The WinterCity Strategy is designed to reinvent winter in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) by addressing the practical barriers that prevent people from enjoying winter and making an overall cultural shift in the story residents tell about winter.
Problems and Purpose
The goal of the WinterCity Strategy is to address the diminishing effects of harsh Canadian winters and a perspective of wintertime in Edmonton as a dark and cold hibernation period. The initiative brought the public to participate in laying a foundation for a community that thinks and acts differently to curtail the negative impacts of winter to create a more livable and vibrant city year-round . The main objectives of the project are ten goals which fall under on four pillars: Winter Life, Winter Design, Winter Economy, and Our Winter Story. The strategy set a roadmap for the community to work together and become a great world-leading winter city .
Background History and Context
The project was championed by Edmonton’s City Councilor Ben Henderson. His support, along with City Councilor Scott McKeen’s, other members of the City Council, and both Mayors Stephen Mandel and Don Iveson, was critical to the WinterCity Strategy’s success . In 2011, Edmonton’s Community Services Department was tasked with transforming the city’s image. Instead of having the public view Edmonton as undesirable, the goal was to embrace the winter climate and build a more enjoyable environment .
They wanted to ensure that the public was given the opportunity to formulate what they believe will make a difference in how they perceive and experience winter . This is the first time a city in this area is allocating funds and building new infrastructure to specifically combat the effects of harsh winter .
While there was no set precedent for this type of work in Edmonton, however, this type of project had been done in other parts of the world, such as the Netherlands. The city took inspiration from their efforts and made the WinterCity Strategy their own . They had a history of creative problem solving, many initiated by City Councillor Henderson, which fostered ideas that might have otherwise been considered too risky .
The WinterCity Strategy found it critical to include citizens to develop a plan; over 700 people participated in consultations to muse on the question “What would make you fall in love with winter in Edmonton?”. For many, the discussion conjured up fond memories of childhood; while others reflected on winter in Edmonton as “dull, dark and dangerous”. They were tasked with creating a way to make the WinterCity vision a reality .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The beginning initiative was expressed by City Councillor Ben Henderson when he brought the issue to
the City of Edmonton’s Community Services Department. He tasked the department with the responsibility of creating a WinterCity Strategy, in order to make Edmonton a more livable winter city .
In December 2011, community leaders came together to form the WinterCity Think Tank. They came together to discuss what the city could do to embrace winter . They gathered ideas gained from holding community forums and private meetings. For six months, the group engaged Edmontonians in large, small and private community meetings through social and traditional media; and, with a public forum, contest, and postcard campaign. Thousands of ideas were gathered, they were dubbed the “Blizzard of Ideas”, including those from people who were self-admittedly 'winter-haters' .
Each idea was analyzed by the Think Tank and used to create a holistic strategy titled “For the Love of Winter”. As the WinterCity Strategy grows, the council continues to received feedback from the public on how to improve. Since the Winter City Strategy is about the quality of life in Edmonton, public participation was crucial for continuing with this project .
The city invested the initial $210,000 to develop the project, using operation funds from a former Community Strategies and Development Branch. Private sponsorship of $51,000 was also received. After the WinterCity Strategy was approved by the City Council in 2012, the project began to receive annual operating funding in 2013 . The WinterCity Office receives $370,000 annually for its base budget from the City of Edmonton. The City Council has periodically provided one-time funding for special events .
The WinterCity office implements the WinterCity Strategy; which is comprised of community leaders and two city councilors . Those municipal representatives appoint an Advisory Council, comprised of City of Edmonton staff and community leaders, to guide the Strategy’s implementation .
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The WinterCity Strategy initiative was open to all different types of people. Organizers engaged the public through social media, various contests, and a postcard campaign . The engagement effectively reached Edmontonians of all backgrounds, and they received thousands of ideas . When they collected data on retrospective thoughts, the city conducted evaluation interviews with variety of Edmontonians ranging from active strategy members to people who have never even heard of the project .
Organizers relied on the use of social media, phone calls, and word of mouth to communicate with citizens of Edmonton about opportunities for input and for special events, such as community forums . The recruitment was largely volunteer based, all those interested in offering input or ideas were invited to participate . Experts on urban planning, architects, and health experts intermingled with willing citizens of Edmonton to create “a uniquely Edmonton initiative” .
This process relied heavily on community outreach. They accomplished this by holding several large community forums, connected through social media channels, and hosted various idea contests. One example they used was the WinterCity Postcard Campaign, which nearly 200 people filled out postcards and offered ideas for WinterCity events . In January of 2012, the Think Tank hosted the WinterCity Kick-Off and Symposium . Hosts provided activities such as skating, live music, food and hot chocolate .
According to the “For the Love of Winter” video, participants chose to participate simply because they cared about their city . Citizens included reasons such as, getting people outside, making winter fun again, and improving public transportation as to why they felt passionately about this project .
Methods and Tools Used
The leaders of this project recognized a need for community involvement from the very beginning and that trend has continued since.
The holistic approach that project leaders took was unique, and cannot easily be defined as any of the popular participatory methods we see most commonly. However, community engagement is the foundation of this project, without Edmontonians involvement, this project would not have been continually successful .
This strategy can be credited to the WinterCity Think Tank, a group of volunteers with diverse backgrounds who recognized the need for community involvement. Using the Iceberg Systems Model, the Think Tank garnered inspiration for the ten Winter City strategy goals from public forums and consultations. The community involvement didn’t stop at the formulating level, though. The community had a say in creating the ten WinterCity goals and continue to have a say today in how to continually improve the WinterCity project. Four years after the implementation, the WinterCity council conducted interviews and data collection from citizens in order to reevaluate the process .
For this reevaluation process, the council used many different collection tools to ensure that as many voices were heard as possible. These data collection tools included, online surveys, in person interviews, and web and social media analytics. This type of evaluation was geared towards citizen involvement in the formulating process. The evaluation used a couple different types of data collection methods in order to reach a wide range of Edmontonians. The first tool included a variety of online surveys administered through the Edmonton Insight Community in December 2015, September 2016, and March 2017. Specifically, one of the online surveys asked questions relating to the relevance of the project. For example, the first question stated, “Is it important that the City of Edmonton continues its commitment to improving the quality of life in wintertime?” .
Following this outreach was a series of phone and email interviews targeting individuals who were both directly and indirectly involved in the Strategy’s developmental process .
All of the initiatives were formulated to target community members and visitors of Edmonton, to stress the importance of public involvement. The foundation of the WinterCity strategy is community participation and the voices of Edmontonians will continue to shape and influence the path of the WinterCity Strategy .
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Participation included a multitude of ways of reaching out to citizens to hear their thoughts and opinions about the WinterCity Strategy. The city held consultations, conducted surveys, and interviewed guests that visited Edmonton. There were five data collection methods used to evaluate the success of the first three years of the WinterCity strategy. Online surveys, phone/ email interviews, web analytics, data collected from relevant city departments, and asking visitors their impressions of Edmonton as a winter city .
Citizens were able to interact by participating in any of the multiple surveys that were conducted by the city. People also had an opportunity to attend national/international conferences that were held throughout Canada in 2015-2017. WinterCity office and Advisory Council members have both been invited to these conferences to better inform the public .
There were a several surveys conducted via telephone and email. The city preformed web/social media analytics to get a better grasp as to how the city felt. Conferences were held throughout Canada between 2015-2017 that had representatives informing the public about the program. Visitors to the city were interviewed on their opinions of the city's new plan .
There were at least five public consultations held for the public to have their voices heard. Over 700 people participated in the consultations, focusing on the question “What would make you fall in love with winter in Edmonton?” These events focused on dialogue to find out how winter affected each citizen of Edmonton personally and how each citizen viewed Edmonton as a winter city .
Everybody in Edmonton had an equal opportunity to have their voices and opinions heard throughout the entire process. There was a multitude of consultations, surveys, and data collection methods used to ensure nobody was able to dominate the discourse . Edmonton was relatively effective in getting members of the community to attend and participate in the WinterCity Strategy .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The strategy allowed the city to understand where Edmontonians would like the policy to take them. As intended from the outset, the ownership of the strategy rested with the community. The project laid a solid foundation based on extensive multi-faceted engagement strategy with the community. Several positive outcomes that aligned with the WinterCity Strategy change among a range of different entities .
One notable influence the WinterCity Strategy had on public policy were updates to the Snow and Ice Control Policy, which provides the framework for making the streets, sidewalks, shared pathways, and bike routes easier to get around in the winter. The policy is managed by the City’s Operations Department, who conducted their first ever extensive public consultation. The result of those findings echoed those of WinterCity Strategy. As a result, the Operations Department implemented their revised snow removal to achieve some, if not all, of the actions outlined in the WinterCity Implementation Plan .
Several organizations and non-profit groups participated in the WinterCity Advisory Council, in both leadership and advisory roles, contributing to the voice of the project and providing guidance. One of the original actions of the WinterCity Strategy Implementation Plan was to gather support from NGOs to enhance shuttle-type transit for vulnerable street populations to ensure they have easy access to social agency warming shelters .
Improved economic and social outcomes have always been a keystone to the WinterCity Strategy. The WinterCity Strategy Implementation Plan states, “We have a great opportunity to capitalize on all that being a northern city has to offer. Leveraging both the winter assets we already have, and applying a winter lens on other city investments will help us to realize their full economic benefits and, in turn, will improve our quality of life and place. This will attract more people and businesses, helping to increase our competitiveness on the global stage” .
Some major businesses have been lured into Edmonton’s river valley to participate in winter events. For example, Red Bull Crashed Ice attracted thousands to watch the Ice Cross Downhill World championship outside in a park in 2015, hosted the Winter Signature Drink competitions, and partnered with Western Canada Fashion Week. The WinterCity office has undertaken countless economy-related initiatives, such as the Winter Cities Shake-Up Conferences and Market and the Winter Festival Working Group. However, there is no hard data that proves that these have resulted in an increase in winter-related business or industry .
One of the major pillars of the WinterCity Strategy is called “Our Winter Story”, which set goals for the community to establish a shared narrative of optimistic winter life. This pillar was a fundamental key to the overall success of the project, as it set the tone the community tone. The goals were to, “celebrate the season and embrace daily living in a cold climate; promote Edmonton’s great northern story, locally, nationally, and internationally; and kick start and lead implementation of Edmonton’s WinterCity Strategy” .
In a study commissioned by the City of Edmonton, 69% of Edmontonians are more aware of the what there is to do in Edmonton during the wintertime as compared to before the WinterCity Strategy was implemented .
The process encouraged a group of City of Edmonton employees in 2016 to partner with a local business to mark “Winter Bike to Work Day” by handing out hot chocolate and cookies from 7am-9am, about 50 cyclists rode by an stopped for the treat. The next year, as many as 100 cyclists stopped by for the event. This spurred a group of cycling commuters to begin to meet weekly .
In a 2017 online survey conducted on behalf of the city,, 44% of respondents reported a more positive perception of winter. However, 45% of respondents said there had been no change in their perception, 8% reported their perceptions of winter had worsened, and 3% were unsure. Much of the negative feedback was related to infrastructure, maintenance and unreliable public transportation. The City hopes to improve many of these issues with updates to the Snow and Ice Policy, the new Transit Strategy, and other city initiatives. The city identified the top 3 barriers to improved quality of life in wintertime, which were Amenities for Pedestrians/Snow Clearing of Sidewalks/Trails (23%), Road Maintenance/Snow Clearing (11%), and Cold Public Transit Stops/More Reliable Public Transit (6%) .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
One successful aspect of the Winter City Strategy was the approach of the project. The Strategy created a freedom to think broadly, which highlighted the importance that no idea was too risky. Embracing risk taking produced a wide range of different approaches. This approach was facilitated by City Councillor Ben Henderson who has been the Strategy’s political champion. Along with his support, was Councillor Scott McKeen, following both Mayor Stephen Mandel and Don Iveson. Overall, having the support from several Councillors and leaders has been key to the success of the project .
Like any new idea, there’s bound to be things that do not work well. Facilitators mention that in the beginning stages of their project, they had to rethink some of their strategies, and that rethinking was okay. For example, Action E1.1 was originally envisioned to be separate from the City of Edmonton, however upon further consideration, the group decided to form the Winter Festival working council. 
Those in charge of this project took their shortcomings as an opportunity to learn, grow, and create the ultimate WinterCity experience. Since this project is an ongoing process, leaders are still collecting feedback from those participating and citizens of Edmonton. They gain this feedback from five different data collecting techniques, as mentioned above. This ensures that as many people as possible get their voice heard. The council then this information and considers possible changes to improve the ever-evolving WinterCity strategy .
Those behind the WinterCity Strategy held the Kick-off Symposium in January of 2012 in order to gather ideas from citizens of Edmonton. From this symposium, they developed the project’s three core principles (authentic, attitude-changing, sustainable). Organizers also held various other public forums that were used to develop twelve ideas to shape the WinterCity strategy around .
According to the 2018 Strategy and Implementation report, 37% of participants agree that outdoor winter life has improved compared to before the WinterCity strategy, along with a substantial increase in those who are aware of winter potential and those who take pride in Edmonton’s winters. According to the same report, polls also asked participants to reevaluate the five winter design elements. They found that nearly all participants agreed that all five still held considerable importance .
 City of Edmonton. (2012, October). For the Love of Winter: Strategy for Transforming Edmonton into a World-Leading Winter City. Retrieved from: https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/documents/PDF/COE-WinterCity-Love-Winter-Summary-Report.pdf
 City of Edmonton. (2013, September 10). For the Love of Winter: WinterCity Strategy Implementation Plan. Retrieved from: https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/documents/PDF/TheLoveofWinter-ImplementationPlan.pdf
 City of Edmonton. (2013, November 15). For the Love of Winter. YouTube Video. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw3jnn6_cH8
 City of Edmonton. (2018, May). 2018 Evaluation and Report. Retrieved from: https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/documents/COE_WinterCity_Evaluation_Report_FINAL.pdf
 Fricson, B. Ranson, K. (2011, February 16). Winter City Strategy: Executive Research Study Findings. Retrieved from:
 Soles, K. (2012, July 11). Edmonton WinterCity Strategy Consultation Summary. Retrieved from: https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/documents/PDF/WinterCity_Consultation_Summary_FINAL.pdf
2018 Evaluation and Report:
City Councilor Ben Henderson:
City Councilor Scott McKeen:
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson:
Edmonton, Mayor Stephen Mandel:
For the Love of Winter Video:
Link to the Community Services Department Info:
Link to information about Edmonton:
Link to Our Winter Story:
Link to WinterCity Edmonton Official Site: https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/initiatives_innovation/wintercity-strategy.aspx
Strategy and Implementation Plan, Think Tank, Kick-Off and Symposium
Winter Design Pillar:
Winter Life Pillar: