Calgary’s Plus 15

Downtown Calgary has a pedestrian skywalk system linking buildings, allowing one to traverse the city center er, centre, without setting foot outside. The name refers to the height above ground, approximately 15 feet, which… feet?! aren’t they on the metic system? There are over 10 kilometers of path and over 60 bridges.

The system was developed by architect Harold Hanen, who worked for the Calgary Planning Department in the late 1960s. The first bridges opening in the early 1970s. The motivations were to give pedestrians an option to avoid inclement weather, and the potential dangers of sidewalk travel. As time has passed there has been some re-evaluation of the need for the system, and arguments that it robs the city of street level activity and community. Good read on history, pros and cons, and personal usage experience.

Since the weather was quite pleasant while I was there in September, I didn’t feel any reason to use it to avoid discomfort, but I was kinda curious. However, due to timing – being after regular business hours – I was not able to find a way in. The bridges are owned by the city, but most of the access points are in private buildings, so you can’t always just walk in off the street. Which, for example if it’s a walk between two office buildings, why would anyone need to be there after hours? But it does raise some interesting questions about public/private space.

It does give a different flavor to the city – a extra visible reminder that there’s a whole other world cocooned inside climate controlled spaces. Even if one doesn’t use it, it colors the feel and experience. I can see both plusses and minuses to the system. But, after all the investment in it, I’m guessing it won’t go away.

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