Creating Cool Winter Neighbourhoods: The Winterhood Lab Project in St. Paul, Minnesota

Winter is coming. One day you’re lying on the beach and the next you’re knee-deep in snow. The thermometer plunge is not something we can control, but the way we react to it is. We can choose to merely tolerate winter, or we can embrace it with open arms.

That is the idea behind the Winterhood Lab—a project designed to build vibrant winter neighbourhoods in Saint Paul, Minnesota by implementing pilot projects that encourage people to engage with their community, visit public spaces, and get active during the colder months. The pilot project ideas will be collected through an inclusive community engagement process, and be implemented in early 2016.
The Lab is the latest collaboration between 8 80 Cities and the Knight Foundation. Last week, Rossana and I visited Saint Paul to meet with potential partners and swap ideas for winter-based projects…in August. In three days we met with nearly 50 community leaders representing more than ten local organizations. The fact that they were willing to meet and talk about winter on short notice in August says volumes about the positive energy and collaborative spirit in Saint Paul.
Over this short visit we learned that Saint Paul has a thriving winter culture. The city’s Winter Carnival attracts more than 350,000 visitors each year, and many local organizations are experimenting with creative ways to celebrate life in a winter city—from ceremonially doling out free winter hats to installing pop-up saunas. The Winterhood Lab will build on these achievements by condensing their impact in one residential area. Through low-cost, high-impact projects we expect to tap into existing community engagement with the goal of transforming one community into a model winter neighbourhood. 8 80 Cities will track the progress, record lessons, capture stories and compile best practices to create a Winterhood Strategy document. The Strategy will serve as a guidebook for other neighbourhoods wanting to scale up the project across the city.
In our mobile world, cities are recognizing that they can’t afford to close up shop for half the year. Scandinavian cities like Copenhagen have long embraced the philosophy of hygge by installing geothermal-heated bike lanes and adopting a thriving winter patio culture. North American cities are beginning to catch on with innovative and homegrown programs like the City of Edmonton’s winter fashion show, Winnipeg’s winter hut competition, or Washington’s massive community snowball fights. Like these cities, Saint Paul has the spirit and creativity, not to mention the weather, to become a world class winter city.

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