On December 21st, the sun set in Edmonton at 4:16pm. It was, by definition, our darkest (and shortest) day.
Yet today as I commuted into work in the pitch black, it occurred to me that — just like the days after the solstice — we’ve started to brighten up about winter. Our ground-breaking Winter City Strategy has a big part to play in that shift in our attitude.
If you haven’t heard about our made-in-Edmonton Winter City Strategy, it’s worth a read. In short, it redefines how we think about living, working, playing, designing and building our great northern city. While we’ve spent decades pretending (and planning) like we lived somewhere else, the Winter City Strategy is about celebrating and embracing the very season that defines us.
The strategy is broken into four parts. Winter Life looks at ways of making outdoor life easier in Edmonton, keeping us active in our coldest months. An example of an action in Winter Life is to create more permanent anchor points in the river valley to linger, warm up and enjoy. Sounds great, right?
The Winter Design pillar is about designing our city for safety and comfort, and improving our quality of life. Good Winter Design means things like building wider boulevards for plowed snow, taking full advantage of sun exposure and protecting people from wind.
Winter Economy contains all kinds of good ideas to build on the enormous, untapped competitive advantage that our winter provides and how we can be leaders in winter design and manufacturing, technology, services and celebrations. A four-season patio culture is part of the Winter Economy, but so is taking the lead in innovative winter-related businesses.
And lastly, the Winter Story pillar aims to reframe how we talk about winter to others; instead of “building our lives in opposition to winter,” we start to see winter as part of our identity, something we can market as other northern European cities do. For me, this is a vitally important piece of the strategy because it starts to remove some of the psychological barriers we’ve seen in attracting and retaining people to live and work in Edmonton. We need the good stories about winter to start outweighing the bad ones, and in doing so our city’s reputation as a great four-season place will start to improve.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about our city, we can’t make anyone want to live here. But through the Winter City Strategy, and the implementation plan that’s just starting to roll out, we’re actually making our city better all year round and focusing on our strengths. Our real strengths.
Change is already happening. Our cross-country ski trails are busier than ever, attendance at our winter festivals is climbing, and a giant snowball fight drew hundreds of people into the river valley on a beautiful winter afternoon. This week we’ll host the Winter City Shake-Up, an international conference that celebrates all things winter, and we’ll hear from other cities which are also embracing their dark side. More importantly, they’re coming all the way to Edmonton to learn about our Winter City Strategy, one of the most comprehensive strategies of its kind in the world.