People gather outside in the winter.

Embracing Winter with Creative Ways to Stay Outdoors

Inspiration and insights from cold-weather cities reimagining winter as a season to love.

When it comes to winter, some cities hunker down. Others – in particular our neighbors to the north and Scandinavian cities – do not hold back. They’ve changed how they talk about the coldest season. They’ve changed their culture and mindsets and now enjoy bundling up and being outside all winter. Why only spend money on outdoor programming over the summer, when people are already out and about? Let’s focus on winter as much or even more. What could we do to help people feel connected, happy, and safe during the winter months - even during a pandemic?

In November 2020, the Barr Foundation Mobility team hosted a two-part webinar series exploring how people in cold-weather cities stay active and engaged throughout the winter. Part I focused on inspiration: how have cities reimagined and transformed winter? How have cultures changed to be more open minded?

Part II followed up with the nuts-and-bolts - the implementation: how to actually try out some of these ideas. Local practitioners shared their in-progress plans for how they are (safely) innovating in their communities this season.

So how do we embrace winter, while also being mindful of not attracting big crowds this year? A few key insights from the webinars:

  • Shift the conversation. Let’s talk about stylish winter gear, crisp air and blue skies, powdery snow, and how it’s nice to not get sweaty when riding your bike. Leave the bleak attitude behind. Pretend you are a kid again. Winter can be a delight!
  • Keep the sidewalks clear. As Gil Penalosa said, in all seasons, “sidewalks are the most important infrastructure in any city.” Prioritizing snow removal from sidewalks help make it safe and enjoyable (and always free!) to venture out on foot!
  • Think programs, not events. Events often mean crowds, or a one-time party. This year, ongoing, steady programming will spread out visits and aid in physical distancing (and may also better cater to different ages).
  • Celebrate the season. Winter offers the excuse to warm by a fire pit, sit in the sun, drink a warm beverage, and keep moving to stay warm. Installations and programming that bring in elements that celebrate the season make it all the more special.
  • Get creative. Government has adapted throughout 2020 – allowing things like more outdoor dining – and this type of fresh looks at old regulations is often needed to get creative over the winter.

Can we find joy this winter? Boston Globe contributor Renee Loth says absolutely yes, (“but some creamy hot chocolate around a fire pit wouldn’t hurt”).

A special thanks to our terrific speakers:

  • Part I: Inspire
    • Guillermo (Gil) Penalosa, founder and chair of 8 80 Cities
    • Isla Tanaka, Winter City Planner, City of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
    • Sara Larsen, Economic Development Division, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
  • Part II: Implement
    • Jonathan Berk, Creative Director of Bench Consulting (by Patronicity)
    • Ben Lamb, The NAmazing Initiative, North Adams, Massachusetts
    • Anne Louro, Planner, New Bedford, Massachusetts


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