Edmonton

'Better for everybody': Edmonton winter design guidelines approved

A new set of design guidelines will help take some of the chill out the region’s iciest season. The recommendations, crafted by local architects, builders and planners, were approved by city council Tuesday.

'This is really a tool for city planners to help enforce these ideas'

Time to bundle up. Environment Canada has placed the Wood Buffalo region under an extreme cold weather warning. (CBC)

It's nearly impossible to walk through Edmonton in winter without getting caught in a gust of wind.

A new set of design guidelines will help take some of the chill out the region's iciest season.

The winter design guidelines, crafted by local architects, builders and planners, were approved by city council on Tuesday.

Though winter design guidelines have so far capitalized on the beauty of the season, this new strategy is more about giving people refuge from the cold.

It calls for trees, balconies and awnings to take some of the bite out of the wind that whips around downtown buildings, and for heated bus shelters and raised crosswalks to keep soggy boots out of the slush.

The co-chairs of the working group, Coun. Ben Henderson and Stantec's Simon O'Byrne, have been leading the work for several years, and have come up five main design principles.

  •  Incorporate design strategies to block prevailing winds and downdrafts;
  •  Maximize exposure to sunshine through orientation and design;
  • Use colour to enliven the winterscape;
  • Create visual interest with lighting, while being mindful of density, spread and colour, and;
  • Design and provide infrastructure that supports winter life and improves comfort in cold weather.

The city's grid roadway system and building designs actually make the harsh winter climate feel worse, said architect Shafraaz Kaba, a committee member on the winter cities council, which helped draft the recommendations.

"Sometimes, our avenues funnel winds from the west just straight down through them," Kaba said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"So the guidelines that we've created stop that from happening by creating little canopies or awnings or balconies to break up the wind as they funnel through.

"There's lots of wind studies to show that anything that disrupts that flow from coming down the street really helps create a microclimate."

The plan also calls for designs to maximize exposure to the sun, create warm sunny nooks within public spaces and incorporate creative lighting to ease the gloom of short winter days. Kaba said the guidelines will act as a blueprint for city planners.

"These guidelines are for the planning department to help get these ideas into the permitting applications from builders," Kaba said.

"This is really a tool for city planners to help enforce these ideas."

Though taking some of the chill out of winter may seem like a tall order, Kaba is confident the plan won't be put on ice for too long.

He said simple and inexpensive design elements can make the streets more welcoming year-round.

"It's going to make the public realm better for everybody. It might be a little bit more expense, but it's definitely for the benefit of the pedestrians and our citizens who love and enjoy our winter city.

"It will take a few years to really see the impact. But I think making these guidelines will have a long-lasting impact on our buildings and public spaces."

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