Downtown park presents chance to get winter-city design right

· The Pulse

Warehouse Park offers Edmonton an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past when it comes to designing for winter, says an industrial designer who is studying how to make it inviting year-round.

"It's about creating a space that's just as interesting in the winter as it is in the summer," Danielle Soneff told Episode 63 of Let's Find Out, a podcast that explores Edmonton's history through listener questions (and recently joined the Taproot family).

The podcast explores a question from producer Trevor Chow-Fraser: What does being a winter city mean for Edmonton's parks?

Soneff, a master of arts student studying winter city design and governance, has been thinking about such matters for a long time. During her undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta, she started designing warming huts, some of which were piloted in Edmonton parks.

Such structures need to capture the sun and block the wind, but it's not just about design specifications, Soneff learned. It's also about making the entire park a place you want to be in the winter.

"When I had those warming huts in Victoria Park, in my opinion, they failed. And I wanted to know why," she said. "I realized how much context matters in design, especially in social design."

Warehouse Park, a 1.47-hectare site north of Jasper Avenue between 106 Street and 108 Street could be an opportunity to get it right from the get-go. Amenities like a toboggan hill, a skating rink, or firepits could help, but it also the little details, like lighting it to draw people in when the sun is low and planting the right kind of trees.

"It's really just using winter as an asset instead of a deterrent," Soneff said. "So if you're using frost as a way to design a space, how does frost sit on foliage when it is sitting in a winter space? How does that look?"

Danielle Soneff stands in a parking lot with skyscrapers behind her, while Isla Tanaka stands in a snowy community park

Let's Find Out spoke with designer Danielle Soneff at the future site of Warehouse Park and with winter city planner Isla Tanaka at Parkallen Community League for an episode on making parks welcoming in winter.

Most of Edmonton's parks were not designed with the cold, dark months in mind, said Isla Tanaka, a winter city planner for the City of Edmonton.

"A lot of the parks were developed in the '70s when we didn't really think about winter use of the parks," Tanaka told Let's Find Out. "You've probably noticed also a lot of the washrooms get closed in the wintertime. That's because the sewer lines were put in quite shallow, and so they freeze."

New developments and redevelopments now have to consider four-season design, she said.

Tanaka has been working on the Winter City Edmonton strategy since its inception 10 years ago. That strategy was built on answers to the question "What would help you fall in love with Edmonton in the winter?". That led to a focus on making it easier for people to enjoy being outside instead of keeping them indoors with the pedway-oriented strategy of the 1980s, she said.

Edmonton has winter festivals such as Flying Canoë Volant and the Silver Skate Festival, but "there's a difference between having a lot of festivals and making change for everyday life," Tanaka said.

An evaluation of the winter city strategy is now underway.

"It will probably look quite different," said Tanaka, who started working on the strategy as a student and has since become its coordinator. "After 10 years, our needs are different, and what people are doing and not doing are different. We'll see where we go from here."

Learn much more about what it will take to make all of Edmonton's parks welcoming in winter in the April episode of Let's Find Out.

Learn more about Let's Find Out and how it aligns with Taproot in an interview with host Chris Chang-Yen Phillips on Episode 216 of Speaking Municipally, which will be released on April 14.