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Edmonton wants to fight winter with better planning

Canadian city’s proposed winter guidelines seek to fight frigid temps with smart design

Edmonton skyline in winter
Edmonton skyline in winter
Heidi G: Flickr/Creative Commons

As residents of cities in colder climes shudder due to dropping temperatures and predictions of serious poler vortex this winter, city officials aren’t feeling much holiday cheer, either. Winter brings salted roads, traffic delays, and numerous small but onerous transportation and public works problems.

In Edmonton, Canada, a city that knows plenty about putting up with a long winter, planners and community advocates want to take a different approach. A new series of proposed winter design guidelines have been sent to City Council for approval, according to the Edmonton Journal, part of a larger initiative to make this cold city more active and engaged all year.

How do you design against winter? According to a report that outlines the guidelines, the main strategy is diverting the worst of winter weather. Buildings and public spaces should be built to block the wind, maximize exposure to sunlight, utilize color to “enliven the winterscape,” create visual interest with light, and provide infrastructure to support the desired activities and aspects of life during wintertime.

Principles of Winter Design
Principles of Winter Design, according to Edmonton’s Winter Design Guidelines
City of Edmonton

In practice, this means a series of smart tweaks that can make a frigid landscape more bearable. Raise crosswalks to keep boots and wheelchairs out of snow. Narrow balconies to allow more sunlight to hit dense streets. Plant dense row of pines and spruce trees to block wind. Add light wells and color to brighten new buildings. Use buildings to block wind and create south-facing public spaces for outdoor activities. It’s about creating a city that encourages people to step outside during winter and bring activity back to sidewalks and in city parks.

The adjustments aren’t just about comfort. According to the report, there’s a strong business case in making Edmonton and similar northern cities more amenable to outdoor activities in the winter. Encouraging more travel and walking during colder months generates more economic activity; many of the guidelines, which promote more compact neighborhoods, go hand-in-hand with those promoting sustainable, walkable cities.

“We need to focus on urban design that takes advantage of all that winter offers, embrace the opportunity of its activities, and create a city that flourishes through the unique beauty of our northern landscape,” says Edmonton Councillor Ben Henderson.

Edmonton has been a leader in promoting the winter urban experience, releasing For the Love of Winter, a roadmap for activating the city year-round, in 2012.

White Avenue in Edmonton
White Avenue in Edmonton
Kurt Bauschardt: Flickr/Creative Commons