Some thoughts on #yegsnowfight. A planner’s perspective on place.

Some thoughts on #yegsnowfight. A planner’s perspective on place.

I have spent the better part of the past ten years questioning what ‘place’ and ‘community’ mean.  From my perspective as an urban planner, place is about community. It is about bringing people together. It is about the relationships we develop in and through our everyday interactions.

These encounters are sometimes fleeting, lasting just a second or two. In other cases, they might last a lifetime. These encounters shape who we are, how we see the world around us, and how we belong in our communities.  Encounters are powerful. They have enormous impact – they can make us feel safe, welcome, embraced – but also scared, neglected, disempowered, even hated.

#yegsnowfight taught me a great deal about the power of place. Five weeks ago I sent out a tweet, complaining that Calgary was getting snow while Edmonton still had none.  Some twitter banter ensued between myself and Robin Mazumder (a then stranger) ending with the decision to meet for a beer. #yegsnowfight (and a newfound friendship) was born.

We invited strangers to join us for an impromptu snowball fight at a secret location. For weeks leading up to the event we took to social media and collected thousands of phone numbers for a mass text message announcement that would be sent out 24 hours before the snow fight.  The story went viral and Edmontonians collectively did something beyond our wildest imaginations.

We finally sent the message on Saturday December 6, and on Sunday we met strangers and friends on the fields at Kinsmen Park. Young and old took part in a snowball fight that lasted about an hour. I met babies, kids, and grandparents. I met parents, teenagers, entire families. I met Edmontonians and visitors. People who have been here a lifetime, and others who have just arrived. What I will remember about this day: The number of innocent, genuine, happy encounters I witnessed between strangers.

#yegsnowfight says something about Edmonton. It says something about who we are as residents and as strangers. For me, #yegsnowfight says we’re the kind of city that can embrace the spontaneous encounter to make each other feel welcome, connected, and embraced.  We’re a city that can laugh and have fun together.

As a planner, it’s these moments that inspire me to do what I do. I work for a big City, and a big bureaucracy, in which it can be possible to lose sight of the fleeting encounters and moments which I believe truly shape our city. It can be easy to lose sight of what matters, of my professions deepest aspirations – places for people. #yegsnowfight reminds me what is possible in our city – places where people feel connected and welcome, where strangers smile and embrace one and other.

ps. A big thank you to my friend Robin Mazumder, the folks at Kinsmen (for the patience), the folks with Winter City (for always bringing their A-game love for winter), and the team at CITYlab for supporting the event!