COVID Signpost 200 Days: How Should Our Cities Prepare for Winter?

Joining our guest host Catherine Craig-St-Louis of CUI and Rues Principales for our second series of COVID Signpost, 200 Days: How Should Our Cities Prepare for Winter? – are Olivier Legault, Project Manager at Rues principales and Co-founder, Winterlab; Isla Tanaka, Wintercity Planner at the City of Edmonton; Sheena Jardine-Olade, CoFounder of Night Lab; and Rami Bebawi, CoFounder and Partner at KANVA.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Winter Planning Requires a Systems Thinking Approach

Edmonton has become a global exemplar in terms of planning for winter cities. Isla Tanaka, Winter City Planner for the City of Edmonton, evokes the imagery of an iceberg. There are only a few visible items at the top, such as events and festivals, but effective winter planning requires consideration of the factors that lie under the surface including policies, zoning by-laws, maintenance and operating procedures, urban design, and infrastructure. Through this approach, the City has developed its renown community-led Winter City Strategy.

2. Planning for the Night

Sheena Jardine-Olade, as part of Night Lab, works to identify opportunities to foster a thriving nighttime economy (NTE). Planners focus on what Sheena calls the “festive night” made up of highly visible main street businesses such as restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, theatres and sports arenas. But other NTE activities require equal consideration, such as gig, late night office, factory and essential service work. Cities need to be planned on a twenty-four-hour basis to improve safety, accessibility and inclusion for all peoples at all times of the day.

3. Public Spaces are for More than Consumption

Rami Bebawi, of the architectural firm KANVA, calls on planners to think beyond winter economic activity and reformulate our relationship with nature. We should be animating our public spaces during the winter for purposes beyond mere consumption. There must be a shift away from entertainment for entertainment’s sake. According to Rami, places can be forums for exchange, discussion, ideas, and fun. Remi says there is a delicate balance between prescribed activity and opportunities for people to be creative.

4. Neighbourhood Scale

Olivier Legault, of the Laboratoire de l’Hiver (Winter Lab), promotes the idea of the proximity-based winter. Sheena brings up the idea of the 15-minute city, a planning movement to provide all the services an individual may need within walking distance of home. These approaches are hyperlocal and focus on small scale-interventions. Animating at this scale involves opportunities for residents and businesses to foster connections and take ownership of their neighbourhood spaces.

5. Shifting Perceptions on Winter

There needs to be a cultural shift in Canadian cities to encourage people to spend more time outdoors in the cold. The winter season is not one monolithic block of the year. There are ample opportunities throughout the season to enjoy the outdoors comfortably. Olivier and Isla speak of communication strategies that encourage adults to “rediscover their inner child” by eliciting emotional memories of childhood winters spent outside. The community-based task force behind Edmonton’s Winter City Strategy asked Edmontonians, “what would make you fall in love with winter in Edmonton?”