Bringing Public Life to Winter Cities: Wintermission Pilot Projects

By Brandon Miles, 8 80 Cities Intern

2020 hasn’t brought yet the heavy blanket of snow, which we usually expect by this time of the year in Toronto. Snow or not, the reality is that the days are shorter; the clouds are grey and gloomy, lurking over the city’s skyline while cold winds blow past.

Recently, while thinking about tasks and duties, trying to face up to my dread of stepping outside into the winter cold, I heard children playing and giggling in the outdoor courtyard. It reminded me of the days of joy when I was once their age. What happened to those cheerful days when winter was blissful and beautiful, and it felt like a magical wonderland?

As we grow older, we often let our memories fade, and our perceptions become jaded by the cities we’ve built around us, disliking the snow and all it brings forth.

In northern Canadian and American towns and cities, we have structured our world to avoid winter. Through enclosed pedestrian pathways, underground malls, and the warmth of heated cars, we coop up inside instead of enjoying life out on the streets, in the parks, and within the city. We lose at least four months of the year to this season, and yet we know each year it will come back again. But what if we built a city that embraced winter? A city designed for every season?

At 8 80 Cities, we have embarked on the mission of fighting isolation and bringing public life to three winter cities in the U.S. —Leadville, CO, Eau Claire, WI, and Buffalo, NY—as part of Wintermission, generously funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Global Ideas Fund at CAF America.

Over the past year, our Wintermission journey led us through the first three stages of the project. We started with our first assembled gathering in Saskatoon, SK in January 2019 at the Winter Cities Shake-Up, which brought together representatives from winter cities around the world to attend workshops and learn from each other’s built environments.

Eau Claire, WI. Community Engagement Process. Enjoying outdoor time with community members.


Buffalo, NY. Community Engagement Process with the Latinx Community.

The second phase brought 8 80 Cities to the three cities to engage the community in our inclusive consultation process to identify their winter challenges and brainstorm ideas that could vitalize the public realm.

Leadville, CO. Wintermission Community Engagement Process.

We have now activated the third phase of Wintermission, with the launching of low-cost and high-impact pilot projects and events in each city. Ideas have been collected and synthesized from all communities, and plans have been constructed to enhance the public realm, engage the community, and bring a sense of excitement and curiosity back into the wintry streets. In the fourth phase this spring and summer, these pilot projects will be assessed to understand their impacts on the local community, and we will create winter strategy guidelines to help inform local policy decisions for each community!

Why despise what we all know will happen year after year? By changing our outlook of what winter could be and embracing the opportunities that winter can bring, we truly can create vibrant and joyful winter cities. As the late motivational speaker Wayne Dyer once said, “If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.” Let’s bring out the arts of music and local culture. Let’s stir up games for young and old. Let’s make public spaces weather-resilient so they can be used year-round. Live music on street corners with pedestrians huddling around the warmth of fires. Traditional winter games and activities for all ages. All within the streets and public spaces of our urban centers.

Building a lively, accessible, and livable winter city is not as difficult as it seems, but it does require the social drive, winter programming, and community dreams to make a vibrant winter city a reality. We can combat social isolation and increase physical activity, but it will take the work of the community. Like a child’s imaginative creativity to build a snowman, we too can reimagine and build our cities and believe in the magic that winter can bring forth.

From live music and sports to other winter events and activities, check out our comprehensive list of winter initiatives at the 8 80 Resource Hub to learn more!      



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