Beginning Our Wintermission

What does it take to create a city that truly embraces the winter season? And how do you design streets or program public spaces to encourage people to get outdoors during the coldest months of the year? In January, the 8 80 Cities team travelled to the Winter Cities Shake Up Conference in search of answers to these questions. The event took place in the presumed birthplace of winter, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where the average temperature in January is a balmy -18 Celsius.

We also used the conference as an opportunity to announce and launch our Wintermission program officially. Representatives from each of our Wintermission city teams (Buffalo, Eau Claire, and Leadville) convened at the conference to learn from global leaders in winter city building.

Here are some the highlights and lessons we’ll put to good use in our Wintermission project:

1) Cultivate winter appreciation

We all have a role to play in flipping the script on winter. Kari Leibowitz travelled to Tromso, Norway to understand how people adapt in one of the most wintery places in the world. She found that maintaining a positive mindset has a strong influence on levels of happiness and satisfaction during winter. As a result, Kari challenged everyone to become ‘wintertime mindset ambassadors’ by embracing the positive aspects of winter in the way we talk and think about winter. This is not to suggest that people living with clinical depression can simply ‘snap out of it,’ but there are simple actions that most people can take to spread winter cheer and appreciation.

2) Build the plan and take action

Edmonton’s WinterCity Strategy shows that becoming a vibrant winter city doesn’t just happen – it takes collaboration, planning, and (most importantly) follow through and action. The City is five years into the ten-year implementation plan and has already led or supported the creation of dozens of winter events, programs, and activities that have changed the way people in Edmonton think, talk, and feel about winter.

3) Design from the (snowy) ground, up

Many cities spend heaps of money trying to design winter out of cities. Far too often, we interpret ‘winter design’ as a means to recreate summer-like conditions in the public realm. For example, many cities build an extensive and expensive tunnel or skywalk networks or light up parks like the Fourth of July to bring daytime brightness during the darkest months of the year. Presentations by Public City Architecture and public lighting designer Sabine de Schutter challenged winter cities to embrace innovative design and architecture that builds on local context, culture, and climate. Sometimes that means using more ambient lighting outdoors, and other times it means inventing an entirely new winter game like Crokicurl.

4) Winter streets need a new job – promoting mental health

Ana Karinna Hidalgo’s groundbreaking research demonstrates the impact that the built environment has on our mental health. She found that winter streets with natural elements such as trees and native plants tend to lower stress levels and promote mental wellness. These findings show that, also for places of transportation and commerce, our streets should be places that boost our mental health.

5) We’re part of a movement

Delegates travelled from dozens of cities to attend the 2019 Shake Up. The creativity and enthusiasm for winter city planning was a useful reminder that the Wintermission program is building on decades of work from dedicated community leaders, planners, and researchers like Norman Pressman and Patrick Coleman of the Winter Cities Institute. More recently, the movement has been propelled by Sue Holdsworth, Isla Tanaka, and Councilor Ben Henderson at the City of Edmonton. We’re privileged to learn from this work and excited to contribute new ideas to this important movement.

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