How to make your city less brutal in the winter

Can this plan make your town a great winter city?
Maybe we could all embrace winter in the city more if we just designed for it better. (
For many Canadians, the months from January to April are just a time you get through: a time to hibernate, or, if you're lucky, escape to somewhere warm. And this may be particularly true in urban centres, where it can be harder to get out and enjoy nature.
Sure, it looks pretty, but it can also be treacherous on that walk in to work! (Michelle Parise)

But what if it doesn't have to be that way? What if smart urban planning can design cities so they are more useable and more fun in the winter?

Susan Holdsworth
Susan Holdsworth is an urban planner, and the coordinator of Winter City Edmonton. It's an ambitious, long range plan to turn Edmonton into a great winter city. Recently, they launched a set of Winter City Design Guidelines.

The guidelines stress some main design principles for winter cities. These include using lighting effectively, using colour, and providing the infrastructure needed for a winter lifestyle, like separated bike lanes, or gas lines for outdoor fire pits.

Capturing sunshine and blocking wind together...can make a space feel between 10 and 20 degrees warmer.

But there are also two key goals to creating what Susan calls warmer 'micro-climates'. "Block wind, and that means prevailing winds and downdrafts," she says.

"We listen to the forecast in the winter and the meteorologists love to tell us about the wind chill...Wouldn't it be nice to ignore that completely?"

The second key to warm micro-climates is capturing sunlight. "Capturing sunshine and blocking wind together...can make a space feel between 10 and 20 degrees warmer," Susan says.

Of course, the challenge for winter cities isn't just the cold; it's the darkness.
Darío Núñez

Darío Núñez is an architect and architectural lighting designer based in Reykjavik. He was part of a team that won an award for a park re-design that directly addressed the darkness and cold of winter.

"Normally architects, urban planners, designers design for the ideal daylight scenario, and even in their visualizations...they put people wearing light clothes [with] very good weather," Darío says.

"In this case, the architect decided to show a harsh winter...and a little bit of twilight, and we complemented it with a lighting design scheme and that convinced the jury that this was a better approach for cities that face such a long period of darkness and winter."

For Darío, it's not only the practical benefits of light -- to help us see better -- that matters.

"We should focus lighting design on feelings and atmospheres...and find a way to illuminate cities in ways that make us feel warmer," he says.

You can read more about Edmonton's Winter City Guidelines here.

Darío Núñez is one of the speakers at Edmonton's upcoming Winter Cities Shake-up conference. Find more information here.


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