Atlantic Cities

Instead of Plowing Snow, What If We Shaped It Into Fun Climbing Mountains or Dunes?

For winter-weather lovers, a good-sized snowfall is a blessing that doesn't come often enough. Thus it can be a bit sad when municipalities work swiftly to get rid of the white stuff, shoving it into gutters and hauling it to vacant lots to melt in isolation.

But two designers from Chicago have a plan to rejigger urban snow removal and prolong the wonderment of a winter storm. Natalya Egon and Noel Turgeon propose that cities select areas in which no plowing is allowed. Then they would have municipal snow-hauling vehicles transfer their loads into these protected zones, where people and machines would shape the frosty stuff into monumental structures: mini-mountains to climb and ski on, flat mesas offering elevated urban views, rolling dunes as pleasing on the eye as ivory-colored ocean swells. (The above image depicts wandering glaciers in Manhattan's Washington Square Park.)

The concept is called "Second Hinterlands," and here's the theory behind it from Egon's website:

Those who reside in cold and snowy cities know the thrill of a winter storm and the fleeting blanket of white that comes with it. It allows for an appreciated quietness, followed by social and cultural interactions truly unique to the urban environment....

Second Hinterlands proposes a defined and intentional shift in our current snow collection and clearing practices following the winter storm. Rather than the immediate clearing of the city streets, Second Hinterlands identifies a portion of the city that is transformed via the lack of snow removal and strategic snow relocation. Shifting territories every year, each winter brings new forms, drifts, and an entirely unique exposed landscape. Inhabitants actively engage themselves with the newly formed landscape while neighborhood boundaries soften as the softscape of snow meets the hardscape of the city.

There are obvious criticisms of this approach. Imagine the outcry at community meetings from residents in neighborhoods getting a towering snowolith. Think of the children—won't they fall off and crack their noggins? If the weather suddenly warms, will tons of snowmelt make grass lawns a squishy morass? How will cars and bikes get through? Won't dog pee, litter, and car exhaust steadily turn any delightful snow art into discolored, contaminated trash-humps?

And yet the idea resonates on an artistic level. Who has an inner child so grumpy that it doesn't want to scale a gleaming new peak in the city square? Ohio believes in the promise of "Second Hinterlands," at least: Earlier this year, a panel of architects and urban designers picked it as a winner in a contest to rethink public spaces in winter-weather cities. Have a look at some of the ways that Egon and Turgeon would change the face of snow removal, beginning with this kite-patrolled field of mounds in Moscow's Red Square. It'd be a great place to get toddlers interested in snowboarding:

Here's a jutting ridge drilled through with a pedestrian tunnel in Helsinki's Senate Square:

Heavy vehicles could help create alpine landscapes on rooftops and streets:

Some more ideas for unique snow structures:

Images from the Center for Outdoor Living Design and Natalya Egon

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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