Four steps for city dwellers to improve winter

The Danish concept of hygge may have the four part secret for surviving winters in dense settings:

Hygge principle: Warmth. Unlike some American cities, where snow seems like a shocker year after year, Scandinavian cities acknowledge and build for their cold climate, with higher energy standards for walls and doors, vestibules that prevent drafts, coat racks for winter gear, and public plazas that block wind and capitalize on southern sun. Then there’s the ritual of the sauna…

Hygge principle: Light and color. With far fewer hours of sunlight, wintertime contentment relies on literal or metaphorical brightness—hence the typical Danish scenes of candle-bedecked dinner tables and windows laced with twinkle lights, or Copenhagen’s streets with their famous Crayola-colored buildings…

Hygge principle: Access to nature. While hygge’s overarching style seems to be an indoorsy, “cocoa by the fire” feel, Pia Edberg, author of The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of the Simple Things Through the Danish Concept of Hygge, points out that experiencing nature is elemental to hygge. “As the old saying goes: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.’”…

Hygge principle: Gathering places. Perhaps the most important antidote to winter’s isolation is hygge’s emphasis on communal gathering and social connection. In Copenhagen, privately owned third places—restaurants, bars, cafes, bookstores—are as central to the wintery social life as public squares are in the summertime.

The American way of rugged individualism may lead to many long cold winter nights…

Really, though, these adaptations to climate are interesting to consider. Every so often, you will find people making arguments that places like the Sunbelt in the United States are attractive because of their warmer weather. But, how much is this a factor versus other possible factors? Or, how is it that many countries along the equator and in tropical zones are outside of the first world? Would New York be the leading global city in the world if it had a climate like Miami or Cairo? In this case of Denmark, is it more about a different kind of society – the Scandinavian way of life that seems to make it to the top of a number of rankings for best places to live – rather than an approach to winter?

At the same time, it wouldn’t hurt to have more fun during the winter months. The weather and lack of sun from Thanksgiving to New Year’s doesn’t seem to prompt the same kind of despondency prompted by January and February.

Local governments staring at higher salt prices ahead of winter

The supply of salt is tight, leading to higher prices for local governments:

Replenishing stockpiles is proving challenging, especially for some Midwestern states, after salt supplies were depleted to tame icy roads last winter. And price increases of at least 20 percent have been common in places including Boston and Raleigh, North Carolina…

Some local governments are avoiding the problem thanks to multi-year contracts or secured bids. Chicago, for example, used roughly three times more salt last winter — 436,000 tons — than it did in 2012-2013, but the city has locked-in rates based on a contract negotiated a few years ago.

Other states aren’t so lucky.

In Ohio, where more than 1 million tons of salt was used on state roads last year — a nearly 60 percent increase over the average — last year’s average price was $35 per ton. This year, 15 counties received bids of more than $100 per ton, and 10 counties received no bids from suppliers…

For road officials, that translates into having to conserve and be creative. In many places, brine is added to salt to boost its effectiveness. Officials also are buying trucks that can, among other things, spread salt in the morning and clean streets later in the day.

I’m sure a lot of these governments are hoping for less-than-normal snowfalls. At the same time, it is also a good time for creative solutions to getting snow and ice off roads. I hope the long-term answer isn’t what we often saw in northern Indiana: just don’t completely clear the roads at all during the winter. This may have been due to the higher amounts of snowfall due to lake effect snow on the east side of Lake Michigan and it wasn’t terrible because of a lack of hill. Still, such a general strategy would slow down a lot of road travel.

I haven’t seen this suggested anywhere but is anyone thinking of some sort of special and/or temporary tax to cover road salt? These are public roads and the funds have to come from somewhere. Such ploys wouldn’t be popular with motorists but it could be more desirable than taking your life into your hands anytime driving during the winter.

Potholes can be avoided by spending more on road upkeep

Communities can limit the number of potholes they experience each winter if they spent more money upfront on maintaining roads:

The answer doesn’t lie in a revolutionary new cement or asphalt mix — yet, experts say. Instead, it comes down to a few simple things: quality materials, experienced builders, plus regular road maintenance and reconstruction.

“A lot of things cause potholes, but at the core they’re caused because we don’t do enough road maintenance. We push our roads too far and too hard,” said engineer Don Hillebrand, head of Argonne National Laboratory’s Transportation Research Center…

Avoiding potholes starts with getting it right the first time, said Mohsen Issa, a University of Illinois at Chicago structural and materials engineering professor…

Hillebrand, a former auto executive with Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz, spent time in Germany, where “they view roads as a serious thing and spend much more on road maintenance than we do and expect them to last longer,” he said. Deeper foundations and thicker concrete help preserve German roads, he noted.

Roads seem to be the sort of thing many people don’t pay attention to until things start going wrong. However, as this article notes, roads have to be built well and continually maintained. This requires a good deal of resources that people may not want to spend until something goes wrong. Yet, when things do go wrong, fixes are not necessarily quick or easy. This provides a classic lesson in infrastructure: spending money upfront pays off down the road.

A question: just how many pothole stories can the media run this winter?