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Why Calgary (and Edmonton and Other Cities That Get Snow) Need Winter Mayors
What on earth is a Winter Mayor and is this a term we invented? Read on, and yes.
With colder temperatures and snow blanketing Alberta this week, it’s the perfect time to introduce you to a little idea we’ve tossed around over the last few winters.
We’ll cut to the chase. Calgary needs a Winter Mayor. Edmonton needs a Winter Mayor. Other snowy cities across our great, chilly country need Winter Mayors!
As we enter into this annual (and long) season of cold and dark, think of a Winter Mayor as an advocate, a hype person and an approachable face who loves winter, helps residents embrace all this season has to offer, and holds their city accountable to make winter better and safer for its citizens.
Yes, it’s a title and role we’ve invented. But, hear us out.
What’s the point of staying inside for several months of the year? What’s the point of dreading November to February? We can’t change the weather but we can change our attitude about it. Many of us need to rethink winter and that’s exactly where a Winter Mayor would come in.
At the same time, wouldn’t embracing winter be easier if you knew your chance of slipping on an icy sidewalk, or pushing your stroller through windrows, or crashing your car on snow-covered roads, or waiting in the freezing cold for a delayed bus was slim because your city properly plowed its roads and cleared its sidewalks and had heated bus shelters and good transit? Also where a Winter Mayor would come in.
Calgary introduced its Winter Strategy last year, a decade after Edmonton introduced its strategy, titled: “For the Love of Winter: Strategy for Transforming Edmonton into a World-Leading Winter City.”
Have a browse through these documents and you’ll find many of the same themes (we want to be a winter city!) and tangible ideas to make winter better: events and programming are important, light matters, activities like skating loops and fire pits and warming huts and four-season patios get people outside.
There are many fun ideas in these strategies. Embracing winter is good for a city’s economy, culture and its residents’ physical mental health. This is good and important work.
While we (as winter lovers) have praised these strategies before, we’ve also been told by people who live through winters in these cities that the strategies aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
There seems to be a disconnect between these documents and citizens, themselves. That’s exactly where a Winter Mayor comes in.
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As we see it, a Winter Mayor would be a real human being — not a document. They would be a go-to voice in traditional and social media, on panels and at events, who pushes their city to do winter better, and publicly shares their own stories of embracing winter and getting outside.
Maybe this winter-loving real human moved to their city from a warmer climate and initially struggled to embrace the white stuff, or maybe they’ve lived there for decades, or maybe they’re a new parent trying to make a go at loving winter with kids for the sake of everyone’s sanity. No matter their story, their firsthand experiences, learnings and frustrations would be much more compelling than a document.
When a city debuts a flashy new winter event but has a habit of not adequately plowing its roads or sidewalks so residents can safely get to said event, a Winter Mayor would point out the hypocrisy and push officials to do better.
It’s one thing to sigh every time a radio announcer/weather person says ‘It’s cold out there so don’t go outside today,” but it would be another for a Winter Mayor to have real conversations with these people and explain why this language and attitude makes winter tougher than it has to be.
A Winter Mayor would show residents in their city not only that it is possible to enjoy going outside in winter but also how to do it comfortably and affordably and safely and how to make it fun.
A Winter Mayor would share real photos and videos of enjoying winter (think frosty lashes, red cheeks and snotty noses) not manicured ad campaigns with models who are not dressed appropriately for frigid temperatures.
A Winter Mayor would recognize that yes, Instagram-able activities to enjoy winter are great, but not everyone can afford a bougie specialty après-ski branded coffee on an outdoor patio or has the time to get that picture in front of an outdoor balloon arch. They would work to include people of all ages and abilities and backgrounds in a city’s conversations and actions about winter.
A Winter Mayor would recognize that winter is for everyone but many people need help learning to love, or at least tolerate, the cold.
The concept of a specialty mayor is not new. The Winter Mayor role could draw inspiration from the Bicycle Mayor program, which began in Amsterdam in 2016 by global NGO BYCS.
Today, there are more than 100 so-called Bike Mayors around the globe and they work with residents, businesses, government and cycling organizations, and act as a face and voice of cycling progress in their city while also sharing learnings with a worldwide network of peers.
Some big cities also have so-called Night Mayors, who work to boost their city’s nightlife and safety and act as a liaison between their city’s entertainment and creative industries and elected officials.
Sure, there are logistics to sort out: Is this a volunteer position? Is there a sponsor who could make Canada’s first Winter Mayor a part-time paid position? Many cities have Winter Strategies but who is going to be the first to have a Winter Mayor? How would a Winter Mayor be selected?
As we write this, temperatures are hovering around -15 degrees Celsius, snowfall warnings are in place, radio stations are urging people to ‘stay in bed,’ a friend is texting asking what to do inside, while another is texting about her treacherous drive home from work yesterday … and it’s only the beginning of November. A Winter Mayor would help bring some much-needed change and joy to this season that, for better or worse, we’re stuck with.