As citizens of a northern city, most Edmontonians know just as much about winter as a bastard boy named Snow.
But sometimes people forget, and fall into a nasty winter funk. The Winter Cities Shake-Up conference aims to help out.
Focusing on winter in the areas of business, design, and culture, the conference is a professional look at thriving in a winter city.
A good portion of the population tends to stay inside during the frozen months. Below-zero temperatures are detrimental to outdoor physical transportation and activities. The conference will focus on changing this perspective.
Former Edmontonian Robin Mazumder, currently a PhD candidate in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, will explore how urban design impacts mental health. Before leaving Alberta, Mazumder worked as a mental health occupational therapist, an active urban placemaker, and taught courses on mental health at MacEwan University. Remember that big pop-up snowball fight? That was him, too.
Mazumder is speaking as part of Winter Urban Design: Perspectives from Health Care, Placemaking and Psychology panel and is excited that the City of Edmonton has made the WinterCity strategy a priority. He hopes that after releasing the new winter design guidelines, Edmonton can take its place as a leader among northern urban centres.
VUE Weekly: What makes you want to take part in the conference?
Robin Mazumder: Beyond the fact that it gets me back to Edmonton, which I love and miss dearly, I’m just thrilled to participate in a conversation that I think needs to happen in Canada. We need to recognize that we have special needs as a winter country, which shapes how we design our cities. I’m excited to bring my lens on how winter, urban design, and mental health intersect.
VW: From a design perspective, what are some of Edmonton’s biggest hurdles when it comes to winter transportation for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit users?
RM: For pedestrians, I think the biggest issue may be sidewalk snow clearance more than design. I mean, I guess you could design heated sidewalks, but that would be a costly endeavour which I’m sure city council wouldn’t be a fan of. The other option is to have the city responsible for sidewalk maintenance. I know that it might seem like a waste of money to some and that there is a snow angel program, but people with mobility issues shouldn’t have to rely on the benevolence of their neighbours to move around their city freely and safely.
Everyone deserves to get around their city in a dignified manner, and there isn’t much dignity in being restricted in getting around your community because your neighbour is lazy and doesn’t shovel their sidewalk.
In terms of cycling infrastructure, I’m excited to see how the pilot rolls out in downtown Edmonton, particularly in the winter. I think that for transit, one of the biggest issues is that transit users can get cold while waiting for a bus to come. My thoughts are that this can be remedied with heaters at bus stops or a more rapid bus service. [For example], a bus coming every five to 10 minutes. The latter would likely be more cost effective.
VW: What is one thing that Edmonton does well when it comes to winter transportation?
RM: I think the city does a decent job of maintaining the river valley trail system, which many people use for commuting, in addition to recreation.
VW: Which speakers are you most interested in seeing?
RM: I’m sharing a session with Dr. Karen Lee who is a doctor who has some interesting perspectives on urban design and health. Since I have worked as an occupational therapist, I’m very interested in her insights as a health care professional. I’m also excited to hear Tyler Golly, who is a good friend of mine. He is a real rock star when it comes to active transportation and Edmonton is very lucky to have him.
Other conference events include an opening reception at Latitude 53, a presentation on the Icehotel—the hugely successful undertaking in a Swedish village 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, a winter fashion show, downtown fat bike tours, as well as a flying canoe race.
Conference speakers include comedian Steve Patterson, Swedish sculptor/designer Arne Bergh, Berlin-based lighting architect Sabine De Schutter, and Professor of Structural Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Chris Tuan.