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Embracing the Winter City

Fort St. John’s Winter City Strategy works to maintain social connection year round

Growing up in Canada, experiencing cold, snowy winters is just a fact of life. For Dan Penner and Chad Carlstrom, who work in our Fort St. John office, it was there own childhood experiences growing up in winter cities like Fort St. John and Winnipeg that inspired them to help cities develop a new way of thinking about community involvement in colder months.

Urban-Systems-FSJ-Winter-Slide“As kids, we spent hours playing in the snow all day, but there exists a point in our lives when that childhood love of winter goes away.” Carlstrom explains. In fact, most adults come to resent those snow-covered days, dreading the cold, and spending most of the winter dreaming of summertime. Carlstrom and Penner recognize that for winter cities, like Fort St. John, communities can’t and don’t go into hibernation throughout the winter.

Building on the Winter City Design Guidelines Fort St. John developed with the help of Urban Systems in 2000, Carlstrom and Penner started to identify concepts within the seventeen-year-old guideline that could be applied to an overall Winter City Strategy today. One of their goals was to reverse the practice or mentality of building our communities with just one season in mind. The all-seasons approach helps to change people’s thinking when it comes to design, and identify elements that would maintain the vibrancy of a community no matter the weather. “It’s a more holistic, unique approach that focuses on the positive elements winter can offer.” Says Penner

“We all have a shared responsibility for creating and maintaining a community.” Identifies Carlstrom. For this reason, their Winter City Strategy is not just a top down approach, and relies heavily on involvement from both the business community and residents. By honing in on who the local leaders and influencers are in Fort St. John, Penner and Carlstrom created a Winter City Strategy team who are a group of people who could help empower residents to take ownership of how they maintain social connection throughout the year.

Dan Penner enjoying the snow with his good buddy
While the working group is still in its early stages, Penner and Carlstrom are already seeing positive momentum. “The members are being an innovation hub, developing collaborative connections between people who previously wouldn’t have thought to work together.” Penner recounts. “At every meeting we see them experiencing many light bulb moments through their discussions.” Carlstrom added. Instead of focusing on big picture ideas, they have been focussing on micro-projects – concepts that are easy to implement, and cost effective. This lighter-quicker-cheaper approach means a quicker turnaround of putting ideas into action, as well as being achievable by anyone in the community.

Simple actions like identifying neighbours who can shovel for those who aren’t able to do so themselves, or businesses keeping their exterior lights on afterhours and providing seating and wind shields for customers. The group also have representative from social agencies, who can speak to ways to help those who may not always speak up for themselves. “As a community, we have a social responsibility to the disenfranchised.” Penner points out. For example, they have identified the importance of keeping public transit stops clear and accessible, to ensure those who rely on it as their main means of transport are not left out in the cold, literally.

Carlstrom and Penner are emboldened by the positive response from the community so far, and look forward to implementing some of the ideas that are more easily applied. Thinking ahead, they see this strategy functioning well in other smaller communities who don’t necessarily have the means – financially or otherwise – to develop a larger approach. “Each community is unique, and a Winter City Strategy allows them to identify and address their individual approach to winter.” Penner says.

In the meantime, Urban System’s Fort St. John office has already started implementing some of the ideas from the working group. They have taken ownership of the “Winterize Your Space” Program, which identifies the little things they can do as a local business to make the community a little more friendly and welcoming, despite the cold. The office is providing the leadership of what small steps can be taken, and are excited for other local business to join in.

If you are interested in learning more about Carlstrom and Penner, and their work on Fort St. John’s Winter City Strategy, they will be presenting on February 16 at the Winter Cities Shake-Up in Edmonton. You can also visit them at the Winterized booth, where they are also giving away touch screen gloves, so you can stay connected and keep warm.

To learn more about Winter Cities Shake-Up, watch this quick video from the 2015 event.

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