It’s a bold goal but one the city said it is well on its way to implementing. The WinterCity Strategy aims to transform Edmonton into a world-leading winter city, to get people out enjoying the season rather than going into hibernation to avoid it.
“It’s really about realizing Edmonton’s full potential in the winter months,” said Sue Holdsworth, Edmonton’s WinterCity co-ordinator.
“We don’t want to roll up the sidewalks and (have) businesses lay off half their staff in winter. We want everybody to be out supporting businesses and connecting outside and having fun. It’s just good all around, socially and economically, and from a health perspective.”
Edmonton’s WinterCity Strategy was adopted by city council in October 2012. A year later, the city accepted the strategy’s implementation plan, or road map, on how Edmonton will reach its goal of becoming a world winter leader. And this past December, the Winter Design Guidelines were passed, to ensure all city developments will consider how they can help transform hibernation time into a more social time.
Fast forward to 2017 and Holdsworth said she’s extremely pleased with the way Edmontonians have taken pride in the idea of embracing winter, as the community-based initiative can’t be done by the city alone. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child.
“It’s really cool to see how quickly our culture is shifting already,” she said.
“We thought that would take decades or generations and we’re really impressed to see how quickly it’s actually happened; way faster than we thought.”
So, what exactly has the city done in its efforts to make Edmonton a world-leading winter city? Here are seven initiatives, to name a few.
Encouraging four-season patio culture
Sometimes there’s nothing quite like hitting the patio on a warm summer afternoon with friends. But why limit that experience to summer?
The city has provided financial and marketing support to several Edmonton businesses that operate winter patios, such as Café Bicyclette in the city’s French quarter.
“We’re trying to kick-start that culture and support businesses to have winter patios,” Holdsworth said.
The city also held a party last fall to kick off winter patio season, which was new for the city.
Winter excitement guides
Upwards of 12,000 winter excitement guides were printed and handed out in city libraries and rec centres, to display the many great things Edmonton has to offer in winter.
“There’s actually a lot of things to do in winter in Edmonton, most of which is free, but people just don’t know about them,” Holdsworth said. “You’d be surprised how many people still don’t know about Silver Skate (festival).”
Holdsworth said the guides are “jam-packed full of information” about the many ways to get involved in Edmonton winters. As of a couple of months ago, the guides are also available on the city’s website.
“We’re really trying to get the word out.”
Watch below: The Victoria Park IceWay was such a hit last winter that two more have popped up in Edmonton this year.
Free ski and snowboard experiences
The city has helped facilitate free ski and snowboard lessons at two local ski hills – Snow Valley and the Edmonton Ski Club. The lessons are specifically geared towards newcomers and those who aren’t able to afford lessons.
“We know newcomers, if they don’t learn how to have fun outside in winter in the first couple of years of arriving, that they learn to hibernate like most of everybody else,” Holdsworth said.
Front Yards in Bloom: Winterscapes
You’ve likely heard of the Front Yards in Bloom program, which is all about celebrating beautiful front yards in the summer months. But did you know the program also operates in the winter?
Called Front Yards in Bloom: Winterscapes, the goal of the program doesn’t change. People are invited to use lights, sculptures and natural features to turn their yards into a beautiful winterscape. There are three categories for the winter program: Winter Garden, Winter Art and Winter Play.
“It’s small but growing in numbers and in sophistication,” Holdsworth said. “It’s maybe not as big an investment time as gardening because of all the weeding… but you know, you get a big snow dump and you have, ta da! This great thing to play with and build stuff with outside.”
— WinterCity Edmonton (@WinterCityYEG) February 15, 2017
Nominations for the 2017 edition of the program will be accepted until Feb. 19.
Pilot project for lighting heritage buildings
Last summer, the city launched a pilot project to light up some of the city’s heritage buildings. So far, the matching-grant program has successfully lit up the World Trade Centre building downtown.
“They are generally such great assets to our city. A lot of them are in darkness and you don’t see them at night during the long hours of darkness,” Holdsworth said.
Winter Cities Shake-Up Conference
Delegates from 40 cities around the world have emerged on the city of Edmonton for the 2017 Winter Cities Shake-Up conference. This is the second time Edmonton has hosted the three-day event, which brings people together to discuss winter strategies and brainstorm new ways to approach winter living in the areas of business, urban design, culture and wellness.
“Through the conferences, it’s a big part of changing the city’s reputation and people now look to Edmonton and think that we’re doing some pretty cool things,” Holdsworth said.
“I’ve seen Winnipeg media saying that we’re ‘kicking their frozen keesters,’ which is a big compliment considering Winnipeg is doing some pretty amazing things themselves.”
This is the second time Edmonton has hosted the conference, which runs until Sunday.
Watch below: Standford University student Kari Leibowitz spent one year in Norway discovering winter and is in Edmonton to speak at the Winter Cities Shake-Up Conference.
Increase capacity and sustainability of winter festivals
The city has begun work on developing a business plan to drive the creation of a winter festival coordinating body that will increase the capacity and sustainability of the many local winter festivals. That also requires meeting the unique needs faced by winter festivals, one of which is cost.
The city supports many winter festivals, but admits they are expensive. Holdsworth said many festivals share inventory, such as fire pits, which the city helps manage.
Where does the WinterCity Strategy go from here?
While much work has been done to put Edmonton on the winter city map, Holdsworth admits there is still plenty of work to be done. The WinterCity Strategy is broken down into 10 goals, encompassing 64 actions the city hopes to implement, some of which will require changes to city standards, regulations and funding models.
Some of those goals include improving winter transportation for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit users and changing the way communities are designed with winter in mind.
“We’re chipping away at them,” Holdsworth said. “The whole strategy is about shifting our culture. It’s not just about events… it’s really a culture shift to look at winter differently and consider it differently in everything we do.”
Beyond the WinterCity Strategy, Holdsworth encourages people to get out on their own and find great things to do in the winter.
To learn more about Edmonton’s WinterCity Strategy, visit the City of Edmonton’s website.
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