Why does the University of Alberta want to be part of the Galleria project?

“The University has long desired to establish a significant campus in downtown Edmonton.”

That’s the first thing the Edmonton Downtown Academic and Cultural Centre (Galleria) business case from April 2013 identifies under opportunities and benefits for the University of Alberta. It sounds plausible, given the ongoing interest in revitalizing downtown and the University’s desire to play a role in the larger Edmonton community. But is it really true?

Here’s what columnist Paula Simons wrote in November 2001:

“Officially, a downtown campus isn’t an option. I’ve spoken to U of A President Rod Fraser, to University Provost Doug Owram, and to Jim Mitchell, the university’s vice-president of facilities. They all tell me it would be too expensive to build downtown, much more than developing land they already own in Garneau or southwest Edmonton. They say it would be too hard to find suitable space for labs and large lecture theatres. They say students and staff would feel isolated from campus life and facilities. They say it’s not their mandate to save downtown, but to serve the best interests of the U of A.”

That was around the time that the University of Alberta’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) was being developed (approved in 2002). It provides “a planning framework to accommodate and to guide physical development on University lands during the next thirty years.” Though it focuses on land and facilities that the University already owns, it does deal explicitly with the idea of a downtown campus:

ualberta lrdp

Though the plan has been amended a few times over the years, notably to incorporate Augustana Campus and most recently to incorporate updated plans for South Campus, that section has never been changed. “South Campus will accommodate much of the growth of the University of Alberta for the next thirty years” is what the most recent amendment says.

Even in 2005, when the University announced plans to buy the Hudson’s Bay building, it was not seen as a first step toward a larger campus in downtown or a change to previous plans. New President Indira Samarasekera said “the University of Alberta is a contributor to business, arts, and other sectors,” adding “we have an obligation to the community that we take seriously, and a downtown presence will build on that.” A few years later at the official opening of Enterprise Square, she said “that the University has finally crossed the river and found a place in the heart of the city is very significant” but also admitted that “it initially scared the heck out of me; we took a leap of faith.”

It was with some surprise then that Provost and Vice President Academic Dr. Carl Amrhein posted the following on the University of Alberta’s blog yesterday:

“The Galleria project is more than much-needed space for the University of Alberta—it is consistent with the university’s vision of an urban, linear campus connected by LRT where students, faculty and members of the public move freely around the city to access world-class teaching and research experiences offered at Edmonton’s post-secondary institutions. Imagine the vibrancy that 5,000 art, design and music students, faculty and staff will bring to the downtown core. Imagine the potential when students and professional artists interact through linkages with the Winspear, Citadel and Art Gallery of Alberta. The creative energy will be palpable!”

That seems to contradict not only statements by earlier University officials, but also the LRDP. Had the need for “an integrated campus environment” changed? Had the disadvantages about paying rent changed? Did student leaders now find a downtown location desirable? I reached out to Dr. Amhrein for clarification.

“There’s a technical point,” he told me, “which is that the Long Range Development Plan is concerned with real estate that the university owns and controls.” Given that the U of A would be leasing space inside the new Galleria project, it wouldn’t necessarily contradict the plan. He recognized the larger point however, and said “the argument for integrated locations is ease of mobility and the ability to move people around in a certain amount of time.” That’s where the LRT comes in.

Bay/Enterprise Square
Bay/Enterprise Square LRT Station, photo by Christopher Cotrell

“The feature that made Enterprise Square imaginable was the LRT,” Dr. Amrhein told me. “It meant that it was no more difficult to get from HUB to Enterprise Square than it was to get from HUB to South Campus.” He said the U of A’s first question then about the Galleria project was, “is there an LRT stop?” As both Churchill LRT Station and MacEwan LRT Station are close, the goal of an “urban, linear campus connected by LRT” is achieved at the Galleria, according to Dr. Amrhein.

In his blog post, Dr. Amrhein reiterated the University of Alberta’s key requirement for the Galleria:

“Yes, the university has identified climate-controlled access to the Galleria from the LRT as critical for our students, faculty and staff, and the patrons of the performances at the Galleria theatres and concert halls. A pedway is one solution, but there are others.”

He sounded annoyed that the pedway had become such a touch point in discussions about the Galleria. “The pedway is not a deal-breaker for the University,” he told me. Only “climate-controlled access” is a requirement. When I asked him to suggest alternatives to a pedway that could meet that requirement, initially he dodged the question. But asked a second time, he suggested the position of the buildings could provide the required access, citing the Telus towers and their connection to the LRT as an example. “Clever positioning with a plus fifteen would achieve the same result,” he said, noting that the project architects would have to rethink their plans to make that happen.

Dr. Amrhein told me the University requires climate-controlled access for three reasons. The first is the need to move faculty, staff, and students around campus in short periods of time. “When it’s dark and cold, there’s a disincentive to move around the facilities,” he said. The second is safety, which Dr. Amrhein said has been “completely lost in the conversation.” He stressed the importance of safety, saying that pedways are “well-lit and heated, and very visible” and that they often include security features. “There’s a personal safety issue here.” The third is accessibility of the performance venues for the community.

AuroraCollege_jm258
Dr. Carl Amrhein, photo by James MacKenzie

Back to the central question – why does the University of Alberta want to be part of the Galleria project? To answer that, Dr. Amrhein brought up Mayor Mandel and his vision to have all of Edmonton’s post-secondary institutions integrated and connected by LRT. “Imagine a medical student at NAIT,” Dr. Amrhein said. “That student can move from the classrooms at NAIT to the labs at the Walter MacKenzie Health Sciences Centre because of the LRT.” Integration across institutions like that would “put Edmonton in a very small group” of cities, Dr. Amrhein said.

It’s clear that Dr. Amrhein views the University’s participation in the Galleria project as something that will help Edmonton as a whole. “I hope it goes ahead.”

Digital Canada 150: The plan for Canada’s digital future

Have you heard about Digital Canada 150? I bookmarked the plan on April 4 because it caught my eye when Industry Minister James Moore announced it.

“Digital Canada 150 encompasses 39 new initiatives that build on our government’s successful measures for a more connected Canada. It is based on 250 submissions that were received from more than 2,000 Canadians who registered to participate in online consultations held over three months in 2010.”

In his speech, Minister Moore said “we want to position Canada among the world’s leaders in adopting digital technologies.” You can watch the speech here – which makes sense if we’re going all-in on digital! He made it clear that this isn’t just a Government of Canada plan, but that it requires “polytechnics, clusters, universities, start-ups, angel investors, apps developers, chambers of commerce, business leaders, community leaders” to all work together to realize the vision.

“Working together, we can prepare Canada for a new digital world and shape the course of our country for years to come.”

The plan is called Digital Canada 150 because it is meant to coincide with our country’s 150th birthday in 2017. I understand that much of the plan was already in place, though there are some new initiatives too.

The plan contains five key pillars:

  1. Connecting Canadians: An effective digital policy is one that connects Canadians through high-speed Internet access and the latest wireless technologies
  2. Protecting Canadians: Canadians will be protected from online threats and misuse of digital technology.
  3. Economic Opportunities: Canadians will have the skills and opportunities necessary to succeed in an interconnected global economy.
  4. Digital Government: The Government of Canada will demonstrate leadership in the use of digital technologies and open data.
  5. Canadian Content: Providing easy online access to Canadian content will allow us to celebrate our history, arts, and culture and share it with the world

Digital Canada 150

While much of the plan reads like marketing-speak for the Government, there are some things that I was happy to see, particularly under the “What’s New” section of each pillar. Here are a few thoughts on each.

À la carte TV

Will we really get to pick & choose channels?

“We will work with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to develop a plan to unbundle television channels and ensure cable and satellite providers offer Canadian consumers the option to pick and choose the combination of television channels they want.”

It would be fantastic to only choose the ten or so channels that we actually watch, rather than having to buy the giant package, but I just don’t see this happening anytime soon. Especially since it’s something they’ve been working on for a while now. I’m skeptical but hopeful that this initiative actually comes to fruition.

Have your say on where cell towers are built

Living downtown I don’t really notice cell antennas (as they are typically on top of buildings) but I know people in more residential areas do.

“We introduced changes to the policy on how new cellphone towers are installed to ensure that local residents and governments are at the forefront of the tower placement process.”

Edmonton City Council adopted a new policy on cell towers last January, but ultimately their placement is up to Industry Canada. That’s why the announcement on February 5, 2014 was a step in the right direction, ensuring that residents are informed and consulted.

Stop the Spam

Some estimates peg the amount of spam at up to 92% of all email messages sent each year. It’s a problem, though not as bad as it was a few years ago.

“We passed Canada’s world-leading anti-spam law, which comes into force July 1, 2014, to protect Canadians from malicious online attacks.”

While it’s great to see tougher legislation on the spam problem, I’m not sure how much of an impact the law will actually have. Filters and other technological solutions have come a long way in recent years, and at least for me personally, receiving spam nowadays is relatively rare.

More funding for startups

Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2013 announced $60 million over five years for the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program (CAIP).

“Support for the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program will increase to $100 million to help digital entrepreneurs take the next step in developing their businesses.”

Increasing the fund will help to make even more accelerator and incubator programs, like those run at Startup Edmonton, possible. These kinds of organizations have a big impact on the viability of early-stage firms and entrepreneurs. The deadline to apply to the existing CAIP fund was October 30, 2013 so presumably a new round of applications will now be accepted.

Open Data

The Government of Canada has quickly caught up to other jurisdictions, making a significant amount of data available online in its open data catalogue.

“We will continue to support and stimulate the app economy and create a homegrown open data developer ecosystem in Canada.”

Last year, Minister Tony Clement came to Edmonton to talk about the government’s revamped open data portal. They have definitely worked to continue improving the catalogue, in both the breadth of data available and in the features offered. There’s still a lot of data that could be added though, so it’s great to see a continued push to take this forward!

More history available online

Established in 1978 as the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions, Canadiana.org has been working to make Canada’s heritage content available digitally for quite some time now.

“We will continue to support the digitization and online publication of millions of images through the partnership of Library and Archives Canada and Canadiana.org.”

While I’d like to see an initiative to capture Canada’s digital history as we create it (think a Canadian version of archive.org) I’m happy to see that we haven’t given up on making all of the existing content available online.

The final section of the plan is called “Moving Forward” and it thankfully acknowledges that things change quickly in the world of technology:

“It is imperative that we keep our plan current because, in the digital world, change is the only constant. We are committed to continuously updating Digital Canada 150, adapting to better serve Canadians.”

It’s not clear what I as an individual can do to help move Digital Canada 150 forward, aside from “acquiring the skills and embracing the opportunities of the digital economy.” Still, it’s encouraging to have a national plan for becoming a digital nation.

Now if only we could adopt a national strategy for public transit…

City Council takes a step in the wrong direction by supporting the Galleria Project

Well it just wouldn’t be a high-profile project without Council doing most of its deliberations in-camera (private) now would it? That’s exactly what Council did again tonight in considering the Galleria Project (items 6.5, 6.6, and 6.7). It’s a worrying trend.

Essentially what Council decided to do was move forward with building the pedway, at an amount of up to $30 million, and that it would purchase the necessary land and relocate the EPSB Maintenance Building at a cost of about $33 million, pending written confirmation from tenants of the project. This doesn’t mean the Galleria Project is a done deal, but it is a significant step in that direction. And I think it’s a step in the wrong direction, at least at this time.

Here’s the motion as passed this evening:

  1. That the Capital Profile number 14-17-5037 in Attachment 2 of the April 15, 2014, of the Sustainable Development report CR_1065, be amended to a total cost of $30 million.
  2. That subject to an agreement to share the total cost of construction for the Pedway, approved by Council, with land owners north of 103A Avenue benefitting from the construction of the Pedway Connection to the Royal Alberta Museum:
    1. the amended Capital Profile number 14-17-5037 to fund the Pedway, be approved, and
    2. a contract with Ledcor Construction in the amount of $4.4 million for the design for the construction of the Pedway, as outlined in the April 15, 2014, Sustainable Development report CR_1065, be approved, and the contract be in form and content acceptable to the City Manager.
  3. That the Galleria Project – Downtown Academic and Cultural Centre be acknowledged as an innovative development opportunity in downtown Edmonton and subject to the City receiving written confirmation of financing and financial commitment for the Galleria Project from the Province of Alberta for the University of Alberta, a major office building tenant, other office building tenants, and retail tenants, that the purchase of land and relocation of the Edmonton Public School Board Maintenance Building and Capital Profile number 14-17-5031, as set out in Attachment 1 of the April 15, 2014, Sustainable Development report CR_1066, be approved.

Wasn’t this project supposed to be mostly paid for by donations? Yet here we are, with the City taking on much of the upfront risk.

Galleria Project

Council decided on all of this after receiving a report full of potential risks. Here are some excerpts from one of the reports that Council considered today on the Galleria Project (emphasis is mine):

  • “The Foundation initially requested financial support for the Galleria roof, but has withdrawn that request given the preliminary state of the project and the absence of a clear design or plan.”
  • “The University of Alberta has confirmed its intention to relocate the School of Music and Department of Art and Design to the site, bringing potentially 5,000 additional staff and students to downtown. This relocation is conditional upon direct, climate controlled connection to the LRT (i.e. an underground pedway connection to Churchill Station).”
  • “On February 18, 2014, as a result of revised cost estimates for the pedway construction and land purchase, the Foundation requested additional funding that reflected the increased cost estimates. In addition, because of the design and construction schedule for the Royal Alberta Museum, the City was asked to fund the pedway design and associated utility relocations immediately. This work cannot be deferred to a later date.”
  • “In order to purchase the School Board property, the City will be responsible for all costs to relocate the School Board Maintenance Building Operations to an alternate site.”
  • “In order to protect for the opportunity to connect both the Royal Alberta Museum, the Galleria, and other new development north of 103 A Avenue directly to Churchill LRT Station, the decision to proceed with the design of the pedway, the commencement of required utility relocations, and commitment to construct the shell under the Museum forecourt must be made now.
  • “The request to the City to contribute towards the construction of a roof over the Galleria has been removed. The Foundation may return with a request for assistance at a later date once more information is available. It is considered premature to consider any additional funding for this component until the project further evolves.”
  • “The business case as developed by the Foundation identifies that the source of funding for the Trust, and in turn for the theatres, is from the revenues generated by the office space and retail leasing on the property. In the event that the revenues are not realized, then while there is no legal obligation for the City to assume the operation of the theatres, there is a risk that the City could be asked to provide financial assistance in order for the theatres to continue to operate.”
  • “It is difficult to define and quantify risks at this time as this project is still at the concept design stage. The Foundation has provided what information it has, but there is not sufficient information available to fully address many of the issues identified for clarification.”
  • “Critical assumptions have been made relative to office and retail lease rates, rate of office space absorption, retail market demand, financing costs, construction costs, fundraising commitments and availability of government grants. Should any of the assumptions made in the business case not be realized, there is a risk that the funding to build, operate and maintain the theatres will not be sufficient to achieve the goal of providing affordable space to the arts community.”
  • “While the Foundation is confident in their ability to secure an anchor tenant for the office tower as well as several additional tenants, no proposed tenants are under contract.”
  • “With several new office towers having recently been announced or underway in the downtown, vacancy rates are expected to rise, and given the existing vacancy within the EPCOR Tower, the ability to secure tenants in a short time frame is considered to be a significant risk.”
  • “Costs for the theatres are difficult to estimate as they are subject to considerable range depending upon the design; however the costs are at the low end of the range of recent theatre construction in Calgary and Toronto.”
  • “The Foundation or Cultural Trust will offset the anticipated net operating loss of the theatres with diverse and dedicated revenue streams from office and retail rental rates from the larger Galleria project. There is no contingent plan contemplated to continue the operations of the theatres if the projected revenues are not realized.”

Nevermind that the original business case called the four new theatres “financially self-sustaining”. Guess not. Or that it declared the project was “feasible” and “sustainable” or that it would “generate significant revenue.” Unless of course the assumptions are wrong. Or worst of all, that the City wouldn’t have to put in much money, because it was a unique “P4″ model. Right.

Somehow, after discussing the project behind closed doors, Council was able to look past all of that risk and concern (not to mention the ultimatum about needing to decide today) to support the project. Furthermore, many of them made a point of expressing their support verbally, as if the proponents might see the motion not as a victory but as a loss.

Councillor Henderson called it “a remarkable opportunity for the city.” Councillor Esslinger called it “an exciting project.” Councillor Sohi said it was “a very innovative development opportunity.” Only Councillor Knack spoke partially against the motion, suggesting that it should be compared against other projects up for consideration as part of the next Capital Budget. Mayor Iveson too pointed out that more assurances are needed, but said “it’s entirely appropriate to further explore” the project. He said it’s a “very exciting concept.”

Councillor McKeen made the motion, and used his remarks in part to justify the use of an in-camera session. He essentially asked us to trust Council, to take their word for it that the proponents did their homework. I fully appreciate the sensitivity around confidential information that doesn’t belong to the City, but I fail to see why that means the entire discussion needs to be had in private.

Furthermore, Councillor McKeen said “I think we’re asking a lot of the proponent” and added “we have spent a lot of time on this.” Really? Given the glaring holes in the proposal and self-admission that it is still extremely preliminary, I don’t think Council is asking much of the folks behind the Gallera Project at all. And I certainly don’t think Council has spent “a lot” of time on this project, unless it all happened behind the scenes.

In general I think the land investment by the City is a good thing – I’d rather have the City own it than some speculator or foreign investor who will just leave an ugly and unsafe surface parking lot on it. I think it also makes sense for the City to be a key player in land assembly for big projects. But aside from that, I’m really at a loss for why this should proceed with City funding.

The word most commonly used by Council tonight to describe the project was “innovative”. They all seemed to find the proposed Cultural Trust especially appealing, despite the risk that it may never come to fruition if the anticipated revenues from the office space and retail leasing don’t pan out. Unfortunately no questions were asked about the success of such initiatives in other cities throughout North America. No questions were asked about the likelihood that such a scheme would work here in Edmonton.

Only one question came up about whether the project as proposed would actually meet the needs of the arts community. No one asked why other arts organizations aren’t lining up to support the project, however.

At no point in the brief public discussion tonight did any question come up about the potential impact this project could have on the arena, located directly across 101 Street. This despite the fact that both projects need significant retail leasing to happen in order to succeed, which means they’ll be competing against one another.

Galleria Project

And most importantly, no consideration appeared to be given as to whether or not this is the way we want to build our city. Is moving billion dollar projects around like lego pieces really the way to do it? Shouldn’t there be some concern about how they’ll all work together? Or maybe some sort of bigger vision or plan? At the very least, shouldn’t we understand whether or not we can afford the worst case scenario?

I’m all for building downtown and the positive vision that Council has for Edmonton. I fully appreciate the incredible work that Dianne and Irving Kipnes have done and will continue to do in Edmonton. But I’m finding it incredibly difficult to support the Galleria Project as it has currently been proposed.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #108

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

March 29 - Celebrity Showcase - Kelly Rosborough - 37-3
Local media celebrity guys at WCFW

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 4/13/2014

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Strathcona Community Hospital opens its doors May 21, 2014
Strathcona Community Hospital, slated to open on May 21

Upcoming Events

Edmonton Motor Show 2014
Edmonton Motor Show by iqremix

Finding your way around downtown Edmonton is about to get easier

Walk around downtown today and you might notice some new signage. New wayfinding prototypes have been installed around Churchill Square, part of a pilot project being led by Walk Edmonton.

Edmonton Wayfinding

Each sign contains directions to nearby destinations, a map of the area the sign is located in, and information about the wayfinding project. Importantly, the directional information and the map contain time estimates for pedestrians. This should help pedestrians to orient themselves and make it to key destinations.

Edmonton Wayfinding

The Downtown CRL Plan (PDF) contains a catalyst project called Green and Walkable Downtown that refers to “a phased and coordinated program of street and public realm improvements” focused on pedestrians. It also highlights the notion of a wayfinding system:

“Wayfinding refers to the system of visual cues, such as signage and maps that people use to find destinations and navigate neighourhoods. In the downtown context, a coherent and effective wayfinding system is particularly important to pedestrians and cyclists.”

“The wayfinding signage that exists downtown today is inconsistent and in some cases incoherent or absent. There is currently a patchwork of signage systems. A Wayfinding System would include signage at street level for pedestrians. Web and mobile phone-based wayfinding tools could also be developed. All components will be well-integrated, sharing a mutual look, language, and logic that will facilitate movement.”

Edmonton’s current wayfinding is a mess. It’s a mix of different approaches, developed at different times, with no coherent system or plan. It’s not just the pedway either, it’s everything. I’m really excited to see this start to change, and just in time for what is perhaps the busiest construction period downtown has ever seen, with the LRT, arena, Royal Alberta Museum, and many other projects underway. Good wayfinding is about to become more important than ever before.

Edmonton Wayfinding

This is just a first step, and there’s lots more that could be done. I’d love to see a digital component as well, with a mobile site or apps or both. Connections could be made to ETS wayfinding, and of course, we need to fix the pedway signage!

The City is running an online survey to gather feedback on the proposed maps and signs. You have until May 4 to provide your input!

Edmonton Wayfinding Project

While the City has been working on wayfinding for a while, it was a group of interested citizens that really got things moving.

Tim Querengesser put a project up on Make Something Edmonton in March 2013. It was focused on the pedway, but it quickly attracted a group of interested Edmontonians. After a couple of meetings, they expanded their scope to wayfinding more generally.

Tim had moved to Edmonton from Toronto not long before starting the project. When he discovered the pedway he thought it was great, but found the signage to be very poor. After travelling to many large cities, he had seen plenty of examples of excellent signage. Tim figured he should try to do something about it. “In Toronto there’s a ‘don’t get involved’ culture,” he said, “but I really wanted to get involved here.”

Edmonton Wayfinding Project

Putting up a Make Something Edmonton page was all it took to get started. The group is now known as the Edmonton Wayfinding Project, and they’ve been a critical factor in the development of the City’s wayfinding effort. They’re all volunteers but they’re quite active. They have published articles on wayfinding, organized an installation at Harcourt House, have created a buzz in the media, and have met with the City numerous times to provide guidance and feedback.

There’s no question the group has had an impact. In fact, the City’s own report on wayfinding (PDF) says so:

“Wayfinding is also a topical item of conversation in the city as a result of to advocacy and projects improve use and navigation of the Pedway and River Valley Parks. The ‘Make Something Edmonton’ group are an example of grass-roots community interest that has raised the profile of wayfinding in the city.”

Have you ever wanted to change something in Edmonton but thought it was too difficult? Let this be an example of how anyone can make a difference as long as you’re willing to put in a little time and energy! It’s so exciting to see a group of engaged Edmontonians going after something they care about. Imagine what could be done if there were another dozen groups like the Edmonton Wayfinding Project!

Kudos to Tim and the entire team on your achievements thus far; keep it going! You can follow the group on Twitter at @WayfindYEG.

Edmonton’s 2014 Municipal Census goes online

The City of Edmonton is conducting its biennial census this year, and for the first time, you can participate online! The census is an important tool for collecting up-to-date demographic information that is used in decision-making and also for per-capita grants. Completing the census online is optional, so if you do nothing, a census worker will come to your door as in years past.

Here’s how it works. Over the next couple days, every household will be receiving a letter with information on how to complete the census online. That letter will include a PIN that you’ll use to access the online questions. The questions being asked online and in person are the same, except for one extra question that only online respondents will get to answer:

“In the future, what additional channels or sources would your household like added to receive information regarding City services?”

The idea is for the City to get an idea of citizen expectations for getting information out about services. The reason that question is only being asked online is because it requires a written response (presumably it would be too slow for door-to-door collection). If you’re wondering how to answer it, my suggestion would be to write “open data”!

The online census is powered by Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based company that sells electronic voting machines (it was founded in Toronto in 2002). Their solution for Canadian municipalities is also being used by Lethbridge this year.

In an effort to help people complete the census online, the City of Edmonton is hosting a series of outreach events over the next couple of weeks:

“The staff will be there offering guidance and support to individuals who wish to complete their census online using computers available at the various venues. Any one who would like information on the online census option, or assistance with completing their census online, are welcome to attend.”

The online portion of the census starts tomorrow, April 10 at 8am and will run until 8pm on April 27. Door-to-door collection will begin on May 10, which will enable workers to avoid visiting any household that has already participated online. Census workers present City-issued identification so you can ensure they are legitimate workers before answering any questions. If you’re interested in being a census worker, you can apply here.

I was disappointed when Council voted last year against adopting online voting, so I’m quite pleased to see the City taking another step in the online direction with this year’s census. I hope it is a success and builds confidence for future online endeavours!

You can see my post on the results of the 2012 Municipal Census here. If you’re curious, here’s Policy C520B, the Municipal Census Policy.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #107

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

troubleshooter

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 4/6/2014

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Edmonton Downtown from Saskatchewan Drive
Edmonton Downtown by Davan Russell

Upcoming Events

84:365 – Gibson Block
Gibson Block by Jamey M. Photography

Edmonton announces bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games

On Monday, the City of Edmonton announced it will bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022. Mayor Iveson had this to say about the news:

“Our city’s successful history as a great event host city started with the 1978 Commonwealth Games. Hosting the games in 2022 will demonstrate to the world how much Edmonton has evolved and reflect the Commonwealth Games Federation’s confidence in our city.”

As recently as a week ago, the Commonwealth Games Federation was concerned about a lack of interest in hosting future Games, potentially due to in-fighting and cost. No city had yet stepped forward, and cities that had previously expressed interest such as Singapore, Birmingham, and even London, all cancelled their plans. Then, at the last minute, Edmonton and Durban, South Africa, stepped forward.

Queen Elizabeth II 1978
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh attend the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton in 1978

When Edmonton hosted the Games in 1978, they were the biggest to date. Forty-six countries participated, sending 1,474 athletes to compete in 128 events across 10 sports. When the Games take place later this year in Glasgow, more than 70 countries are expected to participate, with more than 4,300 athletes competing in nearly 300 events across 17 sports.

Where did this come from?

The announcement seemed to come out of nowhere, but the possibility of Edmonton hosting the Games actually came up in February 2012, shortly after Commonwealth Games Canada decided to pursue another bid. Here’s what Mayor Mandel said at the time:

“I think 1978 (the last Edmonton Games) was a watershed moment for the city, and 2022, almost 45 years later, it would be a nice re-coming out party.”

“It’s a chance to showcase Edmonton. We have great facilities in the city, so I don’t think there would be a huge capital investment with these games other than some expansion. We would obviously have to do some upgrades.”

Big cities bid on major events to diversify their economies, attract tourists, build their reputations, and engage their citizens. Though many cling to a small-town mentality, Edmonton is a big city. Big cities bid on big events.

The 1978 Commonwealth Games were widely viewed as a coming out party for Edmonton, introducing us to the world stage. The City’s 2004 Annual Report reiterated this view:

“The Commonwealth Games [brought] unprecedented attention Edmonton, marking it as a city of international prestige and importance.”

It’s not like Edmonton has been standing still since 1978 either. We followed the Commonwealth Games up with the 1983 Universiade Games. We have hosted World Cup qualifying matches, World Figure Skating Championships, the 2005 World Masters Games, and much more. Perhaps biggest of all, we hosted the 2001 World Championships in Athletics.

The next few years will be especially busy. This year Edmonton is hosting seven games during the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada, and next year we’re hosting eleven games during the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada. Off the pitch, Edmonton is hosting the 2015 and 2016 Canadian Track and Field Championships, the latter of which will serve as the Canadian Olympic Track and Field Trials for athletes looking to compete in the Summer Olympics in Brazil. It’s going to be an exciting few years for sports in our city!

Would the federal government support the bid?

Edmonton’s bid to host EXPO 2017 was brought to a halt in 2010 after the Government of Canada withdrew its support, citing the unknown future costs of security. Mayor Mandel felt the real reason was a lack of support for our city, saying that “when it comes to Edmonton’s growth and ambition, our federal government simply isn’t interested.” He singled out MP Rona Ambrose for failing to build the necessary support in Ottawa for Edmonton’s bid.

Edmonton EXPO 2017 Launch

Do we need federal support for this bid? Financially, it seems unlikely a successful event could be staged without support from the Government of Canada, despite City Manager Simon Farbrother’s optimism that the City and Province could support it themselves. The reality is that hosting the Games is a $1 billion proposition, based on recent costs. Security concerns would also likely be a federal issue.

Would the federal government support this bid? Sport Canada guidelines outline that the federal government can only support two Canadian bids for major games in any decade. It is widely expected that Quebec City will bid to host the Winter Olympics, so Edmonton would be counting on being the second major event host.

Halifax was hoping to bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but they were forced to withdraw their bid over concerns with the budget. It was the first time Canada had withdrawn a bid for a Commonwealth Games event. Edmonton’s bid would need to be rock solid.

What does this mean for LRT?

One of the drivers behind Edmonton’s failed bid to host EXPO 2017 was infrastructure money expansion for LRT. Big events require big money, and it was hoped that part of staging a successful event would mean expanding the transit network. Many Edmontonians were quick to make the connection to LRT after Monday’s announcement too.

It’s true that Edmonton’s LRT first opened in 1978, just months before the Commonwealth Games. But that project is not what took the LRT from conception to reality, nor is it what funded the construction. From Ride of the Century:

“In truth, the visionary planning that laid the foundation for the LRT dated back to the decommissioning of the streetcars in 1951, but it took until the early 1960s for the rapid transit dream to take coherent shape in D.L. MacDonald’s Report on the Present Operating Conditions of the Edmonton Transit System With a View to Determining a Policy for The Future Operation of the System in 1961.”

When the LRT opened on April 22, 1978, at a cost of $64.9 million, it was 7.25 km long with five stations.

LRT

Edmonton hosted the 1978 Commonwealth Games from August 3 to 12. Edmonton Transit had been planning transportation for the Games for two years, even assembling a fleet of 724 buses from Edmonton, Calgary, and Red Deer rolling stock to help meet demand. Their planning paid off.

“Edmonton Transit conveyed almost two million spectators to events over the nine days of the Games, and on August 8, the LRT system set a ridership record of over 69,000 people.”

“The Games were a shining moment for the city, and Edmonton Transit had played its part well passing the gargantuan test with flying colours.”

Just as we needed to continue building LRT with or without EXPO 2017, we need to move forward with LRT expansion whether we host the Games or not. I’d hate to see us tie LRT expansion money to the bid. LRT is our top infrastructure priority, and this event should have no bearing on that.

What does this mean for other infrastructure?

Events like the Commonwealth Games typically leave a physical legacy of facilities in the cities that host them. New sports and recreation facilities built for the Games could serve Edmontonians for years to come.

It is expected that Commonwealth Stadium would once again serve as the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies. It has received numerous upgrades in recent years, and could still receive more. Other facilities that were built for the 1978 Games, like Kinsmen, would likely receive upgrades and could be used. Foote Field was recently upgraded, and a new velodrome adjacent to Peter Hemingway pool has already been in the works. Edmonton had bid to host the 2015 World University Games, and had included a list of facilities as part of that bid that never moved forward. Those plans would likely be dusted off if this bid is successful.

Who is the competition?

In 1978, Edmonton’s competition was Leeds in England, a city with a population of about 200,000 more at the time. Our competition for the 2022 Commonwealth Games is Durban, a South African city of nearly 600,000 in a much larger metro area home to more than 3.4 million people. South Africa has never hosted the Games before, so that likely gives them an edge.

Apparently Durban had previously considered a bid for the 2020 or 2024 Summer Olympics, which suggests to me they are hungry to host another major international event and will be stiff competition. Durban hosted matches in the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup and was of course one of the host cities for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Canada has hosted the Games four times: 1930 in Hamilton, 1954 in Vancouver, 1978 in Edmonton, and 1994 in Victoria. Edinburgh and Auckland are the only cities to have hosted the Games more than once.

Can Edmonton win? City Manager Simon Farbrother is certainly confident:

“We will, yes. We don’t go into these things to come second. Let’s put it that way.”

What’s next?

The cost of bidding had previously been estimated to range from $8 million to $10 million. Edmonton and Durban will work to finalize their bids by March 2015. After that, members of the Commonwealth Games Federation will meet a General Assembly in Auckland, New Zealand to choose a winner on September 2, 2015.

An Edmonton delegation will be travelling to Glasgow this year as official observers to learn best practices. The City has apparently talked with Glasgow officials about the bidding process too.

The City of Edmonton has said it will continue discussions with the Province and will be looking to engage other stakeholders throughout the country to win their support. Of course, Edmontonians will also be invited to get involved, so look forward to those opportunities in the near future.