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VOLUME 3 | ISSUE 1 | 2012







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CURB APPEAL 1 Winter Policy Challenges by Rob Shields

LAND USE PLANNING 3 Alberta’s Return to Regional Thinking by Doug Parrish


by Jay Walljasper


by Aliya Jamal

PLANNING IN THE CONTEXT OF CLIMATE CHANGE: INSIGHTS FROM RECENT WARMING IN ALASKA by F. Stuart Chapin, III, Nancy Fresco, T. Scott Rupp and Sarah F. Trainor. University of Alaska Fairbanks

GOVERNANCE 5 Municipalities Weave Newcomers Into Community Fabric








Rob Shields, Director City-Region Studies Centre, University of Alberta

Iwona Faferek

EDITORS Howie Phung Karen Sherlock

EDITORIAL BOARD Sara Dorow, Kevin Jones, Merle Patchett, Howie Phung, Rob Shields, Maryanne Wynne, Peter Yackulic

CITY-REGION STUDIES CENTRE Faculty of Extensions – Enterprise Square 2–184, 10230 Jasper Avenue Edmonton, Alberta E-mail: Phone: 780.492.9957 Fax: 780.492.0627










Disclaimer: The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the City-Region Studies Centre, Faculty of Extension or the University of Alberta


WINTER ESSENTIALS – TOP 10 by Howie Phung and Karen Sherlock

Printed in Canada

WINTER AS CHALLENGE ROB SHIELDS Winter is understood as a challenge whether in the city or the countryside. In the past, summer was devoted to preparing food, fuel and shelter to survive inclement weather, cold and seasons during which there was no produce. This seasonal cycle has defined both rural and urban over centuries, shaping both history and daily life. Where Napoleon was in part defeated by the Russian winter, the Inuit have survived for tens of thousands of years in northern climates.

TO FIGHT BACK OR TO APPEASE WINTER? Winter is an operational challenge especially in the context of mobility. Automobiles skid and get stuck in snow, aircrafts are grounded by ice, bicycles become treacherously unbalanced, and buses are delayed leaving passengers in the cold. Those who take public transit would likely agree that waiting in the cold is the worst part of taking the bus in winter. Walking short distances from the bus stop to the final destination is manageable, but slippery sidewalks and frigid temperatures discourage longer walks. For families living on farms and acreages, the mobility challenge is compounded by distance. The clearing of long stretches of rural roads is often left to residents, leaving some stranded for days after a blizzard. The challenges of mobility are echoed by the public who typically complains about such winter nuisances as snow clearing, sidewalk and road conditions and the ‘potholes’ in asphalt roads that result from frost. Municipalities respond by combating winter on a military scale: snow is 1

cleared by heavy machinery; dark days are lit; sand, gravel and salt are spread to add traction on icy surfaces; and water supply that has been frozen is thawed. We have not adapted to the climate or seasons as we have done in the past. Historically roads for horses and sleds did not require plowing, but of course travel distances in the past were not ambitious. Today we plow paths of bare, summer-like roads through snowy landscapes for long crosscountry travel. But is victory truly possible in this fight against winter? Some communities have turned to the seasonal activities in order to make winter more enjoyable. A cue can be taken from children playing in the snow. For example, building things with snow – snowmen and other snow sculptures, snow houses and caves, and forts – and of course activities such as making snow angels and the iconic snowball fight define winter just as much as frigid temperatures or darkness. The natural extension of these activities is the winter festival, the subject of Jay Walljasper’s article Great Winter Cities Show Cold Weather Can Be Cool. Walljasper shows how Christmas markets and celebrations bring vibrancy to public spaces all year round. But there are also other possibilities besides Christmas.The winter season also hosts special religious festivities. The lit, outdoor Christmas tree is one of the best examples of how a religious celebration has been married to the winter season. What are the other possibilities around the winter solstice, Channuka or Eid?

CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

THE BUSINESS OF WINTER Whether plowing a road or renting skis, winter is a seasonal economy worth billions. Its distinctiveness from year-round temperate regions makes winter an important distinguishing feature that is too often neglected in regional identities even though it is an attraction and a special experience for visitors from warm climates. As Susan Holdsworth discusses in her article, some municipalities seen the opportunities inherent in winter and have branded themselves as winter cities. Some communities focus on winter sports such as hockey and curling and skiing. These games are not only cultural icons, but also define the recreational and commercial life of communities. They also make a major contribution to the tourism industry. The opportunity for development and business lies in incrementally extending existing winter businesses and economies into new sectors – branding clothing for example, or testing outdoor equipment, vehicles and infrastructure. Restaurants can extend their outdoor patio season by offering customers blankets and outdoor heat lamps. Cold offers the compensation of warming up in front of a fire, which has also inspired foods and hot drinks. Winter is thus not only a challenge but a programming opportunity.

PLANNING AND DESIGNING IN WINTER In cities, architectural critics have pointed out that we have tended to wall out nature, especially cold weather. Pedway systems have not only drawn people off of streets but do not adjust to sunny days whether in winter or

summer. Their windows do not open, instead they become overheated and unpleasant corridors. They do not have the flexibility that allows a cafe owner to put tables and chairs out on a sidewalk on a pleasant afternoon. So the search is on for approaches that offer the convenience of the indoors but can take advantage of sun and good weather. Winter brings with it the expectation of snow – Curb Magazine readers will be familiar with the sense of waiting for snow that everyone from child to senior citizen shares – will it come before Christmas? A little or a lot? Last a long while? And then, when will it go? Predictability is what we seek when it comes to winter. Given a more unpredictable weather winter, paradoxically becomes a challenge when snowfall is insufficient. Some investors worry whether more southerly ski resorts will continue to receive enough snow. Lack of snow often also portends summer drought. As Chapin writes in his article Planning in the Context of Climate Change, planners should be prepared for extreme events due to warmer temperatures. Unpredictability also means it is a good time to rethink our approach. How can we work with winter, how can winter work with us? The opportunities of winter are at its edges: at the beginning and end of the season when it is still not too cold and expanding the range of activities and industries connected to winter identities.





DOUG PARRISH After almost two decades of chaos in community planning and development, Alberta has come back to a regional approach to planning. But is it too late to mend the damages caused by manic growth in the oil and gas industry and intense competition among municipalities for a piece of the pie? For many years, up until the early 1990s, Alberta’s provincial government maintained a regional planning system overseen by Regional Planning Commissions. The system wasn’t perfect, but it did encourage municipalities to see themselves in terms of their neighbours. Whether they liked it or not, they had to consider matters on a regional basis. The loss of the regional perspective resulted in ugly, unsustainable urban growth and the loss of good agricultural lands, wetlands, woodlands, grasslands and other environmentally important features. It also created a tremendous strain on water resources and huge infrastructure deficits.

The disarray and the fast pace of development were a concern to many. One source of concern was the lack of cooperation among municipalities, between the province and municipalities, and among provincial agencies. Concerns were also expressed about the lack of a long-term provincial vision for resource development and the potential impact this would have on the environment and the quality of life in communities affected. These concerns were raised not only at the municipal level but also at the provincial and federal levels. Even internationally there were voices that sounded a warning, particularly with respect to the environmental impacts of resource development in the province. As a result, the province has returned to a regional model of long-range planning, particularly in areas affected most by resource-development activity. The Land Use Framework, introduced in 2008, establishes seven large regions for long-range planning: Lower Athabasca,

Lower Peace, Upper Peace, Upper Athabasca, North Saskatchewan, Red Deer and South Saskatchewan. There is also a more formalized approach to regional planning in the Edmonton area, with the Capital Region Board, and in the Calgary area through the Calgary Regional Partnership. The creation of long-range planning regions has to some degree brought Alberta full circle. There are, however, some major differences from the earlier regional approach. One is that, with the exception of the Calgary and Edmonton metropolitan areas, the planning areas are much larger. Another is that there is no localized administration tied to the development and implementation of the regional plans, except in the case of metropolitan Edmonton’s Capital Region Board. Thirdly, regional planning is now from the top down rather than from the ground up, as it was previously under the Regional Planning Commission format. This may or may not be seen as a positive step by municipalities. For years, they have seen little or no provincial involvement or interference in developing their local municipal development plans and very limited overarching provincial policy guidance. It seems doubtful whether the regions established under the Land Use Framework make sense from a community-based perspective and whether or not Albertans will ever truly begin to think or work regionally again under this framework. The regional boundaries set out in the new framework appear to be based either on resources, such as oilsands, forestry or water, or on major urban areas. They

Edmonton, AB– Nicole Emmelkamp

Edmonton, AB– Nicole Emmelkamp

certainly don’t have any cultural, political or administrative basis and, as a result, fail to generate a sense of belonging or of community identity. A regional identity should be an essential ingredient in defining a “working” region if the regional approach is to be effective or have any real meaning for those affected by planning. By “working” region, I mean a group of separate municipalities that co-operate with each other in areas of common interest—land use planning, public transit, water, sanitary sewer, social services and emergency services—rather than competing against each other and perhaps duplicating services or functions. The scale of the seven new regions is much too great to generate this important ingredient of community identity in the makeup of a region. In order to do that, their scale needs to be reduced and reflect the commonality of the community represented as a region. The exceptions to this are the urban-centred regions of Edmonton and Calgary, which have a common identity and where there exists a sense of place or belonging. Both made attempts after the demise of the Regional Planning Commissions to address regional issues on a voluntary basis: through the Calgary Regional Partnership and, in the Edmonton area, the Alberta Capital Region Alliance (ACRA). The regions created through the Land Use Framework appear to be a means to assist the provincial government in developing its long-term strategies for

it is dealing with the issues surrounding resource development. This is emphasized by the Comprehensive Regional Infrastructure Sustainability Plans (CRISP) currently being developed for the Athabasca Oil Sands Area and the Cold Lake Oil Sands Area. The intent of these plans is to identify the infrastructure required to accommodate growth spurred by oilsands development and predict when that infrastructure will be required, with recommendations “to the province’s capital planning process, which considers overall provincial priorities in addition to regional needs,” as the Alberta Treasury Board’s website states. For the most part, because of their scale, it seems unlikely that these new regional plans will have any significant impact or meaning to local municipalities. Without that, what will they accomplish? Will local municipalities continue to think in isolation? Or will these regional planning exercises at least be a start toward thinking outside the corporate limits — something some believe has been missing in many areas of the province for the last two decades as a result of the chase for a piece of the energy-resources pie. While the new approach to regional planning may not be ideal from the perspective of a sense of community or place, in my view it represents a positive beginning, particularly if each regional plan is followed up by the CRISP process. Unfortunately, the first plan developed under the new approach, the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan, seems a little too late in coming. Oilsands exploration

major infrastructure needs and to show

and development had already compromised

much of the region’s environment as well as the quality of life in communities affected by the development. Municipalities could not keep up with the pace of development, resulting in major infrastructure deficits and inadequate social support systems. The environment was compromised by the lack of forward

A REGIONAL IDENTITY SHOULD BE AN ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT IN DEFINING A “WORKING” REGION IF THE REGIONAL APPROACH IS TO BE EFFECTIVE OR HAVE ANY REAL MEANING FOR THOSE AFFECTED BY PLANNING. thinking. A good example is the caribou habitat within the prime oilsands resource areas. These habitats have been harmed by resource exploration and development to the point where it’s unlikely they can be rehabilitated adequately and, as a consequence, these areas were not included as conservation areas within the plan. Unfortunately, Albertans may find the same will be true for the other regions under the Land Use Framework: a little too late.

Doug Parrish is acting General Manager of Public Services with the City of Cold Lake.

CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 1 | 2012


MUNICIPALITIES WEAVE NEWCOMERS INTO GOVERNANCE COMMUNITY FABRIC ALIYA JAMAL By 2031, almost half of Canada’s population over 15 will be foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent, according to projections from Statistics Canada. Most newcomers to the country move to large urban centres, but smaller communities are also working hard to attract immigrant workers, changing demographics and posing challenges to populations that have typically been fairly homogenous. Municipal governments, among others, must consider these dynamics and figure out how to cultivate genuinely welcoming communities that offer newcomers lasting opportunities to build a life for themselves and their families. Municipalities are using a variety of approaches to attract, retain and integrate

newcomers. Some use their Municipal Sustainability Plan as a framework for devising strategies. Others start by creating one-off programs based on specific requests from newcomers and slowly build comprehensive implementation plans. Although the process of newcomer settlement, adaptation

nothing of the complex legal processes governing immigration—many communities in Canada are exploring promising practices. One of the most fundamental municipal actions around integration is ensuring that services like recreation, policing, transportation and housing are fully accessible. How do newcomers find out about services? How do staff interact with immigrants? How do people with low English language skills use the services? Often, municipalities assume that their programs and service locations are welcoming and accessible, without thinking through the complex barriers of language, transportation, child care, cultural unfamiliarity and racism that immigrants may face trying to make their way around a new community. Brooks, a city of 13,000 in southeast Alberta, has developed a Fire and Emergency Response Education program which has emergency response professionals visiting English language classes to educate newcomers on fire and rescue and emergency services. The sessions cover topics such as how and when to dial 911, how to get a utility bill and what services the city provides. The municipality also uses picture books to help residents with poor English skills indicate what municipal services they need. The books contain the symbols for water, first aid, fire, interpreter and the like, and serve as a starting point for people looking for help. Recreation can play a key role in social and cultural integration for marginalized communities, but, as with other municipal

may feel unfamiliar or intimidating. At the request of newcomer communities, the Brooks began hosting women-only swim times at a local pool; with female lifeguards and the blinds drawn, women from traditions that prohibit mixed-gender swimming are able to take part in an important recreational activity. These women-only swim days, a growing trend across Canada, are drawing women from all over the area. On another front, the city is working to integrate a local Filipino men’s basketball team with the mainstream Brooks team. Jeff Gerenstein, the city’s inclusion co-ordinator, says it’s important not only to support immigrant communities in organizing their own initiatives, but also to create opportunities for them to integrate with the broader community. As a main developer of public space, municipalities can build inclusivity by intentionally creating public spaces that are welcoming to newcomers. In the Town of Olds, Alberta, the municipal library serves as a key gathering place and point of access for immigrants and other residents. Olds, a town of 7,500 in central Alberta 60 kilometres north of Calgary, has a relatively low immigrant population compared to some other Alberta towns. Yet it has taken a proactive approach to integrating newcomers. An example is the focus put on providing services for newcomers in designing a new library and its services. Persistence from the municipality and partnerships with other organizations allowed the town to, as library manager Lesley Winfield puts it, “build

and integration is multifaceted—to say

services, recreational facilities or programs

people space and not just book space.”


CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

Olds, AB– Sheena Moore

Architecturally, the new Olds library features varied spaces—quiet, secluded spots for studying and tutoring and open, public areas for chatting and connecting— designed to be multipurpose and highly usable. “No matter what you want to do in the library, you have a space to be able to do that,” Winfield says. Computers are available in the main library area. A separate, rentable room with computers allows classes to be taught, often to newcomers and seniors, at any time of day. A private, living room-style space features a big-screen TV with Skype and a VoIP phone so users can call their families back home over the Internet. Since the new library opened, usage by the Olds community has increased exponentially, underscoring the principle that spaces designed to foster social inclusion, in general, lend themselves to participation and integration. Other municipal governments have chosen to start closer to home by ensuring the organizational culture of the municipality itself is welcoming to newcomers. The City of Edmonton, Alberta, has both a Welcoming and Inclusive Policy and an Immigration and Settlement Policy. Georgina Fairbank, recruitment/employment outreach consultant with the City of Edmonton, says the city recognizes the importance of attracting and developing a diverse workforce that reflects the community it serves. It advertises jobs and recruitment fairs not only through mainstream media outlets and social media, but also through multicultural media. It sends notices directly to immi-

ment service agencies, as well as educational institutions with high immigrant populations. Edmonton’s Fire Rescue Services holds an annual open house with firefighting demos, workshops and one-on-one consultations, in recognition that “face time” with recruiters and employees is essential for newcomers who may find hiring and training processes unfamiliar or unwelcoming. The city recognizes that it takes time to shift the culture of an organization from within, but the thinking is that once newcomers can equitably access employment with the municipality and feel truly welcome in the workforce, the municipality can serve as a powerful role model for other organizations and groups in the city. Ultimately, true integration involves ensuring immigrants not only have equitable access to housing, employment, education and health, but that they are building relationships—as individuals and as groups—with the larger community. Municipalities can act as relationshipbuilding brokers, supporting education and encouraging communication among key partners. An example is the Vancouver Dialogues Project, a City of Vancouver initiative intended to increase understanding and strengthen relations among aboriginal communities and immigrant or non-aboriginal communities. The project uses dialogue circles, cultural exchange visits and story-gathering to emphasize that diversity and richness can be found in many places in our municipalities. The project demonstrates the importance of spending real time

grant and other non-mainstream employ-

together, of ongoing learning, of culture

and the arts and of focusing on encouraging communities to organize

If Canada is going to follow its federal government’s commitment to curb , greenhouse gas emissions by 240 million tonnes by 2012, we need a “new” model of urban design. themselves. It also recognizes the long history of interrelationship among immigrants and aboriginal peoples in Canada. The Dialogues Project has produced a book and video documenting the project’s journey and is creating a guide that other municipalities can use to adapt the initiative to their own communities. Although municipal initiatives that welcome and include newcomers may seem secondary to core municipal business such as infrastructure renewal, neglecting the integration of newcomers poses risks for Canadian municipalities. Creating economically resilient, culturally vibrant and socially cohesive communities requires a focus on inclusivity and a commitment to supporting the full participation of newcomers—and all people—in the life of a municipality.

Aliya Jamal works with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association in the Welcoming and Inclusive Communities Program. CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 1 | 2012


GREAT WINTER CITIES SHOW COLD WEATHER CAN BE COOL No Need To Retreat Indoors When Public Spaces Can Bring People Out 12 Months A Year JAY WALLJASPER

Christmas Market– Swiv

Plunging temperatures, snow and long nights don’t have to force us indoors until springtime. Many cities around the world offer inspiring examples of how “placemaking” can help people enjoy lively public spaces and city streets year-round. From Copenhagen to Quebec City to New York, people are flocking to winter outdoor events and celebrations. In an increasingly globalized economy, where businesses and workers have more say in where they locate, winter cities can’t afford to appear lifeless for a quarter of the year. People now choose places to live on the basis of vital local culture. Civic leaders increasingly understand that making public places that are inviting throughout the year, not just when it’s warm and sunny, is essential for a dynamic, prosperous community.


LEARNING FROM VIENNA, BERLIN AND PARIS Fred Kent, president of the New York-based placemaking organization Project for Public Spaces, came back from a tour of European Christmas markets in Vienna, Salzburg, Paris and Munich amazed at all the public activity in chilly weather. “People were out walking, shopping, going to markets, eating from street vendors,” he reports. “You did not want to go indoors at all because there was so much going on.” Over more than 35 years, Project for Public Spaces (PPS) has worked with citizens in 2,500 communities in 40 countries to enliven their towns and cities by creating great public spaces that bring people together as neighbours, friends and citizens. A key tenet in its work is that local residents are the world’s experts on the particular places they live and should be involved at every level in development and

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redevelopment projects to ensure their economic and social success. Cynthia Nikitin of PPS had an experience similar to Kent’s on a wintertime visit to Berlin. “It gets dark at 3:30. It’s snowing like crazy. But it’s no problem. People are playing bocce ball on the ice. There are tents selling hot mulled wine. You are walking down the street just watching all the other people. Life is good, and winter feels good, too.” The organization’s experiences with placemaking projects in European, Canadian and northern U.S. cities have shown that if people are given the chance to do something they enjoy, they will bundle up and go outside to do it, even when temperatures are below freezing. “It’s like any other time of the year,” Nikitin says. “If there are people out, other people will come out, too, to see what’s going on.

But there has to be a reason to be outside: a market, ice-skating, music, decorative lighting or just a good place to hang out when it’s cold. No one will stay outdoors to stare at an empty plaza.” A frequent mistake made by winter cities is to overemphasize the impact of the weather, using it as a rationale for the lack of vibrant public spaces. “When people in a city use the climate as an excuse for mediocrity, then I know the problem is not weather but the need for a bigger vision in that place,” Nikitin says.

the hardy endeavours of a few draw others to the scene and help create the critical mass for a bustling public place. Add a stand to buy hot chocolate or roasted chestnuts and things get even livelier.


The first step in creating great winter cities is recapturing the enthusiasm that kids show for this time of year. What child (of any age) doesn’t welcome a fresh snowfall or a new coating of ice to slide around on? Parks and plazas can play a big role in fostering public activity 12 months a year, providing people with places to sled, cross-country ski, ice skate or just mingle. So long as winter weather is associated only with difficult driving conditions and potential frostbite, as happens in most TV weather reports, people in northern cities will continue to hole up in their homes or make plans for moving south. Quebec City, famed for its winter carnival and street vendors selling hot bread, is a prime example of making winter into an asset. So is the Canadian capital of Ottawa, where the Rideau Canal becomes a focal point of civic life in the winter, as folks strap on their blades to skate through the wintry landscape rather than making circles on a rink or pond. Some residents even commute to work that way. The Toronto suburb of Mississauga doesn’t have a canal but has fashioned a longdistance skating course by flooding a walking trail. New York stands out among American cities in celebrating the winter months. Rockefeller Center is famous for its ice rink, which becomes the beloved heart of Midtown Manhattan by attracting a handful of skaters and the crowds of onlookers who love to watch them glide back and forth. That’s an important lesson in winter recreation: the people skating or tobogganing aren’t the only ones who

Holiday markets can boost the spirit of any community in the colder season. “It’s coming on as a new kind of market,” says David O’Neill, senior associate on public markets for PPS. “We’ve been pushing the idea of farmers markets extending the season beyond Thanksgiving, which is the traditional end of many seasonal markets.” It can start simply, with the local market staying open for Christmas-tree growers and inviting local artisans to exhibit their creations for holiday shoppers. Find a vendor to sell cappuccino, hot cider or wassail and another offering steaming cups of chili, sizzling sausages or toasty grilled cheese sandwiches. Bring in church and school choirs to sing carols, and maybe build a makeshift stage for bands or theatrical troupes. Sponsor a competition for making snowmen or ice sculptures or breakdancing on ice. But don’t let the energy peter out after New Year’s. Winter carnivals are a great tradition to spice up the doldrums of February. For more than a 100 years, St. Paul, Minnesota, has been throwing a mid-winter bash that resembles a frozen Mardi Gras. It features torchlight parades with floats, a citywide treasure hunt, an internationally acclaimed ice sculpture exhibition, dogsled races and, some years, a life-sized ice palace you can wander through. It’s 10 days of good fun. People’s increasing demand for first-rate public spaces that they can use all year around is sparking a wave of admirable innovations. Landscape architects are paying more attention to patterns of wind and sunshine, so people can comfortably stay outdoors in parks and squares. Restaurant owners have installed gas heaters and provide blankets to keep customers coming to sidewalk tables into the chilly months. In Denmark, notes architect Jan Gehl, improvements like these have expanded the season of “good”

benefit. There’s a multiplier effect, in which

weather to almost the whole year.



Darkness, as much as cold and snow, can limit people’s enjoyment of the outdoors during winter. Smart cities are responding by stringing lights artistically throughout the city centre and neighbourhood business districts, creating an overall ambience of delight and pleasure that makes us want to linger outside. People welcome that shine all winter, not just during the Christmas season. In Edinburgh, key streets are lit with creatively designed lighting that forms mesh roofs over the streets.

ESCAPING WINTER CAN BACKFIRE A common and unfortunate mistake made by many North American winter cities in recent decades is to attempt to engineer winter out of existence. A prime example is the second-storey walkway— called “pedways” in Edmonton, “plus fifteens” in Calgary, “skywalks” in Winnipeg, “skyways” in Minneapolis— which allow people to circulate around downtown areas without stepping outside. A good idea on paper, perhaps, but in practice, the life of the city is removed from the streets and eventually disappears. Gehl has visited Minneapolis and seen its 13-kilometre system of second-storey passageways linked by skyways between buildings. “When you glass in the city, you eliminate the bad days but also all the good days. That is too much of a price to pay. You miss the fresh air,” he observes. “You may have 20 bad days a year when you want to stay indoors, but 200 good ones you miss.”

Jay Walljasper, author of The Great Neighborhood Book, is a Senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces and an online columnist for National Geographic’s Green Guide.

CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 1 | 2012



Since 1970, Earth’s climate has warmed more rapidly than at any time in the last several hundred years. This is largely due to human emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 already emitted to the atmosphere commits the planet to several centuries of continued warming, although the rate of this warming depends on future rates of CO2 emissions. In addition, dry regions such as the southwestern United States and the continental interior of Canada and the U.S. will likely become drier due to more frequent droughts, while wet regions (e.g., the northwestern U.S. and western Canada) will likely become wetter due to more frequent heavy rains and floods. Planners have an opportunity to reduce society’s vulnerability to climate change by planning in the context of these ongoing trends, given that their continuation is more likely than a return to climate conditions we have known in the past. Even if climatic changes are slower or less pronounced than scientists predict, planning is still useful to reduce society’s vulnerability to extreme events. For example, planning that reduces vulnerability to what was historically a 100-year flood but which may in the future occur every 10 to 20 years reduces a community’s vulnerability, regardless of how quickly this flood pattern changes. Climatic warming is occurring more rapidly in the North than at lower latitudes, so recent changes in Alaska provide


insights into the types of vulnerabilities that will likely develop in coming decades in more southerly locations. Air temperatures in Alaska have warmed in the last 50 years by 1.9 C (3.5 F) and are expected to rise by a similar amount by 2050. In other words, the average temperature in 2050 will be similar to temperatures seen only in the warmest years half a century ago. Everybody can remember what an extremely warm or cold (or wet or dry) year is like and should therefore be able to relate to the magnitude of climatic changes already occurring in Alaska. Although warmer temperatures have important direct effects, including more extreme heat waves and less fuel required for winter heating, the indirect effects of warming have even greater impacts on Alaska. Due to its cold climate, much of Alaska is underlain by permafrost (permanently frozen ground), which often has a relatively high ice content—50 per cent of soil volume or more. When permafrost thaws, ice turns to water and the ground surface subsides unevenly, causing roads and foundations to buckle and electrical transmission poles to tilt or fall. Airport runways, a key lifeline in Alaska’s remote, roadless communities such as Naknek, now require frequent— sometimes annual—regrading to remain open to air traffic. The proportion of Alaska where soil temperatures have risen above freezing has already increased substantially and will likely continue to do so in the next 50 years, creating very different

CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

planning requirements for the siting of roads, airports and other infrastructure. Thawing permafrost is expected to increase the cost of maintaining public infrastructure by 10 to 20 per cent by 2030. Warming also increases the risk of extreme events. The area burned by wildfires in interior Alaska and boreal Canada has tripled from the 1960s to the 1990s, with comparable or greater increases expected by 2050; this poses significantly greater fire risks to communities as well as greater costs to fire management agencies. The warminginduced shrinking of sea ice on the western and northern coasts of Alaska exposes many coastal villages to storm surges that erode homes into the ocean and, in some cases, will require complete relocation of communities. For example, Newtok experienced six extreme weather events between 1989 and 2006, damaging critical infrastructure such as power distribution, water and septic systems, and fuel storage tanks. Five of these events precipitated presidential disaster declarations. Human-induced climate change is occurring and is likely to continue. If climate trends and projections had guided planning in Alaska over the last 50 years, the psychological, social and economic costs might have been less extreme. Communities elsewhere have an opportunity to learn from Alaska’s experience and to integrate climate change into their planning processes, as New York

Planners have an opportunity to reduce society’s vulnerability to climate change by planning in the context of these ongoing trends, given that their continuation is more likely than a return to climate conditions we have known in the past.

City, London, Amsterdam and other cities are now doing. High-resolution climate projections, accurate to within 0.8 to eight kilometres (0.5 to five miles), are increasingly available for most communities. Although the accuracy of these high-resolution maps is probably no greater than that of coarse-scale projections, they provide excellent tools for guiding community dialogue about probable local patterns of change and are therefore valuable resources for community and regional planners.

Information in this article comes from the 2009 National Climate Assessment of the United States ( publications/reports) and from the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning ( The authors are climate-change scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

SMART GROWTH IN WINTER CITIES CAROL BERGUM Many northern cities, whether explicitly or not, are adopting elements of two prevailing strategies to address city planning: Smart Growth and Winter Cities. Smart Growth is an approach to land use and development that strives to create communities that are environmentally responsible, economically viable and well-designed. It provides a framework for decision-making about how and where a community will grow and for addressing the key issues municipalities face, including rising infrastructure costs, congestion, environmental issues and other quality-of-life concerns. Norman Pressman, one of the founders of the Winter Cities movement, defines a winter city as having seasonal variations and a prolonged period that includes temperatures below freezing, precipitation (usually snow) and restricted hours of sunshine or daylight. It is important to recognize the challenges of winter first and then look at ways to design cities to minimize the negatives and emphasize the more positive aspects of the climate. Interestingly, there are many similarities in the principles of Smart Growth and Winter Cities strategies.

COMPACT BUILDING DESIGN AND MIXED USES In Smart Growth, compact building design is encouraged to maximize the use of land for development, providing environmental benefits, savings in infrastructure costs and more transportation alternatives. A mix of compatible land uses such as housing, retail, business and recreation is considered vital to creating vibrant and diverse communities.


These principles are frequently cited as key to Winter City strategies, as well. Pressman suggests it is important to adopt a compact urban form to “wall out” inhospitable surroundings, clustering buildings and using landscaping such as vegetation or windscreens to create more favorable microclimates. Pressman advocates against the segregation of uses seen in traditional zoning practices. He suggests it is preferable to have a mix of land uses to reduce the need for commuting, create self-sufficiency at the district and neighbourhood levels and allow a broad range of services to become economically viable with better accessibility. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, about 400 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle, adopted a municipal development plan in June 2011 based on a more compact approach to future development in keeping with the visions and principles of its Smart Growth Development Plan. The City of Prince George, about 780 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, chose a similar direction in 2001 for guiding its future growth. Fort St. John, located in northern B.C. near the Alberta border, promotes a mix of land uses and compact development, as outlined in its Winter City Design Guidelines.

WALKABLE NEIGHBOURHOODS Walkable neighbourhoods ensure the land use and community design in Smart Growth communities enhances and supports pedestrian-friendly environments. In Winter Cities, do people really want to walk? An interesting study by Masamichi Enai, Pressman and other researchers involving schoolchildren in Canada, China, Japan and Finland found that the more

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time schoolchildren played outdoors in the winter, the more positive their attitude was towards winter. It is not so much the cold that deters people as the wind and ice. The city of Houghton, in northern Michigan, developed a walkability/pedestrian plan in 2002 with a comprehensive section on winter. It outlines design approaches such as using buildings and landscaping to shelter public areas, orienting sidewalks and public spaces to the sun and undertaking

MANY NORTHERN COMMUNITIES ARE EMBRACING SMART GROWTH PRINCIPLES TO BETTER PLAN AND DEVELOP THEIR CITIES AND TOWNS; THESE PRINCIPLES MAKE SENSE IN ACHIEVING THEIR GOALS OF STRONGER COMMUNITIES THAT ARE MORE COST-EFFECTIVE AND MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY SOUND. appropriate snow management. Planned activities and festivals are also critical in getting people outdoors regardless of climate. A government program in Ljubljana, Slovenia, called Happy December encourages people to get outdoors and enjoy downtown during the darkest month of the year. Outdoor concerts in the central square, along with food and warming stations, keep people outdoors in below-freezing temperatures for hours, mostly after dark. New development focused in existing communities Smart Growth encourages

Yellowknife, NWT– Hyougushi

investment in existing infrastructure such as roads, utilities and schools. It also promotes new development in existing communities. The same concept is encouraged in winter cities. In Shaping Cities for Winter: Climatic Comfort and Sustainable Design, Pressman suggests the need for a more intensive use of existing land in communities. The City of Edmonton, Alberta, has moved in this direction with its 2010 municipal development plan, which places a greater emphasis on infill development within the city.

TRANSPORTATION CHOICES Ensuring that a variety of transportation alternatives is available is a key tenet of Smart Growth. These include walking, cycling and transit — all with the goal of reducing, not necessarily eliminating, the number of vehicle trips. Pressman points out in Shaping Cities for Winter that public transit is the most energy-efficient form of movement but requires high-density areas to be cost effective. He mentions transit-oriented development as part of his discussion, noting the need for heated places to wait for transit and short walking distances between different types of transit to protect pedestrians from the harsher weather. Weather doesn’t preclude people from choosing alternative forms of transportation. In a 2006 analysis of cycling trends in Canada and the United States, John Pucher and Ralph Buehler found that Canadians cycle three times more than Americans, despite our colder weather. The authors suggest higher densities and more compact, mixed-use developments contribute to this trend.

SENSE OF PLACE Proponents of Smart Growth suggest that creating a unique identity through the design of a community fosters pride in the community. No one knows better than the inhabitants of winter cities about their place. The challenge has been connecting that reality with planning efforts. “Our perpetual summer state of mind has been a serious impediment to the development of meaningful solutions for comfortable winter living,” Pressman points out in Shaping Cities for Winter. “We must rediscover a ‘sense of place,’ with climate being one of the primary sources of inspiration in the decision-making process.” The City of Marquette, Michigan, on the southern edge of Lake Superior, has taken winter to heart as integral to its sense of place. Recognized in 2001 with the dubious distinction as one of North America’s top five cities for the worst weather, its residents took action. As a result of community direction, the city’s master plan now fully embraces its winteriness, with the plan’s cover proudly proclaiming Marquette as a premier livable, walkable winter city.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT Another important principle for Smart Growth is encouraging the involvement of stakeholders early in the process. Pressman also sees a strong link between the winter city approach to development, city form and community involvement. “Powerful forms in building and space create a collective memory. These, in turn, impact upon community identity and well-being. When personal and shared levels of comfort exist and can be sensed, strong civic loyalty and pride are generated

Yellowknife, NWT– Hyougushi

and residents feel empowerment, particularly when they are seriously involved in decision-making processes…. Community consciousness must be elevated to the point where urban dwellers can be active in making the decisions that influence their lives.” The communities described used extensive public consultation and involvement to combine Smart Growth and Winter Cities principles in their planning.

SMART WINTER CITIES Directly or indirectly, many northern communities are embracing Smart Growth principles to better plan and develop their cities and towns; these principles make sense in achieving their goals of stronger communities that are more cost-effective and more environmentally sound. The parallels between the principles of Smart Growth and Winter Cities planning suggest a strong compatibility. However, it is necessary to recognize a community as a winter city first, acknowledge the challenges and then adapt the Smart Growth principles within that context in order to create a strong planning framework within which northern cities can become sustainable communities that truly reflect their place in the world.

Carol Bergum, RPP, MCIP is the Manager of Planning for the City of St. Albert, Canada.

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Winter city design requires an understanding not only of weather patterns, but also of the effects the sometimes harsh conditions can have on people who live in them. “Comfort climatology,” the study of environmental conditions and human well-being popularized by University of Leicester geographer A.M. Mumford in the early 1980s can help urban designers predict not only physical but also emotional reactions to climate. Cities, furnished with an understanding of these connections, can encourage positive social responses to winter through the strategic design of urban spaces. Human relationships with weather are tactile, visual and auditory. These sensory perceptions are heightened by the combination of what people do in winter, what they become and how their personalities are affected by winter. Wind is an example that’s particularly relevant to winter conditions. Reactions to wind systems have been observed and qualified in great detail. It is an intrusive force that people not only feel but interact with—its fluxes, directional changes, temperature, strength and flow around the body—and so presents opportunity for human contact. As described by Laura Rival, professor of anthropology at Oxford University: “The perceptual knowledge of the landscape affects cultural choices, ideas and practices.” Climate and people have innate, reciprocal relationships that, when understood, can improve urban design and encourage the creation of places that work in all weather.


THE DESIGNER’S ROLE People have natural connections to weather and environment, but it is the designer’s responsibility to create places that foster the positive growth of these relationships. Cultural practices have increasingly developed into shields against natural environments which have hindered our ability to embrace and value outdoor spaces. Exploring human sensitivities to light, noise and physical elements can provide valuable information for planners, designers and architects in creating urban spaces that provide sensory stimulation and eliminate the need to turn indoors during the winter. As American journalist and urbanist thinker Winifred Gallagher notes in her book The Power of Place, designers can “regulate psychology with geography.” The basic concept for creating successful urban environments is to “link places to states,” a theory that emphasizes the power an environment can have over emotions. Sociological and anthropological research have proven the importance of place to culture and to individual personality. Personal experiences and the environments in which they occur combine to determine individual and community behaviour. This relationship can also be examined through interactionism, a discipline that stems from a combination of behavioural and environmental psychology. Environmental design can encompass interactionist principles to recognize the associations among people, place and behaviour. In this sense, winter deserves special design consideration, given that human interactions with its harsh conditions are dramatic and volatile.

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COLD URBAN SPACES CAN BE GREAT URBAN PLACES The most difficult obstacle for designers to overcome in working with winter cities is to envision places in winter. “Thinking winter” involves recognizing the effects of weather on the physical characteristics of space but also, more importantly, on the cultural characteristics of place. Winter urban design researcher Norman Pressman has written about this extensively. There is considerable pride in residing in harsh northern conditions, a pattern of survival that often unites communities in their endurance. Creating comfortable spaces that allow people to interact more intimately with each other and with their urban networks can strengthen this unity. The negative perceptions of life in harsh climates can be redirected by involving communities in well-designed environments that celebrate seasons and weather. This shift in physicality of place can result in emotional connections to the cold, producing a culture that values and appreciates the season: a winter culture. Montreal is looked to as a beacon of successful winter-culture design. Although it confronts some of the harshest weather conditions of any major Canadian city, Montreal chooses to embrace its climate and celebrate its environment. The city has created a strong roster of outdoor events and activities that ensure residents and tourists explore and access local amenities year round. From the Grand Bal du Nouvel, an outdoor New Year’s celebration, to La Fête des Neiges week of children’s programming and Old Montreal’s annual Extravaganza, a month-long event of live music and entertainment, the city

Alleyways and courtyards provide refuge from the wind. Sections of these areas can also be used as snow deposit stations to keep sidewalks clear.

Coniferous trees planted on the west sides will protect sites, such as pocket parks, from prevailing winter winds. Planting coniferous trees and shrubs on the north sides of the site will block winds without shadowing the area.

Orienting the street to face the south will allow the site to gather as much sunlight as possible, providing warmth and enhancing user experience. Deciduous trees should also be planted on the south side as their shadows will provide shade in the summer but the loss of their leaves in the winter will allow sunlight to permeate into the site.


W E S Medians between bicycle lanes and roadways maintain cyclist safety throughout the winter months. The medians also decrease the snow build-up on sidewalks caused by roadway ploughing.

Climate and people have innate, reciprocal relationships that, when understood, can improve urban design and encourage the creation of places that work in all weather. Coniferous trees planted at least two rows thick on the north side of the site will act as an effective wind block while creating a “room” and a sense of place for users

Providing seating options that face south and are blocked from the wind will entice people to stay and enjoy public outdoor spaces during the winter rather than just passing through the site.

Deciduous trees planted on the south faces of space will allow sunlight to illuminate the area while providing visual interest.

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Providing small shelters near bus stops and within parks, plazas and open spaces provides pedestrians with a place of refuge. Overhead coverage and a wall on the north side is necessary for optimal comfort within the shelter.

Planting coniferous trees behind shelters will further protect the space from the wind and snow and will soften the sounds the wind makes as it whips around sharp corners.

Keeping the south side of the shelter open to capture sunlight will create a more comfortable microclimage within the space as the back walls reflect the light and continue to warm the area.

does not slow down with a chill in the air. These events are successful but they are not enough to sustain residents through four to five months of short days and tall snow. Thankfully, Montreal has also mastered the art of everyday interaction with winter. The year-round café culture sees patrons of the urban core sitting outside in winter under heaters and coats on covered restaurant patios. The local willingness to embrace the season is encouraged by the municipal government, which offers free outdoor ice skating within the downtown and snowshoeing and tobogganing in the popular Mount Royal Park. Basking in its own winter glory is Copenhagen, the capital of the tiny Scandinavian island of Denmark, with a population just over one million. The city’s high latitude means that daylight can be as short as six hours in the depths of winter, but this doesn’t deter the locals from making the most of their days. Much like Montrealers, residents spend hours outside at downtown cafés sipping coffee in the cold snuggled under fleece blankets provided by the restaurants. As 80 per cent of Copenhagen’s inner-city traffic is pedestrian, the city gives priority to the winter stroller. It has 15

planned strategically for maximum thermal comfort by maintaining low masses of buildings that allow the harsh ocean winds to pass over urban areas while at the same time catching sunlight on the street level. To further enhance the pedestrian experience throughout the year, Copenhagen has continued to dedicate central “pedestrian only” zones in the heart of downtown that are well-linked to metro and bus services, making walking a viable mode of transportation throughout the city and keeping the streets animated year-round. This urban character was further enhanced over the past few decades as the local government embarked on an initiative to provide second-storey housing opportunities over shops and restaurants. The light streaming from upper windows in the evening creates a more inviting and safe atmosphere for pedestrians below. As these examples show, outdoor places can retain strength and value even in winter by maintaining a purpose, be that recreational, educational, industrial or social. Dense and deliberate design strategies minimize the negative effects of weather on public spaces and allow for increased movement and participation within the city. Ideally, community-based programming must go beyond individual

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winter events and extend to promoting the daily celebration of winter.

A WINTER CULTURE Winter exemplifies the power and intensity of the natural world through its sudden, surprising and overwhelming changes in weather. The adversity it presents can contribute to a community’s cultural identity and cohesion. Designers must approach northern urban settings with intentional strategies that encourage residents’ strong emotional connections with the cold. As illustrated by successful precedents for northern city design, these strategies can employ a spectrum of initiatives to achieve both social and cultural engagement and encourage the interaction of the community within its civic spaces. Through thoughtful urban design, cold-climate residents can develop an ease and emotional connection with their environment, integrating its intrinsic character into a full and rich urban life.

Kate Nelischer is a landscape designer and writer at The Planning Partnership in Toronto. She recently completed her Masters degree in Design Writing in London, England.


OUTDOOR ART IN THE WINTER The Case Of Chicago’s Millenium Park Millenium Park, Chicago– Jun Han

One of the perennial challenges for winter cities is to provide focal points for outdoor fun in the cold. Activity-based outings such as skating, curling, snow golf and cross-country skiing offer enjoyable options for people in winter communities, drawing participants for a few hours a week into healthy outdoor expressions of energy. Outdoor winter events are also a popular attraction, including winter festivals that may last a few days and typically include highlights such as ice sculpture contests, street performers and concerts. There is another, often overlooked, focal point for outdoor fun in winter: public art as a destination, both for visitors to a city and for residents. Among other advantages, public art can serve as an attraction throughout the year and, beyond initial costs for its conception, creation and installation, may require comparatively few resources to maintain. In this context, there are lessons to be learned from Chicago’s Millennium Park, where land that had been dedicated to

15-metre monoliths of glass brick, where short videos of people’s faces are projected. These artworks provide the public with focal points of interest that function summer and winter. The nature of these installations is particularly suited to capturing the ongoing attention of city residents and visitors alike. In the Crown Fountain, the slowly changing panoply of human faces in extreme close-up is mesmerizing. A wading pool and intermittent water hose provide an added attraction for all ages only in summer, but the digital images are displayed year-round, with the cycle time of the images slightly shorter in winter. Winter’s shorter days also make the videos more dramatically visible for longer periods. Cloud Gate gives park-goers a range of opportunities for what is literally self-reflection within the backdrop of the city. For Kapoor, the sculpture provides an interface between Earth and sky. For visitors, it is not trivial that the interface

train yards and parking lots was repurposed as a park that opened to the public in 2004. As Peter Harnik puts it in a 2008 review of Timothy J. Gilfoyle’s book about the park: “Millennium Park has exploded onto the American urban park scene with an impact not felt since [New York’s] Central Park was unveiled in 1873.” The reasons for this are many and complex; however, one of the factors is public art, both permanent and changing installations. Two key components of the park are Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, a giant egg-shaped — or perhaps, as the popular imagination has it, bean-shaped — mirror and Jaume Plensa’s Crown

includes them as part of the landscape, expressed in multiple reflections on the surface of an iconic object. The changing seasons form another part of that landscape, with the trees in the park revising their leaves and the reflections of the weather interacting with the reflections of the people and the buildings. Cloud Gate acts as a mirror on the environment, with a surface sufficiently complex to reward viewing the piece from different angles and distances and experiencing it anew throughout the seasons. Economic benefits generated by the park have included more empty-nester housing

Fountain, which consists of two facing

in the vicinity, as well as increases in

parking revenue and both domestic and foreign visitors. Early estimates suggest that visitors over the decade from 2005– 2015 will contribute roughly $2 billion to Chicago’s economy. Perhaps more important is the contribution of the park and its art to the experience of residents and visitors, providing as it does a central location, readily accessible, near the lake, with a variety of attractions of its own and in the nearby neighbourhood. For other cities and communities, particularly in Western Canada, the question arises; is there an equivalent

AMONG OTHER ADVANTAGES, PUBLIC ART CAN SERVE AS AN ATTRACTION THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. area where public art could be used for the benefit of citizens and visitors? Certainly any location with a river valley has a potentially beautiful natural setting — near water, often in use by people like joggers, cyclists and dog owners. Conceivably, open to attention of the right kind, the moment may arise for a new focal point that could work in any season. As Chicago’s former mayor Richard Daley famously pointed out: art defines a city.

Stan Ruecker is an associate professor of design at the Institute of Design in the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 1 | 2012



Taiga Woodlands sits atop a 240-metre ridge overlooking the Alaska Range and its crown jewel, Mt. McKinley, the river valley and downtown Fairbanks. The development includes a cluster of 18 south-facing custom homes, a community water system, shared gardens and an orchard, and 84 acres of open space. On a snowy day early this winter, designer, custom homebuilder and developer Jack Hébert led urban planners from across Alaska on a tour and shared the history of the neighbourhood, where he and his wife, Michele, live in a French-style home. “I do not agree with the way most subdivisions were being done in Fairbanks, and I wanted to illustrate another approach to building,” Hébert told the group. “My idea with this planned development was not a radical idea, but it was radical for Fairbanks.” Surrounded by birch and aspen forest and etched with skiing and hiking trails, the land is a beautiful slice of Alaska wilderness. It’s hard to imagine that in the mid-1990s, the development was entangled in controversy and public debate. The conflict centred on the novelty of highdensity housing, shared common lands and the use of an access road. The project required several years of negotiations with residents, planners, platters (subdividers) and policymakers, as well as a new ordinance approving the cluster zoning type. 17

Cluster developments consist of the thoughtful placement of homes in close proximity to one another, allowing open space, green belts and gardens to be owned collectively by the homeowners. It was a new concept for Fairbanks in 1994 when Hébert pitched the idea to the Fairbanks North Star Borough. The push to create a new zone type clashed with the anti-regulation culture of the community. “This is the end of the road,” Hébert said of Fairbanks. “The kind of characters that are attracted to this place like their freedoms; they don’t want a lot of rules or constraints on how they live.” When Hébert bought the 120 acres, it was zoned to be subdivided into 60 two-acre lots. Hébert wanted to develop the homes more densely into one-acre parcels, leaving 70 per cent of the less desirable land — such as north-facing hillside with permafrost — as green space. These 80 acres would be owned commonly by the 18 homeowners. “This country has a wide variety of soil types and sun exposure and many different habitats and access issues. So how could we make the most of the land and create something that would be a legacy for people who live there?” said Hébert, who since then has become president and CEO of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) in Fairbanks.

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Initially, the planning board couldn’t understand why a developer would take this approach. “It was ironic that the same people on the board that adhered to this individuality and personal freedom opposed my ordinance. This was my piece of land and I should be able to develop it however I wanted. They were almost trying to protect me from myself,” Hébert said. Meanwhile, the conservation community—often averse to development—strongly supported the plan, he said. The process started with the platting commission in the early 1990s. An attorney familiar with Alaska’s Common Interest Land Law worked for nearly a year on a new ordinance that served as the guideline for how the land would be subdivided, the covenants drafted and the homeowner association structured. Soils, solar exposure, natural topography and vegetation were all considered during the design of the subdivision. The planning process had stirred up great interest in the neighbourhood, and most of the lots were committed before the subdivision was on the market. After discussion and debate, the plan and the new cluster development ordinance were approved by the planning commission and submitted to the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly for consideration. Even with all these hurdles cleared, in the spring of 1995, the project was still locked in a conflict over access. Hébert

wanted to extend an existing borough road 180 metres (600 feet) to connect with the proposed neighbourhood. Twenty residents from the subdivision next door opposed the use of the road, which ran through their neighbourhood, saying the steep gravel road couldn’t handle extra traffic from 18 more families. They argued the increased number of cars would cause more accidents and costly maintenance, and suggested constructing a new road along a ridge on the opposite side. Hébert argued that would create nearly a kilometre of new road on poor soils in the proposed green space, negate the cluster idea and become a maintenance burden on taxpayers. After months of review by borough departments and boards, the appeal by neighbouring residents was denied. In the late spring of 1995, the borough assembly approved the plan and development began immediately. Taiga Woodlands includes some of the most desirable real estate in the Fairbanks area. Property values have increased dramatically and now fairly reflect the value of the green space. The original owners occupy all of the homes except two. Those homes that have gone on the market sold immediately by word of mouth, without advertising or realtor involvement. Owners comment that the development feels like a neighbourhood and community in an ideal sense. Residents regularly interact while working in the large shared garden, walking the trails or having dinners at each other’s homes. There is also a shared commitment to quality of life and sustainable living. Energy efficiency, rainwater harvesting, naturescapes and the preservation of wildlife habitat are embedded in the legal covenants. More importantly, the development has attracted residents that believe Taiga Woodlands is a place they will want to call home for many years.


Photo– Molly Rettig

Molly Rettig is communications co-ordinator at the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 1 | 2012



ANDRIKO LOZOWY AND JIM MORROW Winter. Shunning the temporary relief of using a bus shelter against the cold, teenagers huddle in a close group to share a smoke. For them, it’s ritual—a daily act of defiance against a harsh climate that doesn’t relent for months on end. And the youth find comfort, solidarity even, in their shared rebellion. Their high school makes it clear that smoking is not allowed on the property. Some would say this image of youth smoking represents the trouble with teens and a permissive society. The cold breath of winter returns every year. It’s a fact of life, just as summer will have warm nights. Unlike other seasons, though, winter can bring people together. They come together to get away from the cold, to talk about it, share their stories and seek comfort in each other’s company. Winter builds community. And teens outside smoking in the cold is a community in action. From a planning perspective, it’s of note that architecture and policy have excluded those who smoke. The problem isn’t the act of smoking. It’s a wider issue, and smoking is the example of a failure in civic and architectural planning: As we move to cultivate space for one activity or another, we simultaneously eliminate

represent popular notions of health, fitness, activity, learning. Our cities aren’t built for winter. For several months of the year, infrastructure fails to meet the expectations of its design. Roads can’t keep cars between the ditches, and sidewalks freeze over, turning the simple act of walking into a complicated dance with no known steps. Our culture and our history failed to learn the lessons of those who lived and endured the winter of the Canadian Frostbelt before it was homesteaded by European settlers. Failure in the Frostbelt is about denial and misrecognition of opportunity disguised as bleak banality. Failure is about a lack of sensitivity to geographical place in relation to climate and season. The West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta, is an idealist exception to the rule of design’s winter failure: It’s a place where people from different communities congregate around a potlatch of consumption. The mall is a mutation of a traditional potlatch, where valuable exchanges of goods and skills took place—families would come together and spend the long, cold, dark winter surviving and sharing together. Now, days are spent in the safety of a controlled environment; people hunt for great deals and gather to resupply their stash. In the mall, activity is consumption

is time spent to the benefit of the community. The scene at a large indoor shopping centre stands as an affront to winter— a desperate attempt to promote a reality set apart from the cold of the season. The mall is a heated, enclosed shelter offering individuality, though at a cost and in a setting that’s an exclusive, private and controlled space. Inside its walls, life exists, but in a state of alterreality, where people busily pass each other by and do not make time to form community. The only thing they have in common is that they temporarily share the same space. Can we really consider a space such as West Edmonton Mall a benefit in a winter city? The mall does not laugh with winter. It can’t. It’s just a structure composed of multiple walls and an assortment of stores pushing wares made in far-off places. Malls and other enclosed spaces have become the idealized key response in a civic battle against a season that sees much of the population hunker down and brace against the wind. It is the final solution to a concerted effort not to go outside. In Fort McMurray, a booming northern Alberta community in the heart of the oilsands, new recreation facilities on MacDonald Island Park opened their doors emblazoned with civic, provincial

other forms of activity that may not

and exchange is for more goods—seldom

and corporate sponsorship. On most days


CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

For several months of the year, infrastructure fails to meet the expectations of its design.

Photo– Andriko Lozowy

the pool is crammed to capacity. Squash courts, hockey rinks, soccer fields, curling rink and workout facilities are always busy. The shift work demanded by oil production ensures that Mac Island is filled with people on most days, at almost any time. The city’s library offers another indoor space. Aside from the public-access computers, there are often many open desks, chairs and tables offering a space to be, quietly. But a small town cannot compete with a mall or a giant recreation facility. It cannot offer its citizens the same reprieve from the reality of winter. A small town cannot finance massive infrastructure, let alone afford to keep its sidewalks clear of snow and ice. A small town does not share a private venture’s ideas about public good, health and education. And more importantly, a small town can’t make everyone leave at the end of the day. What happens in a town that’s not Fort McMurray with its MacDonald Island, or Edmonton with its Mall? What about a town that doesn’t have these types of indoor spaces or infrastructure? What about Thompson, Manitoba, or Weyburn, Saskatchewan?

People then have to live with winter, not in spite of it. They might choose to play shinny on a pond, ice fish, spend time with friends and family or engage in any number of activities to wait for winter to pass, just as generations have before them. For many who live in winter climates, winter can seem like a reoccurring enemy. But if we listen to our geographical ancestors, we would recognize that winter is not a time to shut off and bide time until winter’s end. Instead, we need a creative culture that finds ways to embrace winter. Everyday life should make the most of winter’s opportunity. Perhaps the group of smoking teens has a lesson to offer: gather together and unite with winter.

Andriko Lozowy is a doctoral student. His dissertation asks Where is Fort McMurray and investigates Visual Cultures of Oil through collaborative photographic practices of youth. Jim Morrow is a writer and edits Risk & Consequence

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MAKING EDMONTON A MORE VIBRANT WINTER CITY SUSAN HOLDSWORTH Northern cities often live in denial of their climate, it’s said. They’re generally designed much the same way as their warm-climate counterparts. Public places and civic buildings aren’t designed to take advantage of the short sunlight hours or to provide shelter from wind and weather to create outdoor gathering places They don’t embrace the use of colour or light to enliven the months of short days and white snow. Pedways keep people inside—above and below the winter streets—draining the vitality from main public spaces. Snow and ice are seen mostly as nuisances—not the raw material for winter play and art. Edmonton, Alberta, certainly meets the criteria for being a northern winter city in terms of weather and latitude. But there is much more to being a “winter city” than living with cold or darkness. Does Edmonton truly embrace winter or simply endure it? Are the city’s public spaces and parks designed for all seasons, or only summer and fall? Do we landscape for winter conditions? Do we use colour, public art and seasonal light displays to create interest in winter months? In short, do we really take advantage of all that winter has to offer? The City of Edmonton is diving into this snowbank of questions and plans to come up with some answers with its WinterCity Strategy, which will include recommendations for urban design, quality of life, tourism, marketing and branding. “Edmonton is ready to become a worldleading winter city, with inviting, vibrant outdoor public spaces where people want to gather, even on cold days,” says Edmonton City Councillor Ben Henderson, who is championing the WinterCity initiative. “There are already some great winter festivals here and many outdoor activities. But we can do more to enhance our quality


of life in winter. We want residents and tourists to embrace and look forward to the season, because there are so many great places to meet and things to do and see.”

PUTTING WINTER BACK ON THE AGENDA Interest in livable winter cities started in the late 1970s in Minneapolis. It spread quickly, with Edmonton becoming intensely involved in a Winter Cities movement that rode an international wave of energy and momentum. In 1986, the city convened a Winter Cities Forum. Edmonton went on to host an international Winter Cities Showcase in 1988, establishing the now-defunct Winter Cities Conference Corporation to carry if off. But during the 1990s, the decade during which Edmonton, it was hoped, would become the Winter Capital of the World, momentum flagged. The economic downturn caused budget cuts, and winter initiatives became a low priority relative to other funding pressures. Meanwhile, other cities moved ahead with their winter city agendas: Quebec City developed major winter festivals and a winter tourism industry; Oslo, Norway, claimed the title of the World’s Winter Capital; and Harbin in China became known as the Ice City. In 2007, Edmonton’s city council put the winter-city focus back on the agenda by including it as one of its special initiatives. The first stage brought the creation of Winter Light, which continues to develop and produce unique winter festivals in the city. In 2010, work began on stage two. The city began to develop a strategic plan to recast Edmonton as a livable winter or northern city and encourage citizens to engage in and embrace winter.


CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta Photo– Susan Holdsworth


DEVELOPING A WINTER CITY STRATEGY The exploratory work from that trip is being used by the WinterCity Think Tank, a committee of community leaders, as it develops a winter strategy for Edmonton. The committee is also seeking advice from local, national and international “winter experts.” Most importantly, it is encouraging input from Edmontonians. Recommendations and an implementation plan for the final WinterCity Strategy report are

expected to go before city council in the fall of 2012. A key objective of the initiative is to encourage discussion and get feedback from Edmontonians on winter city life. The official public launch in January 2012 included a WinterCity Symposium to generate ideas and energy for the strategy, followed by public forums in February and March. A social media campaign, a postcard campaign and a contest are asking Edmontonians to answer the question: What would make you fall in love with winter in Edmonton? Another objective is to promote the City of Edmonton’s wintertime programs, services and experiences. Many Edmontonians already embrace festival fun and community spirit during the winter months through a wide variety of winter activities. Active community sponsorship, free community events and hospitality, music and activity provide Edmonton with a strong foundation to develop a WinterCity Strategy. A third goal is to identify the strengths and challenges around developing a sustainable and resilient winter city. Edmonton’s mayor, Stephen Mandel, is a firm supporter of the WinterCity initiative. “We have great winter festivals, downhill and cross-country skiing, skating, tobogganing and many other activities,” he says. “As the most northerly large city on the continent, with more sunny winter days than any other city in Canada, it only makes sense that Edmonton becomes a world-renowned winter city. The WinterCity Strategy will be our blueprint for getting there.”

For more information about the City of Edmonton’s Winter Strategy, visit

Photo– Susan Holdsworth

In June 2010, a Winter Cities Exploration Forum brought together a small working group of internal and external community stakeholders. The group reviewed issues related to Edmonton’s winter and identified several key areas it felt would need to be addressed by a winter city strategy, including dealing with concerns about snow removal, traffic safety and isolation, increasing participation in winter festivals and other outdoor activities, and strengthening Edmonton’s downtown. Staff also looked at the municipality’s role in conveying a positive image of winter and investigated ways to encourage residents and visitors to take part in more varied winter activities and events, for example, through wintertime services, programs and public improvements. As part of the research, Henderson and three city administrators travelled to northern cities in Finland and Norway in February 2011: Oslo in Norway and Helsinki, Rovaniemi, Oulu and Kemi in Finland. They found several common themes to the success of these winter cities: using snow, light and colour to transform spaces; creating inviting, comfortable outdoor public places where people can gather and meet; and supporting walking, biking and playing outside during the winter.

CURB VOL 3 | ISSUE 1 | 2012



Around mid-February, life in a northern climate can begin to feel claustrophobic. We hunker into our coats and dash quickly from house to car to office or school with our shoulders up around our ears and our brows furrowed against the wind. Yes, there are many obvious winter pastimes to get us outside, such as cross-country skiing, skating, snowshoeing or tobogganing. And then there are more imaginative activities such as building a fire in a city park fire pit, staging a neighbourhood shinny game or sculpting snow faces on tree trunks so the tree spirits can watch passersby. But if you want to try something really off the wall, consider the following.

those bumps…in theory, anyway. Monarch, Colorado, hosts snow kayak races every year.

YUKIGASSEN In parts of Japan, people take snowball fights very seriously—so seriously that they’ve turned it into a sport called yukigassen. It’s similar to capture-the-flag or paintball. Victory goes to the team that either captures the opponent’s flag or eliminates all opposing players by hitting them with snowballs. .

Skijoring Think water-skiing but with a horse instead of a boat, snow instead of water and ice ramps instead of waves. Originally a method of winter travel in Scandinavia, skijoring is now a hair-raising winter activity for the daring.

KICK-SLED Also hailing from Scandinavia, the kick-sled is ideal for travelling over frozen lakes. A small chair on metal runners is propelled by someone standing behind the chair on a runner and pushing off behind. Kick-sledding won’t become a winter Olympic sport anytime soon, but races could be a lot of fun.

SNOW-KAYAKING If you’ve ever been tobogganing, you know how tricky it is to control where you end up at the bottom of the hill. One bump (often perfectly and purposefully placed) sends you flying through the air headfirst into a pile of snow. Instead, when you kayak down a hill, you’ve got paddles to help you manoeuvre around


CITY–REGION STUDIES CENTRE | University of Alberta

Photo– Thomas O’Hara




Coldest place inhabited by people: Oymyakon, a Siberian Village recorded a temperature of -68 in 1931.


The coldest metropolitan: Winnipeg


Snowiest capital city in the world: Ottawa with an annual average snowfall of 236 cm.


Largest ice rink: The Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, is 7.8 km (4.8 miles) long and has a total maintained surface area of 165, 621 m² (1.782 million ft²), which is equivalent to 90 Olympic size skating rinks. It is the largest naturally frozen ice rink.


Longest annually contested sled dog race in the world: 1.688km, held in Iditarod Trail, Alaska - USA


Longest Ski Run: Chamonix, France: 12,605 feet


Largest ice maze: The largest ice maze is 1,194.33 m² (12,855.68 ft²)†in area achieved by the Arctic Glacier Ice Maze (USA) at the Buffalo Powder Keg Festival in Buffalo,


New York, USA on 26 February 2010. The maze was created by Roaming Buffaloes, a social networking club for Western New Yorkers. The maze was constructed using 2,171 blocks of ice, each weighing 136.08kg (300lb).


Tallest ice sculpture:16.22 m by the Peopleís Government of Yichun City, in Yichun, China, on 19 January 2010. The sculpture was in the shape of a dinosaur. It used about 850 cubic meters (30,017.47 ft³) of ice and stands: 53 feet 2.58 inches tall.


Largest ice fishing competition: Lake Ponnenjarvi, Toysa, Finland with 26.462 participants on 15 March 2003. The Veljekset Keskinen Miljoona Pilkki event has been organized annually since 1979


Fastest Half marathon barefoot on ice: The fastest half marathon ran while barefoot on ice or snow is 2 hr 16 min 34 sec by Wim Hof (Netherlands) near Oulu, Finland, on 26 January 2007. Done for the Discovery Channel’s ‘Real Super humans and the Quest for the Future Fantastic’10

Rideau Canal, Photo– Mike Gerike

Curb Magazine is about policy practice and community experiences in cities, regions and rural areas. CURB is distributed to municipal offices and planning departments across western Canadian provinces and territories, and Northwestern United States. We welcome articles and photos that examine and challenge ideas such as governance, infrastructure, design, public spaces and sustainability and other issues faced by city-regions. Articles are typically short, about 1000 words, but longer articles may also be considered for the features section. Photos should be high resolution (8–10 MB, RAW files preferred). For more information visit

Extension Staff, December 1946

Happy Birthday to Us The




turns 100 in 2012 and celebrates 100 years

of Touching Lives & community engagement

ISSN 1923-7413 (Print) ISSN 1923-7421 (Online)

Profile for University of Alberta Extension

CURB Magazine 3.1  

Curb Magazine is about policy practice and community experiences in cities, regions, and rural areas. Curb is distributed to municipal offic...

CURB Magazine 3.1  

Curb Magazine is about policy practice and community experiences in cities, regions, and rural areas. Curb is distributed to municipal offic...