Tag Archives: The Bessborough

Column: Let’s Put More Fun Into Winter

In today’s The StarPhoenix

While the winter has been mild so far, it still is winter. That means dressing in layers, being cold and not being able to enjoy so much of what makes Saskatoon great – mainly spring, summer and fall.

Even though winter is our dominant season, we don’t do a great job of enjoying it, despite our best efforts.

We have the PotashCorp Wintershines, Icecycle and, of course, the Meewasin Skating Rink by the Bessborough. Many of you join me in the middle of winter at the Conservatory at the Mendel, as we soak up both humidity and colours that are not brown or grey.

Thousands of us head out to Credit Union Centre to watch the Blades win a game before their inevitable second-round playoff collapse. Of course, we have to make sure to pack the booster cables to help out anyone whose car has frozen up because the game went into overtime.

So despite our best efforts, it’s several months of bundling up, being cold and freezing an ear occasionally. For those who don’t have a car and rely on public transportation, this can be a long season. Yet, as other cities can tell us, it doesn’t have to be quite so bad.

We could learn something from our neighbour to the east; Winnipeg. I was cruelly sent there twice last February and it was -40 C both times. Winnipeggers have pretty much given up and admitted they can’t survive the elements. So they have created miles of enclosed skywalks that go through the downtown.

The covered walkways connect and dissect malls, office towers and even the MTS Centre. They create two levels of the city, with higher end stores being connected to the walkways and a lower class system of stores at street level that is somewhat unsettling.

While the walkways were interesting, what really got my attention were the heated bus shelters interspersed in key areas in downtown Winnipeg.

These shelters are actually enclosed, with doors that shut. Despite the frigid temperatures, I was able to walk in, take off my tuque and gloves and unzip my jacket and remain comfortable as I sent a couple of emails on my Blackberry.

The bus signs with real time updates outside the shelter provided information on when the next bus would arrive, which allowed me to zip over and grab a coffee and still get back in time knowing I wouldn’t miss the bus. If that isn’t enough, there are web apps, mobile websites, Twitter and SMS updates to track your bus and provide warnings of service interruptions.

Unlike Saskatoon’s bus shelters, these are architecturally complementary to the environment, incorporating the same design elements as neighbouring buildings. The cost of these heated shelters means they are not all over Winnipeg, but are in 71 strategic locations throughout the city.

Not only does Winnipeg do a good job in making sure you are comfortable getting downtown, but once you are there it makes it easier for you to enjoy the area. It has held an international design competition for the past couple of years for warming huts at The Forks. In addition to doing fun stuff like flooding 1.2 kilometres of the pathways for skating, the warming huts make it easier for people to stay out there longer. This year’s competition was for five warming huts (there are seven from previous years). The 2011 huts were designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and others from as far away as Norway and the Czech Republic.

Such a venue is something that the downtown Saskatoon part of the river valley practically begs to be used for. For the first century of Saskatoon, we grew in a culture of scarcity.

Winter was something to be endured and complained about, because we lacked the resources and the vision to do anything about it – except for a ski jump that used to propel daredevils over the South Saskatchewan River.

Not everyone has the means or the desire to flee Saskatchewan’s cold in the winter. For those of us who stay, the more ways we have to embrace winter life in the city, the better.

Winnipeg’s bus shelters were packed with people and the purchases they made downtown. You can believe that an outing to The Forks for skating and curling also included stops at restaurants and shops.

A vibrant winter culture means a growing winter economy, something that means more jobs, more tax revenue and more thriving business downtown.

Saskatoon is becoming a world-class city in the summer; we just need the vision to keep it going 12 months of the year.

jordon@jordoncooper.com

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