2023 Bentway Public Space Fellow Celeste Davis Meledath underscores the potential of our communal spaces to be hubs for innovative experimentation. ‘Microclimate Of Winter Public Spaces’ examines how public spaces interact with our evolving climate and offers design directives to enhance natural integration and ensure community safety.
As a newcomer to Toronto, Celeste has been contemplating the city’s fierce winters and their impact on public spaces. Amid this wintry backdrop stands The Bentway Skate Trail, a cherished public gem that embodies Toronto’s vibrant and resilient spirit. This led to a deeper inquiry: How can such spaces persist and flourish amidst our evolving weather conditions?
Public spaces are more than just recreational hubs; they’re vital communal anchors. They not only drive away the season’s gloom by fostering celebrations but also serve as essential gathering points during emergencies, reinforcing the community’s resilience and unity. And in a world increasingly influenced by climate change, it’s imperative to comprehend how treasured locales like The Bentway evolve and adapt.
Celeste’s research commenced with exploring the site’s interaction with weather elements. Through conversations with Michael Clarke, The Bentway’s insightful site manager, she realized the everyday dance between the site team and the weather. It’s an intricate interplay involving the Zamboni, the sun, the winds, and the warning systems—competing tensions that significantly influenced the direction of her research.
Consider a brisk winter day at The Bentway Skate Trail. The wind blows from the west, differently affecting the thermal comfort of warmed-up skaters and seated visitors. A comforting sunlight bathes the ice, but as the season wears on, it can become a double-edged sword, compromising ice quality on the trail. As temperatures edge upwards, so does the energy consumption of the refrigeration system, concealed beneath the skate trail’s surface, diligently maintaining the ice.
In her research, Celeste draws inspiration from scholars like Norman Pressman and explores the intricate crossroads of urban design and climate change. Pressman’s work illuminates the nuanced evolution of Canada’s approach to winter design. At the core this idea is a fundamental question— How can we enhance winter infrastructure to address the weather challenges and ensure safety for users?
The Changing Climate
According to the City of Toronto, climate change is poised to intensify Toronto’s weather, making it wetter and more volatile in the coming years1. This is echoed by the Toronto Region Conservancy Authority, which anticipates a significant uptick in the number of days exceeding 30°C annually2. Yet, it’s not just the heat; it’s the unpredictability—sudden cold snaps, heatwaves, and winters that defy expectations.
Norman Pressman asserts that “The accurate measure of a livable city is its adaptability to the shifting weather patterns across different seasons”. Micro-level infrastructural interventions emerge as a profound response to this need for adaptability with natural elements. These interventions/design solutions must be as flexible and configurable as the climates they intend to mitigate.
To assess the site’s thermal comfort levels and identify influencing factors, Celeste analyzed data from past Bentway projects focused on weather patterns. Further, she examined the site’s emissions during the winter months. Applying design directives emerging from her research, a series of micro-climate priorities, design considerations, and criteria were formed around the Bentway’s Winter Skate Trail.
To infuse a fresh perspective and harness experimental design expertise, The Bentway invited eleven students from the Department of Architectural Sciences at the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) to address the competing priorities presented by the Winter Skate Trail. Given two weeks, these students tapped into their innovative design skills to present distinct concepts. They were guided by prompts centered around transformative capabilities, resilient materials, and the incorporation of clean energy.
The final part of Celeste’s research showcases students’ designs for deployable, responsive assemblies for The Bentway, highlighting areas optimized for thermal comfort. These designs acknowledge weather systems that both invigorate the space and enhance accessibility.
As we celebrate the multifaceted beauty of winter, The Bentway, a year-round public space emerges as a tangible testament to our ability to design not merely in response to seasons but in harmony with them. This report is not just a case study but a clarion call to architects, designers, and stakeholders to shape a future where our interaction with public spaces is not dictated by the weather but instead, where the weather becomes a tool that enhances our collective experience.
To truly flourish as a community, we must embrace the frost, the wind, and the chill.
 City of Toronto, ” About the Climate Crisis,” 2023. About the Climate Crisis – City of Toronto
 Toronto Region Conservancy Authority, “ TAKING ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE IN TORONTO REGION, 2023″ Taking Action on Climate Change in Toronto Region – Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA)