When it comes to the winter, let's just do what Edmonton does
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Calgary has a lot to learn from Edmonton regarding winter.
When winter arrives in earnest, Calgarians’ collective imagination turns to roads and snowplows, and freezes there until the next chinook thaw.
The snowy season’s fine so long as we’re not inconvenienced. But when winter gets in the way — with, say, the once-in-a-lifetime snow dump of this month — we struggle to accept the weather, and frantically assign blame.
We blame the city, for not clearing snow fast enough, or blame other motorists for driving terribly (unlike our masterful and disciplined selves!).
It’s easy to forget that traversing across a city at speed, cocooned in warmth, is a relatively new phenomenon — and a pretty miraculous one, all things considered. So what can we learn from Edmonton, a city colder and wintrier than ours?
While Calgary tries its hardest to plow winter away, Edmonton is intentionally letting it in.
In 2012, Edmonton’s city council approved a winter city strategy developed by Edmontonians. It’s not just about snowplows or winter tires, the two items that seem to dominate Calgary conversations on urban life in winter.
Instead, the Edmonton strategy aims to make it easier and more enjoyable for people to be outside: “Snow is not our enemy…. Viewing the season as a time to shut things down and stay inside squanders huge potential.”
The strategy envisions Edmonton as a “world- renowned northern city.” It incorporates ideas from northern cities such as Copenhagen, Denmark, but is also distinctly Edmontonian, taking local geography and culture into account.
It challenges myths about winter: we must hide from the elements; outdoor facilities have to close for the season; recess at schools should be indoors; commute only by car until the snow is gone.
“Making the most of the winter season requires thinking differently,” states the strategy.
What does it suggest instead?
Public places designed to take advantage of the sun and block the wind. Improved winter commuting options for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. Warming huts in the river valley. A year-round patio culture. A thriving winter festival scene.
By intentionally working with the climate instead of treating it as a negative force, Edmonton is seeking to unlock an “untapped resource.”
It will take a culture shift, but the city has already started down the path.
This is bold, creative thinking. Calgary’s winter discourse — in a nutshell, “get this inconvenient white stuff off the road” — is embarrassingly poor in comparison. Edmonton has its own struggles with snow removal, but the city has purposefully gone beyond that single aspect of winter life.
Perhaps Calgary should develop a winter city strategy of our own. Much of what Edmonton is considering would be easier to implement here, thanks to chinooks.
Our northern neighbour has the right idea. If you can’t beat winter, join it.