Next up in our Speaker Interview Series is President of Placemakers, Hazel Borys. Below, Hazel shares her thoughts on what makes wintertime enjoyable, and her passion for making winter cities more "-able" places!
1. What is your favourite outdoor winter activity; what makes you want to get outside when it’s below zero?
My favourite winter activity is walking in great urban places. If the first 5 minutes outside my door are interesting, that’s all it takes to get me going. That means slow, human-scale streets that create outdoor rooms that shelter me from the wind. That also means meaningful destinations within that first 5 minutes. So if it’s 40 below, there is an interesting place to duck in an grab a coffee, pick up a loaf of bread, peruse a book, or send a letter — and to warm up! If those first 5 minutes are walkable, there are usually parks and playgrounds along the way, so my partner or my son or my dog are more likely to keep me company, which always extends our winter city experience.
2. What is your favourite childhood winter memory?
I was raised in Huntsville, Alabama, so my favourite childhood winter memory is getting snowed in. Because it rarely snows, the City has no snow removal equipment. And because Huntsville is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, there are significant steep slopes. A foot of snow meant schools were cancelled, and that we couldn’t get the family car down the hillside to go anywhere. Luckily, the grocery store — and loads of friends — were within walking distance, so snow was its own sort of holiday. Even though it only happened every year or two, snowfall was a time where neighbours would gather in the streets over steaming cups of coffee, share some food, and let their kids play in the snowy streets. Pure delight.
3. What is your favourite winter beverage?
That’s a time-dependant question: latte with heavy cream, if it’s morning; green tea with lemon and honey, at lunch; or in the evening, a mulled wine with cinnamon and orange.
4. What is your favourite winter city destination and why?
Québec City, because the skinny streets and “woonerfs" quickly make you lose yourself in a deep community of art, culture, architecture, and food. The local history is profound, as the only actively fortified city in North America. A close second is Montréal, in all its snowy goodness. I like the way Montréal changes the order of its streets, depending on the season. Most of its pedestrian streets are summer only, opening up auto traffic in the winters to assist with mobility. Of course, Ottawa and Winnipeg both trump when it comes to skating and warming huts, with their rivalry for who can have the longest outdoor skating rink. Calgary’s wealth of main streets and neighbourhood centres are compelling summer or winter. And the Winter Cities ShakeUp will be my first trip ever to Edmonton, so who knows, perhaps you’ll give the other great Canadian Winter Cities a run for their money. The Edmonton Freezeway idea is certainly one of the most interesting I’ve seen lately. However, all of these places disappoint when it comes to the suburbs and ex-urbs, where the auto takes control and the feeling quickly changes to something similar to Siberia. I’m hoping for a future that sees character-based development by-laws that take the best of our inner cities and enable this walkable urban character by right in our fringes. In this way, we can complete our bedroom communities with essential services, and give people an alternative to their cars in the winter. Because cars and winter really don’t mix well.
5. How would you describe winter to someone who has never experienced it?
Just come to Winnipeg. I’ll show you. Winnipeg is the third coldest city of its size on earth, and is a great place to live. But winter is not for sissies. It requires a significant amount of respect and preparation. One quick trip to the Arctic will tell you that winter requires community. An engaged, committed community. In some Arctic communities, people leave their keys in their cars, to assist with polar bear attacks or quick and disorienting snow storms. No one is stealing a car in a place where everyone knows everyone else, and there are few roads out. The Arctic peoples are quick to share their “country food,” including seal, whale, and arctic char, realizing that winter communities excel when they stick together, and when we live lightly on the land. Winter creates a sense of sharing, because survival often depends on it. Winnipeg has embraced that fact that a significant amount of its brand comes from its wintriness: "Winter-peg, Mani-snow-ba" has become a badge of honor, as our kids chant the phrase with pride. Full-body refrigeration or full-body heat aren’t really that great for the environment, and it becomes clear that this artificial environment is less essential when we dare to live outdoors!
6. What are you most looking forward to about the Winter Cities Shake-Up Conference?
I’m really looking forward to hear about how other winter cities are embracing winter, not just in their regional festivals and policies, but also in their every-day development by-laws, to enable walkable, bikeable, livable places — that are also sled-able, ski-able, and skate-able. I’m looking for winter city ideas on the neighbourhood scale.