How to build functional and more appealing winter cities

Winter cities the world over need stronger focus on social and economic participation, study shows.


How do you make winter cities more functional and appealing? The answer lies in social inclusion and economic engagement, according to new research by University of Alberta experts in human geography and urban planning.

“Winter creates a set of challenges for urban planning,” said U of A human geographer Damian Collins, lead author of the study.

“The foremost problem (winter creates) is decreased social and economic activity,” explained Collins. “We really see that first-hand here in Edmonton. Our public spaces are so vibrant in the summer, with events such as the Fringe festival, but this falls away a lot in the winter.”

Their recommendations? Creating vibrant, well-lit streetscapes, like Whyte Avenue and 104 Street, and building free, public outdoor programming.

“One strong example of the social and economic activity that brings people out in winter is German Christmas markets,” said Collins. “They operate at different scales—from mega-markets to smaller, traditional markets. It is a social event in a public space. Markets are free to access and free to walk through, making them accessible for everyone.”

“There is a lot of potential here to make Edmonton a vibrant and more dynamic city year-round,” added Collins.

The study is one of the first to look at winter cities and associated policies from an academic perspective.

“We are examining the winter cities movement, in which the City of Edmonton is an important player,” he said. “So far, we are making progress on the physical dimensions with the more climate-sensitive design guidelines from the City of Edmonton. What we need to think more about are the social and economic inclusion aspects of this work and how this can extend beyond our borders to winter cities the world over.”

The study, “Celebrated, Not Just Endured: Rethinking Winter Cities,” was published in Geography Compass.