Friday, December 16, 2016

Snow cities – More than just pretty pictures and eggnog lattes

Winter cities pose special challenges for safety and accessibility

by Tarah Hodgkinson

This past week, in cities all over Canada, thousands of pictures have been posted to social media about snow. Canadians are used to snow of course, except for Vancouverites, who see snow about three times a year and never see it last. This year it has snowed several times already in Vancouver and residents and city crews are struggling to keep the roads clean and drivers safe.

However, while we may like to take pretty pictures of the recent snowfall, or complain about how drivers can’t seem to figure out how to drive in these conditions, the snow also creates serious issues for aging or (dis)Abled populations. For over a decade I have been an ambassador and advocate for those living with Multiple Sclerosis. Thus, every winter, I witness the struggle that winter weather creates for both aging and (dis)Abled Canadians.

Snow limits access for (dis)Abled and aging people  

SafeGrowth blogs in the past point to CPTED in winter cities. In this case, the major issue is that cities have not been built with (dis)Abled or aging people in mind. Planners, developers and engineers have excluded many people who do not fit the “normal” shape and created infrastructure for the “standard” body size and abilities. Furthermore, (dis)Abled people are rarely included in decisions about city design or policy.

Even when there is city policy that considers the needs of the (dis)Abled, in practice these needs are ignored. For example, a recent study in Prince George, BC found that although city bylaws required sidewalk snow removal, in practice removal rarely happened. Residents often had to complain and when it was finally removed, it was done so hastily that it created further barriers for the (dis)Abled.


The issue here is two-fold, not only are (dis)Abled individuals unable to use these spaces easily or effectively, but they also experience a great deal of emotional and physical stress in going about their daily activities resulting in both mental health issues and feeling permanently excluded or out of place.

How can we expect to engage everybody in a community, when some are unable to leave their homes for weeks at a time because of poor city design? Cities have been able to overlook many of the concerns of people with disability, as they are often poorly funded and inaccessibility prevents participation.  However, with an aging population there is now a tipping point of public pressure that cities can not ignore. Design must change with the changing times.

1 Reply so far - Add your comment

Mateja Mihinjac said...

Great blog Tarah!

Lack of inclusiveness is certainly a big problem of urban and especially non-urban areas. I think this also extends to other groups that fall out of the perceived societal norm if we truly are to make places for all. It starts with inviting people to the table and recognising their value as integral part of our society—surely it can’t be that difficult?