by Adam Fearing
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many unknowns, and as the clock races towards the winter solstice, a new unknown has emerged. What are we going to do this winter when enjoying the outdoors will become a challenge in many cold-weather cities like Boston?
This fall, I joined Stantec’s Landscape Architecture Studio in a virtual charette to explore practical ideas for Winter City design, an approach that embraces the cold and allows our public spaces to work for us year-round. The goal was to create ideas that can be implemented for little to no cost and without a negative impact on the environment.
The Importance of Winter City Design in Cold Weather Cities
Winter design has been at the forefront of urban design thinking for many global cities. It’s in their ethos. They embrace the cold because, frankly, they have no other choice! Winter design is about accepting the cards we’re dealt, changing our ethos around being cold, and introducing flexibility and spontaneity to these seemingly chilly cities.
Winter City Design Philosophies
For this winter, it makes sense to keep the design simple and inexpensive. That means wherever possible, using materials that are free, recycled, re-used, or that have another life in them. In the future, more formalized design, as well as construction technology and materials, can be employed.
It is really about giving people the ability to make something with nothing, and finding ways business owners, city officials, maintenance teams – anyone, really – could make some effective winter design contributions with minimal expense.
Shifting Mindsets to Allow these Designs to Work
For now, officials should invest in outdoor spaces for small businesses. Find ways to give these people the resources and flexibility they need to maximize their efforts and bolster their investments. Be open and flexible to creativity and change. Winter places will be made of all sorts of materials and take many shapes and forms. Officials must be open to this nonlinear, non-uniform, ad-hoc style of urban design.
Where Communities Can Begin
Start with the direction of the wind – really. Determine where the prevailing winds are coming from (A quick web search of your area will help.), then think creatively about how you can safely block that wind. The key to a successful winter space is shielding the wind and tricking yourself into enjoying the cold. Everything after that becomes an added bonus! With a creative state of mind, winter doesn’t have to be so cold.
Adam Fearing is a landscape designer at Stantec‘s Boston office.