A Canadian landscape architect recently proposed an Edmonton Freezeway, a multi-use trail to promote active lifestyles during long, cold Canadian winters.

Matt Gibbs recently won top prize in the Coldscapes international design competition with his Freezeway entry, which began as the thesis for his Master’s degree in landscape architecture.

With over 80 submissions, Gibbs was selected as the 2013 winner for his vision to create a winter icon for the city of Edmonton that will make people anticipate rather than dread the cold season.

“I really tried to focus on all the things that we often consider a detriment to living in this climate and turn it into something amazing,” said Gibbs, a born and raised Edmontonian.

Alberta’s capital city of Edmonton experiences temperatures below freezing for about five months of the year.

Project proposal passing urban green spaces

Gibbs envisions the 11-kilometre Freezeway will combat the sedentary lifestyle that most Albertans struggle to avoid.  The urban design promotes active lifestyles, social activity, an iconic identity, and a sustainable form of transportation.

“It allows you to skate to work or to a hockey game, or just to have fun,” said Gibbs. “I think it would improve the lives of so many people and really put us on the map in terms of a world-class city.”

The idea is plausible considering other cold climate cities that have been using outdoor ice skating paths for leisure and transportation for ages, with Ottawa’s Rideau Canal and the Amsterdam canal ring serving as two prime examples.

“For me, the main objective of the Freezeway was creating this space that seduced people to go outside, with light displays and exciting activities, hopefully bringing families and children outside away from Game Boys and Nintendos, and to be more connected with their environment,” said Gibbs.

The route would serve as a cycling path during the summer and would be converted into the world’s first curbside skating lanes during winter. The skate path would connect city attractions with green spaces and would feature several sites where users could stop and warm up or get a hot drink along the way.

The Edmonton Freezeway proposal

The proposal links two existing greenways and bridges the urban space between them to create a route that would take 45 minutes by bike, or 90 minutes to skate. The route would also cater to tourists by including skate rental offices at many of the adjacent LRT stations.

Ornamental lights will add aesthetic touches to the several corridors of the path, such as LED-lit tree branches that mist in the summer and mimic the northern lights in the winter.

Edmonton City Council member Ben Henderson says the Freezeway is an interesting idea but requires more work to establish its practicality.

He says the Freezeway would assist the plea from the city for Edmontonians to embrace the cold by creating a sense of fun and energy, yet admits that variable weather may make keeping the ice in good condition a real challenge.

Gibbs says his proposal fits well with the city’s current attempts to implement a WinterCity strategy to inject life into the freezing city.

“I think the city needs something to really rally around that gets at the heart of what the place is, which is this amazingly friendly, generous, outgoing, physically and socially active community,” he said.