the Skywalk are mostly from the 80s when my Dad would take me around the city. Our tradition was 5-way chili, then the Carew Tower observation deck, then the skywalk, which was much more alive in those days. Your pictures brought back some great memories! Maybe, some day the Skywalk might come "alive" again.
    Once again, great work!

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  4. they destroy downtown by allowing people to avoid interaction and connection to the streets and street level retail. Horrible idea.

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  5. If your really interested in the history of the skywalk, you may want to interview Nell Surber. I believe she was the city manager responsible for them.

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  6. Thank you for pointing out the lights that need replaced on the section of skywalk connecting to the Duke Energy Convention Center. We are notifying the City today.

    - The Staff at Downtown Cincinnati Inc.

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  7. the google maps api you incorporated into the photo tour is one of the sickest things ive seen. that had to have taken some tedious attention to detal. great job man.

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  8. I LOVE these things! I grew up in L.A. and sadly you never see skywalks there. They look very convenient & fun, as you get a great view of the city each time you walk across one (and you can avoid the noise and dangers of the street level).

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    1. There are actually a very strange network of skybridges for a few blocks in the north east corner of downtown. Walk around on Figueroa or Flower north of Wilshire and you'll see them, they all seem to eventually feed into the Bonaventure (the weirdest one being the ones that access the hotel from the east and dump you into like the 6th floor of the hotel)

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  9. skywalks are designated routes meant only for walking up to ur destination. you cant really have any interface with the street pattern, activities, you cant experience the city up in the air.... the idea is still not accepted by the pedestrians, cause their movement pattern does not justify a skywalk.... like, i would rather stand for few seconds & cross the road rather than a skywalk.... there can be alternatives to it like vehicle-free zones, identification of shortest distance routes of pedestrians....

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    1. I think sky walks make more sense for poeple of the city.. Meaning those who work or live in the city, and know where they want to go. I find it safer and much more comfortable walking in the skywalk then down on the sidewalk with all the crazies.

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  10. That deadend to nowhere section, a.k.a. Race Street skywalk should at least get pedestrian across Race Street and then down to the street levels. Many people have to use the crosswalk down to the street level to cross 3 lane traffic that won't stop for you even if you are half way across the crosswalk, and that includes buses.

    We need to plant a cop in a hotdog costume trying to cross the road there to hand out tickets like they do in California!

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  11. My dad would frequently take us downtown on weekends in the late 70's/early 80's. There were sections of the Skywalk that had vendor stands full of interesting things, but I remember the system being more confusing than helpful. It was much easier to navigate the streets and sidewalks.

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  12. One word RENOVATED!!! It seems like everytime you turn around another part is being torn down. Working downtown and living in Cincinnati I utilize the skywalk in cold weather and when its raining and when its too hot and when I want to get somewhere quickly. Renovate it.. Im sad to keep seeing it disappear. :(

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