Edmonton Is Designing a City That Thrives in Winter

New guidelines for chilly city planning. 

Edmonton, Canada (Photo by Mack Male via Flickr)

For colder cities facing dropping temperatures, every aspect of the built environment that can trap heat and sun or soften the blow of icy wind goes a long way toward keeping the city vibrant year-round. In Edmonton, Canada, City Council approved a set of winter design recommendations Tuesday that codifies some of these best practices for chilly city planning.

According to the Edmonton Journal, those recommendations include adding balconies, trees and podiums to tall buildings to slow and redirect wind; installing push-button heaters at popular transit stops; raising crosswalks in pedestrian areas to keep them out of the snow; planting evergreen trees to slow wind in parks and on walking trails; and designing seating areas that are protected from the wind and face south to catch the sun. These all point to the guidelines’ five core goals: using design to block wind, maximize sun exposure, enliven the winter landscape with color, create visual interest with light and provide infrastructure that supports winter living.

“We’ve done a really good job of creating hostile micro-climates,” said Council Member Ben Henderson, referring to downtown wind tunnels and north-facing patios.

Some winter design policies are already in place. Guidelines for tree planting — evergreens to block and disperse wind, deciduous trees to allow in light once their leaves are lost — have already been worked into the 2016 Design and Construction Standards.

Development officers can also ask for wind studies for some tall buildings under the current rules. But the Edmonton Journal notes there is little guidance about what degree of wind tunnel effect is acceptable, and no direct connection between a developer’s right to build a higher structure and a responsibility to soften the wind impact for pedestrians.

The newly adopted guidelines also consider beauty. Buildings should be colorfully painted and creatively lit, and trails should feature soft, glare-free lighting that preserves a “sense of mystery.”

(Credit: City of Edmonton)

Before the council approved the recommendations, Sue Holdsworth, Edmonton’s winter city coordinator, noted it would still be a challenge to turn them into bylaws and enforce them in private practice.

“They’re meaningless if they just sit on the shelf,” she said.

Rick Preston, executive director of Edmonton’s Urban Development Institute, suggested the city create a point of contact for developers who want to experiment with creative ways to meet the guidelines. Holdsworth also said the upcoming Winter Cities conference, being hosted in Edmonton in February, may help public and private planners navigate the new design elements.

Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.

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Tags: urban planningurban designweather

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