How do you make the longest, coldest season of the year more enjoyable?

That's the question that Edmonton has been tackling since 2012, when it began implementing its winter strategy.

Since then, the city has been luring citizens outside by promoting the beauty of winter through sports and festivals. But now, it's gone a step further with a new strategy to offer people refuge from the cold.

Some of the ideas approved by Edmonton council on Tuesday could be adopted in Calgary, according to the co-chair of the capital city's winter strategy.

"The difference in winter between Edmonton and Calgary is really marginal. The thing that may make winter in Calgary worse is that it is a windier city ... because of its proximity to the Rockies," said Simon O'Byrne, who is also an urban designer with Stantec.

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Strategically adding coniferous and evergreen trees to urban and suburban areas can drastically reduce wind velocity. (Patti Edgar/CBC )

"Sometimes –5 C with wind can feel vastly worse than even –10 or –15 with no wind."

  • Which city does winter better: Calgary or Edmonton? Leave your comments below.

Tree planting

Strategically adding coniferous and evergreen trees to urban and suburban areas can drastically reduce wind velocity, O'Byrne says.

"The worst winds in winter are from the northwest," he told the Calgary Eyeopener.

When building subdivisions, O'Byrne said Calgary developers should stockpile dirt on the north end of these communities and create a "big toboggan hill" with a dense row of spruce trees at the top.

"Things like that mitigate the wind a little bit, so that when we're walking towards our community the wind isn't so bad, and it can be a lot more pleasing to be outside — so that we're not hibernating quite to the same degree," he said.

Retrofit downtown buildings

O'Byrne said some of Calgary's older downtown buildings could be retrofitted with balconies and canvas awnings to redirect face-freezing gusts of wind, and shelter pedestrians from snow, rain and wind.

But he adds that winter city design is not just about protecting pedestrians from the elements, but creating a "warmth at street level."

That means using less steel and glass and opting for more soft, natural colours and materials — such as wood.

O'Byrne said new builds should also maximize exposures to sunshine through orientation and design.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener