Toronto, Landscape & Urban Design, Epic Rants

Myths about Public Space in Canada

What really gets my goat, assuming I had a goat to be had, is when architects / designers are talking about the necessity of creating walkable cities with vibrant street life and then someone in the audience pipes up with:

Canada can't have good public squares / public space / walkable cities / bike paths because our weather is too cold and horrible for 9 months of the year.

Ahem.

FACT: The average latitude in degrees north of most Canadian cities is the same or less than that of notable European cities like Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg, Brussels, London, Prague, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Helsinki. All of these countries experience winter weather ranging from rainy and grey (similar to Vancouver) to bitterly cold and dark (similar to Edmonton / Calgary but with an added dash of just 0.6 average hours of daylight). All of these cities have incredibly active public spaces, busy streets, and walkable/bike-able neighbourhoods that stay this way even in inclement weather.

FACT: if we are talking about Toronto, the average daily temperature is above 5 degrees Celsius for 8 months of the year, not the opposite. I once made a blog post about how stoic Northern Europeans are when it comes to weather compared to Canadians. You should go read it and then feel shame.

FACT: We should be more concerned about the heat-island effect and desertification caused by vast swathes of permeable surfaces being covered in asphalt than we should be about being cold walking down the street in the winter. Heat and the non-absorption of water in cities are very serious issues.

However, in the end I think the point is not 'buck up and stop being a damn fool', but rather:

Let's look at ways to build cities that are actually places we want to be, and where the necessities of life are close at hand so that when the weather turns to shite we don't need to spend 45 minutes waiting on a cold metal seat in a blizzard for an unheated bus to transport us to a smart centre in the ass end of suburbia. 

Ya know?

Our lives are basically a matter of habit. When you have a decently compact, accessible city, it means that you get used to a certain way of doing things - of moving around the neighbourhood. I could bike and walk so easily in Copenhagen and Berlin that it became a habit. So when the days of rain, cold, and cornea-stabbing ice pellets of doom came around I was still so used to biking and walking that I just kept on doing it.

And on that note, I'm going for a bike ride.