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The importance of placemaking, even in winter

Why we need to create open, welcoming and active places when the temperatures turn cold.

Kids warm up by the fire at Rink Social in Toronto.

Published on February 13, 2019

Public spaces play a vital role in making us feel connected — connected to one another, to our neighbourhood and our city as a whole.

But when the weather turns cold and the skies go dark, it’s easy to forget our public spaces continue to play this important role, especially at a time when building connections is so important.

“Winter is such an isolating time in Canada,” says Carlo Primiani, who works for the Montreal-based placemaking organization La Pépinière. “Having a public space that mitigates the effects of social isolation goes a long way.”

More research is being done on the effects of social isolation. Those who are less socially connected tend to deal with more stress and have more health problems, from heart disease to weakened immune systems. Public spaces allow people to feel more involved in their city, from the elderly, to the young and all ages in between.

This winter, Evergreen has partnered with La Pépinière and the City of Toronto to reimagine and re-energize the outdoor rinks in some of the city’s parks through a placemaking pilot called Rink Social.

Over the course of four weekends this winter, various park rinks across the city will be transformed into places where Torontonians can embrace and celebrate winter. Together we hoped to take these spaces historically most used by the fit, able and brave, and transform them into places of civic connection and inclusion.

“Our approach to placemaking is that people appropriate the spaces,” says Carlo. “The hope is that people go to the site and are opened up to the possibilities that winter can be more than just hockey. That they have an experience that is unique to themselves.”

Kids play on the ice at rink social.

“The social aspect of both the layout of the space and the way that our team interacts with the public is a key part of bringing warmth to a winter setting," says Evergreen's Cam Collyer. "We set a stage that has many moveable parts that the public is invited to manipulate to suit their fancy. This aspect is fun, engaging and a central part of the public engagement process that starts during planning and continues through the life of a project.”

Here is what we heard, and just some of the ways these rinks are transforming for the Rink Social weekends:

Lighting and Music: So much of our public infrastructure is grey, something that is even more emphasized in winter with the lack of natural sunlight. Adding unique lighting and music livens up our parks and add to their ability to be more welcoming spaces for all.

Loose-Parts Play:  Providing families with options for off-rink activities is important so parents with children of different ages are able to extend their time in the park. Loose-parts play sparks children's connection with nature and encourages creativity.

Skate Rentals: Most park rinks don’t have skate rentals available. By adding affordable rental options during the Rink Social events, we are making skating a more open and inclusive activity.

Warming Stations: Spending time outdoors means warmth is even more important. It’s an essential part of making people feel safe, comfortable and welcomed. A crackling fire provides an ambiance and temporary warming stations offer a gathering place where people can rest, talk, and share stories.

Families sledge on the ice at Rink Social.

This work is just beginning. As a pilot program, this initiative will help us gather information from residents to guide future space and program design. Placemaking is a truly fluid process that is always changing and transforming depending on who is using the space, their needs and their interests.

Just like other placemaking initiatives across the country, we hope this project is to creates places across the city where Torontonians will meet, enjoy themselves, and find delight in the winter months.

Learn more about the Rink Social from the City of Toronto, or visit La Pépinière’s website to learn more about their work creating and programming great places.