Forget Snowplows: Let’s Turn Snow From The Next Winter Storm Into Giant Forts

Two Chicago designers have an alternative proposal to cleaning up snow in the winter: leave it where it is so that people can create snow playgrounds.

Every winter, cities like New York and Boston spend tens of millions of dollars hauling away snow. But what if the snow got turned into makeshift mountains and giant forts instead?


That’s the vision of two Chicago-based designers, Natalya Egon and Noel Turgeon, who want to make snow days–and the experience of seeing city streets transformed into a place to play–last a little longer than usual. In Second Hinterlands, they propose designating certain sections of a city as places to turn into snowy playgrounds for the winter.

Even though Second Hinterlands started as a conceptual project, Egon says there’s no reason it couldn’t actually happen. “There is, of course, a long list of logistical issues, so it couldn’t be done literally everywhere, but it’s our hope that cities begin to treat the winter in a more playful way,” she explains. “Some cities already do, whether they intend to or not. We’re thinking of the huge snow piles that form in parking lots after plowing–kids love to play in those already.”

“We’re not arguing that this should be done everywhere and all the time–our images show the extreme possibilities of the idea,” adds Turgeon. “But as a moment or event within the city, it would create many social and memorable interactions that people miss during the winter. Cities are already moving snow at enormous volumes to get it OUT of the city, so we know it’s physically possible to do it. It’s just a matter of selecting an actual site and directing the relocation of snow from elsewhere to that site.”

Beyond saving cities money on hauling snow away, the playgrounds could have environmental benefits, too. Obviously, trucking tons of snow around takes a lot of gas. And some cities, like Montreal, send a big chunk of their snow to special snow-melting facilities, which have giant hair-dryer-like devices that guzzle even more energy. Other cities still dump excess snow in rivers or lakes, even though oil and salt can damage anything living in the water.

Whatever the motivation, Egon and Turgeon hope that more cities will play with snow. Both designers have always lived in snow-bound cities–Minneapolis, St. Paul, Boston, Chicago, New York City, and Hartford–and love how winter storms can change a neighborhood. “Even though snow can quickly lose its clean and white crispness in an urban environment, there’s always that moment of joy, wonder, and quiet when you step outside after a snowfall,” Egon says.

Earlier this year, the project won the Center for Outdoor Living Design’s COLD competition for ways to improve livability in cold weather cities and “provoke a critical assessment of idealized representations from warmer seasons.” Summer, move over. Winter can be fun too.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.