Snow Day: Can Your City Pass the Winter Test?

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Nearly a year ago, just after moving to Waco, Texas, I found myself huddled on the couch with my roommate, wearing every possible layer I could and jumping up every few minutes to do jumping jacks and burpees. Once in a while, I’d peek outside the window and gaze in silent awe at the empty, quiet streets. 

The city had been stunned into frigid silence by a freakishly cold and harsh blizzard. Dubbed “snowpocalypse,” the experience revealed to Texans the fragility of our energy supply and the frightening implications of cities designed around cars. Recent events in Virginia earlier this month are leading to similar conclusions.

As a transplant to Texas from Brooklyn, the experience served as an interesting contrast to my six years of urban living. In New York City, blizzards functioned as speed bumps, slowing us down for a few hours, but never bringing ordinary life to a complete and screeching halt. Rather, urban snowfalls transformed ordinary life into something new, adventurous, and beautiful. 

Countless times I used blizzards as an excuse to cook an extra complicated recipe and curl up with a good movie. Once the snow had fallen, I’d bundle up in my chic layers and either carry on with errands and work as normal (just at a slower and slushier pace) or I might set out to celebrate the snow. It became a joyful excuse to meet up with a friend for coffee, amble aimlessly through the West Village with my camera, or journey up to North Manhattan for a silent walk at the Cloisters before lunch at Maxx Café in Morningside Heights. 

Last year’s Snowpocalypse was not my first suburban winter. In 2014, I braved several blizzards without a car while researching economic development in Chattanooga for two months. And in 2016, I watched many heavy snowfalls from my window in Providence, Rhode Island. In both settings, the urban environment activated a particular kind of response to the snow, shaping my daily choices as well as my relationships to people, nature, and the city, itself.  

In urban environments, I found myself responding to blizzards with curiosity and excitement. The snow had transformed the city into a place that was at once both familiar and new, begging for exploration. I couldn’t wait to see my favorite neighborhoods draped in their new outfits. Yes, I had seen Chinatown, but have you seen it in the snow? Grab your camera, let’s go!

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