Jan 8, 2021 - Economy

Cold-weather cities embrace "winter placemaking" to coax people outdoors

Picture of Popportunity Winter Market in Central Square

The Popportunity Winter Market in Central Square, Cambridge, Mass. — an example of winter placemaking. Photo by Jonathan Berk, Patronicity.

Some cities and towns in Massachusetts — like Cambridge, Worcester, Salem and North Adams — are turning barren public spaces into popular destinations as part of a broader campaign to promote "winter placemaking" among cold-weather cities.

The big picture: These places and others are whipping up fun public installations — like fire pits, outdoor markets and light displays — aimed at coaxing people outdoors and shopping locally in the era of COVID-19.

The back story: Last year, as the pandemic hit, a group called Patronicity — born in Detroit, and dedicated to the curious art of "placemaking" — helped solicit ideas for ways that cities could "embrace winter as a fourth season to get outdoors, and not kind of hibernate," as Jonathan Berk, who spearheaded the project, put it.

  • 65 ideas were compiled into a guidebook called "Winter Places."
  • Among the suggestions: build mazes of festive trees; decorate streetscapes with yarn art; "create a warm and cozy outdoor living room."

Then, in November, the Boston-based Barr Foundation held a webinar series to encourage U.S. cities to try "winter placemaking," embracing the cold the way Canadian and Scandinavian cities do. Barr also started granting money to cities around Massachusetts to try things out.

  • "Since Thanksgiving, we've been sort of going 100 miles an hour, helping communities plan, purchase products, and then implement different winter placemaking ideas," Berk tells Axios.

Bonus: Berk told me about one strategy in Edmonton, Alberta, "They encouraged their local weather people to talk more positively about winter."

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