Activating Outdoor Spaces in Winter

While normally Virginians hunker down during the hottest and coldest months, sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic has invigorated within some people a desire to be outside when normally they would have stayed home. Our neighboring Main Street programs in the Northeast, Midwest and Mountain states can offer many ideas that celebrate winter in all its glory, even in the Southeast.

  • Emphasize personal warmth. If you have seasonal marketing materials and/or media assets, be sure to depict people properly dressed for the fourth season. It may seem counterintuitive, but Southerners may need to be reminded to where warm hats, scarves and gloves in addition to coats while they are out and about. Selling branded blankets and hand warmers can take the edge off of a long sit outside but nothing beats having the right clothing on in the first place.
  • Judicious use of heating devices. Fire pits and gas-powered heaters can create ambiance and help take the edge off a chilly space, but they cannot change the season. Check with local fire codes before investing heavily in outdoor heating. And be sure to take social distancing into account during the pandemic.
  • Bring out the snow games! If your temperatures stay low enough long enough, consider setting up a small ice ring or wheeling out a snow machine to build a base of snow for games and activities. Bowling, curling, skating, ice shuffle board and other games can be enjoyed even during the era of social distancing if managed correctly.
  • Plan ahead for snow days. If and when a real snow day comes, plan ahead with the public works department about ideal places to pile up snow banks. Do you need to preserve parking spaces? Could snow banks be used as wind breaks to help make a space cozier? Try to work that out before a snow day hits.
  • Encourage decorating for the season. In addition to public decorations during the holidays, encourage business owners to decorate their windows and doors for the season. This can be done with in conjunction with contests, retail promotions, and fundraisers.

For more inspiration, check out Bench Places design guide featuring crowd-sourced ideas from Main Street communities across the country and Michigan Main Street’s Winter Strategies Guide. While written for the COVID-19 era, both resources offer solutions that can be applied after the pandemic is resolved.

Examples of Winter Design Strategies from Michigan Main Street and their partners, 2020.