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‘This won’t be a normal winter’: Plan in the works to take chill off Calgary communities

Fine details are in the works, but one city councillor wants to bring a little light to what could be a dark and lonely Calgary winter for some.

Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell said she’s hoping to remove administrative barriers for Calgary communities looking to provide civic warmth during the city’s winter months.

Coun. Farrell wants to allow for temporary street closures to bring neighbours together. She wants citizens to pull out their propane-powered fire pits so their neighbours can gather safely on the street.  Maybe even road closures for community street hockey games, or additional fire pits in area parks.  

“It’s really up to the imagination of the community,” she said.

“This won’t be a normal winter, so we need to change our processes to make it easier for people.”

Of course, the gatherings would need to adhere to Calgary’s current public health restriction of 15 people for social gatherings. Masking and physical distancing would also be required.

They’d also like to introduce microgrants, administered through the Parks Foundation Calgary, to help Calgary neighbourhoods try something new.

“It’s about being open-minded to winter and recognizing that we have to look at winter differently,” Coun. Farrell said.

Efforts to winterize Calgary

Mayor Nenshi said while his idea of a winter patio strategy hit a cold front last week with weather dipping deep into minus temperatures, it’s important for people to be outdoors.

COVID-19 cases have spiked in the Calgary region and both he and Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Tom Sampson attributed it to the recent cold spell.

“We want to encourage people to, when you can, continue to be outdoors,” the mayor said during a COVID-19 media update earlier this week.

“When you’re indoors you’ve got to be a lot more careful.”

The city is encouraging more people to get outdoors, but they have also ended the adaptive roadways around the city. The latest was the re-opening of Crescent Road, which had been closed to traffic for more than five months.

“Our volunteers had planned to program this space for residents and visitors throughout the coming winter months, recognizing that this dark, cold pandemic winter will be difficult for many Calgarians,” read a statement from the Crescent Heights Community Association.

“From fire pits to snowman making competitions and socially distanced hot chocolate, our volunteers had come up with a range of ideas to get Calgarians outside, enjoying the iconic views on the ridge this winter without worrying about vehicles.”

Farrell hopes her plan allows for these activities.

Red tape for road closures

Right now, a community needs 80 per cent approval from residents on the block for a road closure. Then they go through a formal application process.

That comes with a cost.

She likens the proposed approach to Neighbour Day – that one day in June when Calgarians come together to celebrate the resilience during the 2013 floods.

“With Neighbour Day we made it easy. We waived the fee, we provided barriers and just allowed people to gather on the street. It’s a ‘get-out-of-the-way approach,’” Coun. Farrell said.

“Neighbour Day is extremely successful. But we can expand that into winter.”

The project cost isn’t yet known. Those details will be ironed out in the next two weeks. Rules will be defined around the gatherings and what will be allowed (fire pits, closures, etc.)

Farrell wants communities to start talking about these winter ideas to generate a buzz around bringing neighbours together.

Calgarians’ physical and mental health will be tested this coming winter, Farrell said. Especially if COVID-19 cases continue to climb and further public health measures are taken.

“It’s really to give hope and light during this long winter,” she said.

Further details will be available by mid-November.