It's time for Toronto to embrace winter
Other cities across the world have learned to love the cold and the snow. Toronto should do the same, say urbanists and other advocates.
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Call it all-season urbanism.
As winter finally begins its descent on Toronto, a growing number of advocates, urbanists and residents are calling on the city to welcome the snow and the cold with open – albeit appropriately clothed – arms.
“If we can get ourselves into a collective attitude of embracing the winter, then the sky’s the limit in terms of what we can do,” says Natalie Brown, a program manager at Toronto non-profit Park People.
Brown has been researching how other cities keep their cool during the winter, and says Toronto still has a lot to learn.
In Norway and other Scandinavian countries, for example, some cities have installed cross-country ski lanes alongside major roadways. They’re affectionately referred to as “whites of way” and supported by public ski storage lockers downtown.
“You can literally go skiing to do your errands,” Brown said.
Closer to home, Edmonton launched its comprehensive WinterCity strategy in 2012. The city offers blankets and seat cushions to restaurants to help them keep patios open year-round, and even boasts a few heated bus shelters to encourage people to walk or take transit.
Susan Holdsworth, the WinterCity co-ordinator in Edmonton, says the program has led to a “culture shift.”
“There’s definitely less hibernating going on in the winter,” she said. “We’ve made it easier for people to go play outside.”
Edmonton is also preparing a set of winter design guidelines, which examine the link between architecture and winter weather.
“The way you design a building has a huge impact on how it feels to be on the street in front of it,” Holdsworth said. “We can actually design out windchill.”
Brown would love to see Toronto follow Edmonton’s lead – especially in terms of design – but said not every winter-friendly idea has to be so ambitious.
“It’s just about creating reasons for people to be outside,” she said. “It can be as simple as having a local café donate some hot chocolate and having a skating party in the park.”
A future winter wonderland?
Ken Greenberg, Toronto’s former head of urban design and one of the people working on the Bentway project, believes the city is already warming up to winter.
“We’ve gotten over the idea that we have to retreat into tunnels and disappear for the winter,” he said.
As Greenberg and others design installations and programming for the 1.75-kilometre park underneath the Gardiner Expressway, he says winter activities have been a “driving force.”
There are plans for a “whole range of winter activities” in the park, he said, ranging from hot chocolate vendors to a 450-metre ice skating loop.
Greenberg also says the park’s “24-metre canopy,” a.k.a. the Gardiner itself, provides shelter and will encourage people to gather in the park during the winter.
As part of its WinterCity initiative, the City of Edmonton has asked local meteorologists to report winter weather in a more positive way. “Rather than tell people to ‘hunker down,’ it can be more like ‘yay, snow is coming,’” said program co-ordinator Susan Holdsworth.