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4 Ways to Make Cold-Weather Places Cool for People of All Ages

These community-building events are just as much fun for the spectators as for the participants

Ice skating on a frozen canal in Ottawa, Canada

Photo from 123rf

Come winter, Ottawa's Rideau Canal becomes a 4.8 mile ice skating rink.

Here, just a few examples of fun, age-friendly activities and events that get people outdoors when the weather turns cold.

Wintry Copenhagen

Winter is rotten in Denmark. Think icy rain and monotonously gray skies. The sun does not rise until mid-morning, and it's dark again at 4 p.m. Yet Danes rank among the world's happiest people, and the capital city of Copenhagen buzzes with street life all winter long. How do they do it? 

"Cultures and climates differ all over the world, but people are the same. They will gather in public if you give them a good place to do it," explains Jan Gehl, a renowned expert on livable cities.

Gehl explains that Copenhagen has extended its "nice weather" season by two full months in both the fall and the spring by adding heaters, supplying blankets and cozying things up with candles for people who want to continue to sit outside at sidewalk tables.

Local landscape architects pay meticulous attention to patterns of wind and sunshine so people can comfortably stay outdoors in parks and squares. One of the best ways to do this is with moveable chairs, so people can scoot this way or that to bask in the sunshine or duck out of the wind.

Outdoor Fun

Berlin sets up bocce ball courts in the snow.

Minneapolis sponsors the Loppet, an urban cross-country ski festival and 35K ice-cycle bike race through the heart of town.

In Ottawa, Canada, the canals become the focal point of civic life as people don ice skates for a chance to skate through a wintry landscape rather than just making circles around a rink or pond.

Frozen Festivals

Winter carnivals are a great tradition that spice up the doldrums of January and February.

St. Paul, Minnesota, has been throwing a mid-winter bash for more than 100 years, complete with a torchlight parade where precision drill teams march in formation pushing snowblowers.

Burlington, Vermont, throws its own frozen but lively Mardi Gras celebration.

About every 10 years St. Paul builds an ice palace and the whole town turns out to celebrate.

Harbin, China does things on a bigger scale with dozens of massive castles and statues every January at its month-long International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.

Let The Lights Shine

Darkness, as much as cold and snow, can curtail people's enjoyment of the outdoors during winter. Some cities respond by artistically stringing lights throughout business districts, creating an overall ambience of delight that makes people want to linger outside even when it is chilly. And the lights stay on all winter, not just during the holiday season.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, streets feel cozier thanks to an illuminated "roof" of lights shining overhead.

Paris creates a winter wonderland by lighting trees with pale blue lights that create a dramatic effect.  "Every store in Paris tries to outdo the others with artistic lighting displays," reports Ethan Kent of Project for Public Spaces.

Jay Walljasper is a writer, speaker and consultant on how to make communities more successful, lively and fun. He is author of the "Great Neighborhood Book" and lives in Minneapolis — year-round!

Published November 2015

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