The COVID-19 pandemic has forced local governments and businesses in the U.S. to get creative in using outdoor spaces, especially as the temperatures dipped. In trying to find inspiration, many looked to their neighbours north of the border for ideas on how to keep and engage their constituents and customers through the winter months.
From coast to coast to coast, Canadian cities implemented new placemaking, urban planning, and transportation policies to help businesses and communities survive the “COVID winter. To capitalize on their expertise and encourage knowledge sharing, in mid-February the Consulate General of Canada in Boston brought together city planners from across Canada in a virtual meeting to talk about how they are able to make the most of winter planning. City planners from across New England joined the meeting with their Canadian counterparts to get ideas and recommendations on how to embrace the cold and have fun outside. Andy Fillmore, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, also joined to offer the Canadian government’s perspective.
During the meeting, Edmonton’s Winter City Planner, Isla Tanaka, presented an outline of the city’s ten year plan. It includes 64 actions that fall under the following four pillars: Live (helping people play outside), Design (creating fun, comfy, safe places), Thrive (leading winter business innovation) and Share (celebrating & promoting our great northern story). Some of the actions in Edmonton’s plan are as simple as increasing maintenance and clearing snow from paths to picnic tables in parks or clearing bike lanes. Other ideas with a more creative touch include adding temporary lighting to public spaces in the dark winter months. Tanaka advised that people need to be reminded or taught “how to play in the snow”, and offered options such as low-cost programming or the opportunity to borrow equipment for snow activities. In Massachusetts, Bench Consulting launched The Winter Places competition for cities to challenge each other to get outside safely during the winter months. Creative Director Jonathan Berk spoke to the challenges Massachusetts faces when it comes to the winter: “I think that [our relationship with winter] could use some work, and we are hoping to use some of the examples we have seen across Canada and some of the great work done…to inspire cities and towns across Massachusetts to embrace the colder and darker season and bring more light and warm during that time of year.”
Cities from around the U.S. and Canada submitted their creative solutions on how to improve outside entertainment and engagement. One submission titled Snowed In came from Boston and explored how to use snow as both an art piece and thermal insulation. Another submission called Hygge 124 builds on the Danish idea of ‘hygge’ or coziness and contentment and served as a plan for a city corner to incorporate portable fire pits and hay bales for seating for people to enjoy the outdoors.
Now that we are nearing the end of the winter months and seeing some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, these plans can be used for years to come to help people enjoy the outdoors all winter long.