5 Lessons for Making Cold Cities Even Cooler

https://middlecitybigheart.wordpress.com/2015/11/24/5-lessons-for-…es-even-cooler/Winter arrived in Winnipeg this weekend and the new season has changed more than the weather, it’s changed the city — the way it looks, the way it functions, and the way we interact with it.

Winter is defined by most Winnipeggers as the unpleasant obstacle standing between us and summer — or more specifically — the four-to-five month dead zone between November and March where complaining passes for conversation and activities range from drying wet socks to purchasing chap stick.

The new season has changed more than the weather, it’s changed the city — the way it looks, the way it functions, and the way we interact with it.

Although there is no question winter is uncomfortable, it is also a fundamental part of living here.  If we can accept that, we are better able to recognize the incredible efforts and activities that have sprung up in recent years and that are transforming what has traditionally been understood as our greatness weakness into a very real strength.

Activities like:

to name a few.

These initiatives reflect a growing interest in embracing, not escaping, winter.   As Anton Chekhov once said: “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy. https://middlecitybigheart.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/5-lessons-for-…es-even-cooler/ ‎

We’re not alone in feeling good about being so chill.  The top seven states in the 2014 Gallup Healthways Well-being Index enjoy long stretches of real winter weather and there is a growing list of cities having fun in the cold, both in Canada and abroad.

how do we create cool winter events for a cold winter city?  


The Project for Public Spaces* article, “Winter Cities Show Cold Weather Can Be Cool”, sets out the following lessons:

Make it Last

Winter events should last preferably more than a week and are best tied to an ongoing winter activity, like skating or sledding.  Singing carols around a lit tree is a pleasant activity, but has a much shorter shelf life and smaller demographic than a skating rink with a great playlist.  To create a cumulative effect, winter events and activities should overlap where possible and span the entire 4 to 5 month period.

Bundle it up

Activities and events should be combined, allowing smaller events to create a larger impact and enticing visitors to make a day of it.  The warming huts competition at the Forks and Red River Mutual Trail is a great example of this, providing visitors with a skating rink, walking path, wood fire shack, indoor market, and public art display all in one place.

Keep it Local

Local elements are the key to a great looking city, as well as meaningful winter activities.  Local elements encourage citizens to participate by highlighting what is unique about the city, providing warm food and drink, and showcasing locally made items. Festival du Voyageur is a great example.

Light it

The right lighting makes all the difference, creating ambience and “the feeling that winter activities and events are much bigger than they really are”.

Manage it

Management is essential. Without management of a city’s spaces, no winter activities would occur. Competent and ambitious management leads to great results.

*Project for Public Spaces is an incredible
non-profit planning, design and educational organization
that aims to transform public space through rejuvenation, capitalizing on
local assets, and serving common needs. PFPS was founded in 1975 to
expand on the work of William (Holly) Whyte, author of the insightful and
essential book “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” and its 55-minute
companion film.  Check out their list of projects here.

Whether it’s large local events bringing people together and creating public spaces with impact – or the fact that only my backyard stands between me and a world of crunchy, winding, wind-sheltered paths along the Seine River – I think there are plenty of reasons to look forward to this new season in our city.

The question is how to create more of them.

With four months to fill with winter fun, I would love to hear from you.

What is your favourite thing about Winnipeg’s winter? 

Any recommendations or secret spots to check out? 

Ideas for community events Winnipeg could add to its annual calendar?

5 Lessons for Making Cold Cities Even Cooler

What makes a city? The 3 things every great city needs

What makes a city?

What makes a city? The 3 things every great city needs

(a) Jobs  (b) People  (c) Bike paths  (d) Location  (e) All of the above


If you’re looking for a cheat sheet, you might start with some of the more popular annual city rankings, such as:

Thanks to these experts you can confidently conclude that Vienna is the best.  Oh, wait.  No, it’s Melbourne.  Um, Tokyo?


The difficulty in deciding what makes a liveable city is getting everyone to agree on what liveability means or what it should mean.

The Economist, for example, focuses on economic and business issues as the primary indicators of liveability.  Forbes considers unemployment, crime, income growth, the cost of living, and artistic and cultural opportunities.  Monocle Magazine, a relative newcomer to the annual lists game, thinks liveability should consider “places that are benchmarks for urban renaissance and rigorous reinvention in everything from environmental policy to transport” and focuses on social and economic circumstances for residents, public health, infrastructure, and ease and availability of local transport.

There isn’t one right answer but there are some qualities that consistently emerge when great cities are being discussed.

I’ve compiled them here, for you.    Ready?





A liveable city is a beautiful one.  As the recent Citylab article “What Makes a City Beautiful?” points out:

(B)eauty is an essential quality to live-ability. Multiple studies have shown that the perception of living in a beautiful place is strongly correlated with happiness—more strongly than even things like safety and cleanliness. “Character,” or aesthetic distinctiveness has also proven itself key to economic vitality.

How do we measure beauty?  This metric is notoriously difficult to quantify, but maybe less so now that philosopher and founder of London’s School of Life, Alain de Botton, laid out the following six qualities of attractive cities:


orientation and mystery

visible life



and a sense of the local.

These qualities are achievable and they don’t rely on a waterfront, warm weather or art that everyone can agree on.  Great news for Winnipeggers, and anyone else who lives in a place where “spring” is more aptly described as “brown”.

Watch DeBotton describe the qualities in more detail here.



Whether its bike paths, accessible transit or strong communities, a great city is a connected city.

“Connection” is sometimes called “smart growth – an urban planning concept rooted in sustainability that is anti-sprawl and advocates for “compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use, including neighbourhoods schools, complete streets, and mixed-use development with a range of housing choices”.  

Smart growth is more than a lifestyle argument, it has real benefits.

Smart growth is more than a lifestyle argument, it has real benefits.  Smart cities are safer, healthier and wealthier because they:

improve urban density (reducing the cost of providing
services for the municipality and corresponding tax liability for its citizens)


provide opportunities to walk, bike, and use transit (resulting in
increased pedestrian traffic, improved health and reduced costs for individuals and households).



In an interview on the Radiolab “Cities” podcast, Dr. Robert Levine sets out a tidy mathematical formula proving that once a city is growing, it’s also getting more liveable.  It supports the widely held consensus that growth is a key element for a great city.

To grow, a city must:

retain and attract business investment
use that business investment to create jobs and increase tax revenue
then enjoy higher household income and rich array of public services

Sounds easy, right?  Maybe not.

Studies have shown that attracting and retaining business investment is not just about providing favourable tax and regulatory conditions for business operations but also having well-educated and trained workforce, adequate transportation infrastructure, a range of amenities like restaurants and day care centres, and a low crime rate.

(W)hile growth is undeniably important – growth is not the only quality a great city needs.

So, while growth is undeniably important – growth is not the only quality a great city needs.  Cities need to invest in other qualities of liveability – like beauty and connection – in order to attract the investment in the first place.

How does Winnipeg stack up?


Extensive suburban development, disagreements over bus rapid transit and outcry over biking infrastructure can sometimes make it seem like Winnipeg is less than, um, “smart”.

But there is good work being done, which is worthy of encouragement.

Now it’s your turn.  How do you think we stack up on the top 3 liveability factors?  Are we on the right track?  

What makes a city? The 3 things every great city needs