Do you get excited when it is a snow day!? I’m sure your kids are happy, but for many parents, it means longer commutes, less parking, and frayed nerves. For City workers, it means overtime to clear the streets, budget challenges and crisis management.
This IS Canada, eh! We joke about having two seasons: Winter and construction. All jokes aside, the reality is that snow conditions impact our communities as it pertains to our safety and enjoyment. And, in places that have longer, more intense winters, snow storms have a major effect on these communities.
According to Environment Canada, places that experience extreme winter weather conditions will see an increase in regular storms that leave more snow in a shorter period. Considering this, we better get used to snow days, and that means planning for it. Communities that plan well, will not only manage their snow challenges, but will thrive despite of them.
There are two ways to look at snow: Problem or Opportunity.
Problem: There's the cost of clearing, the overtime paid to plow drivers and support staff, the annual budgeting challenges, the drivers following slow snow plows and the resulting road rage. Then where do store it!! If you get too much snow, it becomes a hazard to travel. Often we dream about escaping the snow.
Opportunity: For those who who embrace winter activities, such as skiing, snowshoeing, and ice-fishing, having snow days are exciting! Snow offers us opportunities as well for toboggan hills, snow fort making contests, snow/ice sculptors/exhibits, snow mazes, and ice hotels.
Winnipeg, Quebec, and Barrie are Prime Examples of How Extreme Weather Affects Communities.
Snow Festivals and Activities to promote Tourism & active lifestyles: Opportunity
Winnipeg, unlike most places in Canada, has a reliable supply of snow. Quebec City also has reliable winter weather and they have embraced it: Carneval de Quebec is an annual outdoor celebration of winter. They have an ice slide, snow baths, and other fun and games. There is also the Ice Hotel, which is a hotel built entirely of ice, every year! The City of Barrie, Ontario has an amazing winter festival, that includes a snow maze, dog sled pulls, ice sculptor contest and concerts.
Problem: Snow doesn't always land where you need it.
Solution: Rather than clearing it for vehicles, move it for people. Sounds simple, but you're still scratching your head, right? So embrace it and create more cultural events that celebrate it.
I'm a professional city planner and member of the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP). I make my living improving our communities by creating great places for people to enjoy! As a planner, I always look for ways to benefit the public. Finding creative solutions to everyday problems is part of that. Planning is so much more than zoning and land development. Planners are creative and like to think 'outside the box'.
Ideas on how cities can manage extreme snow and weather conditions
1. Store snow in City parks: This is an immediate solution.
Plows clear the streets. Trucks get filled by loaders then go to a nearby city park where they dump it. Parks crews come by and groom the ‘toboggan’ hill. Once the warmer weather arrives, the snow melts and drains into the City's storm sewer. Having enough park land to accommodate the amount of snow, storage and drainage, helps reduce the load on the city sewers.
2. Store snow on private, vacant lots
This requires some creativity, a bit of cash and a medium term approach. The City needs to lease the land for storage of snow during storm events. Examples of this can be unused or seasonal parking lots, vacant property lots, etc.
3. Utilize Dormant Agricultural/Farm land
Farmers can't grow crops in the winter. Leasing agricultural land during a farmer’s off-season months is a win-win situation. Farmers can subsidize their off-season slow months and the city has a place to store the snow. What does this look like? The City plows the roads like usual. Trucks come along, get filled with snow, and then drive a little further to the edge of town to the leased farmland where the snow is dumped in the field. When warmer weather arrives, snow melts into the ground underneath the snow and roadside ditches. All we have to do is make sure the ditches are big enough. Thinking a little more about long term...
4. Update City Planning/Engineering Standards for Managing the Snow
This option requires several City departments (Engineering, Planning, Finance, Operations, Parks) to cooperate towards upgrading development standards to deal with more snow, and water. This means designing storm water pipes to take more water, and designing roads with permeable pavement and to drain to special collectors (infiltration trench) that hold the water and allow it to evaporate between events. There's also grassed swales, and designing small grassed depressions next to storm sewers in order to regulate the amount of water being released into the system.
The History of Engineers and Snow Removal Planning
Engineers are problem solvers. When the Red River had its first big flood back in 1950, engineers were called in. The solution: Red River Floodway. Since its completion in 1958, it cost $63 million, and has saved an estimated $100 billion in damage. Not a bad return on investment. This engineering solution worked on a physical problem: flooding. Dealing with large snow events can be solved with engineering, at a price.
The value Planners offer to the snow removal strategy
The City of Winnipeg employs dozens of professional planners. Why? Planners combine expertise in science and strategic planning experience, as well as creativity for ‘out of the box’ thinking. They are trained to focus on people and their community.
Because planners are creative by our very nature. When there's an issue with zoning, we have the solution. When that building is too tall, or too big, we find a solution. So let us help deal with Mother Nature.