Building a globally competitive & innovative Edmonton Region

With our new mayor now officially in office, it’s time to learn some new vocabulary. Forget “world class”, “creative”, and “Capital Region”; start getting used to “globally competitive”, “innovative”, and “Edmonton Region”. All three featured prominently in Mayor Iveson’s swearing in address on Tuesday afternoon. The new words may not seem important on the surface, but I think they signal a shift in the way Iveson will lead Edmonton over the next four years.

City Council Swearing In 2013

When I interviewed EEDC CEO Brad Ferguson just over a year ago he was still settling into his new role but had already started using some consistent language in meetings and interviews. “We need to change to a culture of competitiveness,” Brad told me. “We need to have a hunger to compete.” He sees that culture of competitiveness as the best way to combat our biggest threat: complacency.

If his speech is any indication, Mayor Iveson is going to get along just fine with Brad. Iveson used the phrase “globally competitive” six times. You could probably have substituted the phase “world class” into each of those sentences, but that phrase carries baggage. Even Mayor Mandel generally stayed away from it (until he got upset about the arena, that is). But for all the distaste that many of us have with “world class” there hasn’t been a strong alternative. It would seem that “globally competitive” could be just that.

I like the approach that “globally competitive” suggests. Instead of just attaining a certain status and then potentially becoming complacent, you need to keep working hard to remain competitive. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I think it also opens the door to greater collaboration with Calgary. We absolutely can be globally competitive together, but can we both be world class? Here’s what Iveson said about the relationship with Calgary:

We have a lot of work ahead of us with the provincial government on a big city charter that must recognize our special challenges, and that ensures we have the tools and resources we need to realize our full potential as globally competitive Alberta cities.

So “world class” is out, “globally competitive” is in.

One of Mayor Mandel’s favorite words was “creative”. He used it a lot in speeches and in response to questions. He was always talking about finding “creative solutions” to problems. There’s nothing wrong with the word creative, but Mayor Iveson seems to prefer the word “innovative”. He used it a lot during the election, and in his speech on Tuesday he used it at least half a dozen times.

Iveson likes to mention Startup Edmonton and TEC Edmonton when he talks about innovation, and he frequently highlights the role that post-secondary institutions play as well. Maybe a creative solution could save us some money, but Iveson seems to suggest that an innovative one could make us money. Here’s what he said in the innovation section of his speech:

As problem solvers, we can do our business cleaner, greener, cheaper, faster and safer – and sell those solutions to the world. This is how we will ensure that Edmonton will compete globally, and endure long into the future, no matter the price of oil.

So “creative” is out, “innovative” is in.

Mayoral Forum #3

Paula Simons wrote about the shift from “Capital Region” to “Edmonton Region” yesterday:

“I do not live in the capital region. You don’t either. There is no such place. It’s a bureaucratic invention, a mythical, mealy mouthed way of describing the cities, towns, villages and counties that surround Edmonton.”

She goes on to make some excellent points about the “weasel-word label” and includes some great quotes from both Mayor Iveson and St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse (“Atta boy!” he said in response to Iveson marketing Edmonton). I particularly like that Iveson understands the importance of using Edmonton when we talk about our city. That was one of the key points I tried to make at PKN7. “Capital Region” could be anywhere, but “Edmonton Region” is specific (yes I know there are two other much smaller towns named Edmonton). That’s another reason that Make Something Edmonton is compelling as a brand for our city.

The other interesting news this week related to the Capital Region Board (CRB) is new legislation introduced by the Province. The Modernizing Regional Governance Act would give the Province the ability to create “regional growth boards” much like the CRB itself. If the new legislation is adopted, it’ll make the CRB an official body under the Municipal Government Act. It would be great if we could rename the organization alongside those changes, something Mayor Iveson has indicated he’d like to pursue.

So “Capital Region” is out, “Edmonton Region” is in.

Wordsmithing, you say? I can see how one might reach that conclusion. But Mayor Iveson doesn’t choose his words lightly; he’s purposeful about what he says. I think he’s saying the right things, and that’s an important first step toward making change happen.

You can listen to this post here:

Annexations in Edmonton

The City of Edmonton officially announced today its intention to annex a large area south of our current boundaries (you can listen to the press conference here). The plan would see 120 km2 west of the QEII highway annexed, an area which includes the Edmonton International Airport, and about 36 km2 east of the QEII annexed, which would include most of the area between Edmonton and Beaumont. According to Mayor Mandel, the new space would be used for both residential and industrial development. You can read much more about the news here, and be sure to check out the City’s page on the proposed annexation. It is estimated that the annexation could be completed in as little as two years. You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m less than enthusiastic about the news.

Edmonton’s Annexations

I’ll write more about that specific proposal in the future, but for now I thought it would be useful to take a look at Edmonton’s previous annexations. I have included the proposed annexation in the data below however, to give you a sense of where it fits in (I went with 2015 as the year). There have thus far been 31 annexation events in Edmonton’s history, according to a document prepared by the City’s planning department. That includes the incorporations of both Edmonton and Strathcona, as well as three temporary separations. Most of those annexations were relatively small, with an average annexation area of about 21 km2. Take out the 1982 annexation however, and the average drops to just 10 km2.

Here’s what those annexation events look like on a chart:

As you can see, the annexation in 1982 was unusually large – it doubled the size of our city. The proposed annexation in the south would handily come in as the second largest annexation in Edmonton’s history.

Here’s the list of annexation events:

YEAR DESCRIPTION CUMULATIVE AREA (km2)
1892 Incorporation of Town of Edmonton 8.7
1899 Incorporation of Town of Strathcona 10.8
1904 Incorporation of City of Edmonton 23.0
1907 Incorporation of City of Strathcona 37.9
1908 Buena Vista to Westmount, North Inglewood to Eastwood/Virginia Park 57.3
1911 Highlands, Amalgamation of Edmonton & Strathcona 59.9
1912 Belmont Park 62.9
1912 Kennedale 64.0
1913 Dominion Industrial to Quesnell Heights / Brander Gardens to Parkallen, Bonaventure to Belvedere, Forest Heights to Argyll 103.0
1914 Allendale / Duggan to Coronet / Papaschase 105.6
1917 Calder 106.4
1922 Separation of north Brander Gardens 105.8
1922 Separation of Papaschase 105.3
1947 Pleasantview 105.6
1950 Whitemud Creek 105.9
1951 Separation of part of Duggan 105.6
1954 Capilano / Fulton Place 109.0
1954 Coronet 109.6
1956 Gold Bar 112.1
1958 Davies Industrial 114.0
1959 Terrace Heights / Ottewell 116.3
1959 Terwillegar Park / Riverbend to Strathcona Industrial Park, re-annexation of separations 146.2
1960 Ottewell to Girard Industrial 149.3
1961 Beverly / Clareview to Dickinsfield 177.8
1964 Jasper Place and Southeast Industrial 221.6
1967 Clover Bar Power Plant 221.8
1969 Springfield / Callingwood 226.9
1970 Springfield – north 227.5
1971 Castle Downs / Lake District and Mill Woods 288.3
1972 West Jasper Place 314.4
1974 Kaskitayo 317.5
1976 Northwest Industrial 319.7
1980 Pilot Sound and Twin Brooks 331.1
1982 Northeast, Southeast, Southwest Urban Growth Areas 700.6
2015 Proposed South Annexation 856.6

Municipalities annex land for a variety of reasons – sometimes the goal is to acquire industrial land, other times its to start developing future residential neighbourhoods. Here’s what our land and population growth has looked like over the last 120 years:

The left axis and blue line shows the growth in Edmonton’s population, while the right axis and red line shows the growth in Edmonton’s land area. While our population has risen steadily, annexations have been much less consistent.

Impact on Population Density

When the Town of Edmonton was incorporated in 1892 it consisted of 8.7 km2 of land and was home to about 700 people, giving us a population density of about 81/km2. Today, with a population of nearly 818,000 and a total area of about 700 km2, we have a much higher population density of roughly 1,167/km2. That’s not the highest it has ever been, however. Edmonton’s population density peaked in 1958 at about 2,212 people/km2 and has been falling ever since.

(For comparison purposes, New York City’s population density is 10,430/km2, London’s is 5,206/km2, Toronto’s is 4,149/km2, Vancouver’s is 5,249/km2, and Calgary’s is 1,329/km2. Yes, even sprawling Calgary has a higher population density than us!)

Here’s what our population density looks like on a chart:

There are a couple of key events to point out. The amalgamation of Edmonton and Strathcona in 1912 is noticeable thanks to a jump in the population. The annexations in 1959 of Terrace Heights, Ottewell, Terwillegar Park, and Riverbend marked the start of our population density decline. The jump back up in 1964/1965 was due to the annexation of Jasper Place, which brought about 38,000 residents to Edmonton in addition to more space. The large drop in 1982 is extremely apparent, and while the population density has slowly been creeping back up, you can see that the proposed annexation would cause it to decline once again.

Looking at the Capital Region

I absolutely agree with Mayor Mandel that a strong Edmonton is a strong region, but I don’t necessarily agree that Edmonton needs to acquire more land in order to remain strong. Supporters of annexation may suggest that Edmonton’s declining proportion of the region’s population is proof that buyers are not finding what they’re looking for within the city so they’re going elsewhere.

Here’s a look at the percentage of people in the Edmonton CMA who live within the city limits:

What’s clear is that there has been a decline in the proportion of people living in Edmonton-proper versus the surrounding areas. What’s less clear is why that has happened.

While Edmonton has not annexed any land since 1982, there have been 6 annexations by other municipalities in the region in the last 15 years.

Other Resources

Annexation is a big topic. Here are some additional resources that you may find useful: