Recap: Mayor Iveson’s 2015 State of the City Address

Nobody fills a room like our mayor, Don Iveson. He delivered his second State of the City Address on Monday in front of an absolutely packed house at the Shaw Conference Centre. Roughly 2,200 people attended the annual event hosted by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. We’re in the middle of a provincial election of course, so there were plenty of candidates in attendance yesterday and more than a few people wondering what, if anything, Mayor Iveson might say. On the topic of the provincial government, he did not tread lightly.

State of the City Address 2015

“Edmonton is too important to Alberta’s future to be ignored,” he said near the end of his remarks. “That’s why I’m confident that no matter what Albertans decide on May 5, together, you along with our City Council, will not stand for any provincial government ever forgetting about Edmonton again.”

Mayor Iveson spoke for nearly 30 minutes before getting to that point. He spelled out why Edmonton matters, he talked about the opportunities that are before us, and he consistently pointed out that we could do more if only the Province would come to the table as a partner. “I want to be clear about what partnership means to me,” he said. “It means that both parties recognize their mutual interest in achieving something great together.”

Saying that there have been “some important steps” in the city charter talks thus far, Mayor Iveson made it clear that he expects the new government to continue that work. “To abandon or shortchange the charter would be to miss the chance for Edmonton to be a true partner in building this province,” he said. On homelessness, social services, early childhood education, climate change, and infrastructure, Mayor Iveson said that “Edmonton has shown we do deliver results” and challenged the Province to “give us the responsibility and resources necessary to get to the finish line.”

If there was a theme to the mayor’s remarks, it was resiliency. He opened with a compelling story about the great flood of 1915 that left an estimated 2,000 people homeless and which devastated businesses and entire industries. “Other places in similar circumstances might have let all their hope and promise be swept away,” he said. “But not Edmonton.” His message was clear. Just as our 1915 counterparts made smart decisions for the long-term, so must we.

Though the price of oil is down and there are layoffs in Alberta, Edmonton’s economic picture is much rosier he told us. “Edmonton is weathering this downturn,” he said. Citing the “unprecedented” number of cranes in the downtown, Mayor Iveson talked about the continuing confidence here in Edmonton. Last year Edmonton became the fifth largest region in Canada, “a quiet but important milestone.”

If you’re here in Edmonton, you know these things. But others around the country and around the world do not. “It’s never been more important for us to tell a clear and consistent story about Edmonton,” he said. Yes, he mentioned Make Something Edmonton, but I think Mayor Iveson really intended for his remarks on storytelling to be one of those smart decisions for the long-term. He suggested we start talking about “Edmonton Metro” which at 1.3 million people, “will be a force to be reckoned with.” This is an evolution of the “Edmonton Region” term he started using as soon as he was sworn in as mayor. Unlike “region”, the term “metro” is distinctly urban, is cohesive, and highlights the confidence of Edmonton at its core.

State of the City Address 2015

We need more than a great story for Edmonton to continue to prosper, however. “Mass transit has the potential to transform a city in a way that few other infrastructure investments can,” Mayor Iveson said. He highlighted the federal government’s new transit building fund and said it could be great for Edmonton, “but only if our Province steps up and matches this ongoing commitment.”

He also talked about the task force to end poverty and the importance of sharing Edmonton’s prosperity with all Edmontonians. While work is well underway here, the mayor called out the Province for not taking action since unveiling the Social Policy Framework back in 2013. He talked about the Year of Reconciliation and said “we can show the way for a new vision of Canadian city that lives and breathes the treaty spirit.” He spoke about climate change and said our cities “are not prepared to deal with it.” And he said that “Edmonton can play a role in changing a conversation that has, for too long, hurt the way the world sees us.”

Mayor Iveson also had some interesting things to say about cities. “We’re the agents of change in Canada and, today, we matter more than ever,” he said. “Cities are increasingly the places where the work is getting done.” He talked about how cities “are the crossroads where resources and creativity intersect” and said nowhere is that more true than right here in Edmonton.

His core messages of resiliency and working with the Province were his focus though. “If we want to build a strong and resilient Alberta,” he said, “we need a strong and resilient Edmonton.”

State of the City Address 2015

I thought Mayor Iveson carried greater confidence through his remarks this year compared to last. The highlight of his speech last year, when he looked right at Premier Redford and called for provincial funding for the LRT, was not possible this year with the uncertain political future of Alberta so he needed to be strong throughout. He looked and sounded at ease and his delivery was much better.

It’s true that most of the things he said on Monday were similar to things he said last year. The importance of LRT, the opportunity that comes with being an Aboriginal city, the need to end poverty rather than manage it, the baby steps toward a city charter, and even the need to talk about Edmonton as the heart of the region were all things he touched on in 2014’s State of the City address. But it wasn’t the same message. I think there are two key differences. First, while last year was a bit heavy on ideas and what’s coming, this year he talked about accomplishments, like the task force to end poverty which is well underway or the Open City initiative which is already have a positive impact. Second, he focused on Edmonton’s strengths this year rather than its needs. Edmonton is resilient. Edmonton is compassionate. Edmonton gets things done.

Things are uncertain at best in Alberta right now, but Edmonton is well-positioned for now and for tomorrow. I think it was wise to take advantage of the timing, to contrast Edmonton with Alberta, and to make it clear that Edmonton can play a bigger role in helping turn things around for the whole province.

You can see a few more photos from the event here.

Mapping where Edmonton’s kids live and learn

On Friday evening, an interactive map I worked on with Edmonton Journal education reporter Sarah O’Donnell went live. Sarah’s first story based on the data was published in the paper today. Here’s our introduction to the project:

With five schools closing in Edmonton’s core and nine new suburban schools opening in September, education reporter Sarah O’Donnell wondered, “Just where do children live?” Local programmer Mack Male worked with The Journal to create an interactive map showing at a glance where children live and where they learn.

Here’s the map we created:

You can also see the map on ShareEdmonton here.

We showed a little of this at MediaCamp a few weeks ago, citing it as an example of traditional media and new media working together to tell a story. Newspapers like the New York Times often publish interactive story elements of course, but this is fairly new for the Journal. And I think it’s just the beginning!

I wanted to share a few notes on how the map was built:

It was an interesting experience for me! We had to double-check the data many times, and had to make decisions about how much/little to show. In that way, it was more like writing words than building a map. Thanks to Sarah for working with me on this!

Here’s what Sarah wrote in her story:

Nine new suburban schools will open next September; like Sister Annata Brockman, some will be close to capacity from the moment they open their doors. One look at a map of where children live shows why.

Most neighbourhoods with the highest number of children are on the city’s fringes. Those are the communities where the new schools are opening.

I was hoping the map would result in some discussion, and it has. Beth Sanders blogged about it this afternoon. She tackles the issue, highlighting as others have that city planning doesn’t “just happen”, rather its the result of many decisions made over time. We need to align our decisions – City Council and EPSB need to be on the same page! Beth finishes with some thoughts on open data:

The City of Edmonton, in creating and providing open source data, is providing a critical feedback loop for Edmontonians to understand how the city we are creating works. There are exciting conversations ahead in Edmonton’s future.

I agree completely. Kudos to the City of Edmonton, Edmonton Public Schools, and Edmonton Catholic Schools for making the data available for this mapping project. I’m positive it is just the first of many tools to come that will help Edmontonians better understand the data and contribute to the future of the city.

If you have any feedback on the map, let me know!

Civic Smart Card coming to Edmonton?

At today’s Executive Committee meeting Councillors will discuss a report on Smart Card Solutions, the result of an inquiry Mayor Mandel made back in February. You might remember that the Transportation & Public Works Committee had approved a recommendation that ETS implement a smart card solution. But why should ETS be the only ones to benefit? That’s the thought that prompted the mayor to ask for more information.


A civic smart card would be something like the cards pictured above, presumably more like a modern credit card with a little chip embedded inside. It could serve two primary purposes: payment, like a gift card you’d get at Starbucks, but also identity, like a digital driver’s license.

The new report sidesteps the question about what it would take to implement a civic smart card that would work for all City services, including the Edmonton Public Library, essentially saying that a business case would need to be made, and that more research needs to be done to find similar solutions implemented elsewhere. I suppose that’s prudent, but I would think based on the TPW report that they’d have some idea (the estimate for an ETS solution was close to $23 million, which would pay for itself within 15 years).

Some highlights from the report:

  • Administration would contact the provincial and federal governments “to investigate possible synergies in respect to pilot projects around identity management.” Apparently both have already started exploring similar ideas.
  • ETS, Community Services, EPL, EFCL, and the University of Alberta are just a few of the potential partner organizations mentioned.
  • In response to the mayor’s question about engaging the public: “For a civic smart card to be successful and fully adopted by Edmontonians, Edmontonians must be engaged in the design and implementation planning process as well as the actual implementation of a solution.” Administration would leverage “every channel from town hall meetings to social media.”
  • For the IT folks reading this: “Administration should also engage the IT community by creating a project advisory group made up of Edmonton’s best and brightest technology minds…”

By improving Edmonton’s livability, the civic smart card supports the City’s strategic plan. What are the next steps?

The Information Technology Branch will take the lead, working with city departments and external stakeholders to develop the value assessment to determine if this initiative should be considered in the 2012-2014 capital budget. This project will provide a test case for the new IT governance framework which is being designed to allow the city to make the right technology investment decisions.

I really love the idea of a civic smart card for Edmonton. A quick Google search reveals lots of examples of transit cards, and even some parking cards, but not much for city-wide cards. As Councillor Iveson pointed out back in October, when writing about a smart card for ETS, “this isn’t leading edge stuff anymore. This is now an established practice.” I agree – ETS absolutely needs this. Something city-wide is quite intriguing, however, and I think Edmonton would be one of the innovators there.

Let’s get it done!

If you want to follow along with today’s meeting, you can do so here.

Social Media and the City

We’ve all heard the stat: more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities and towns. Wellington E. Webb, former mayor of Denver, is credited as saying “The 19th century was a century of empires, the 20th century was a century of nation states. The 21st century will be a century of cities.” Urban areas are extremely important, for the allocation of resources (such as education and health care) and the creation of social and economic opportunity, among other things. As the UNFPA says: “The challenge for the next few decades is learning how to exploit the possibilities urbanization offers. The future of humanity depends on it.”

I believe that technology is vital for this challenge. It was technology that made the city possible, after all, by enabling and encouraging increased population densities. Urban settlements expose incredible network efficiencies because of this density, whether for trade, communication, or service delivery. It is these network efficiencies that, as strategy consultant and fellow Canadian Jeb Brugmann said, “make cities the world’s strategic centres of social innovation.”

Technology will be used in an endless number of ways to exploit the possibilities and to address the challenges of urbanization, but I think creating a sense of place will be key. Resilient cities, those that are sustainable, eco-efficient, and place-based, are one of the four possible outcomes for cities in a world of significant challenges like climate change, according to Dr. Peter Newman (PDF). Telling the story of a place is necessary for a city to become resilient, because creating a stronger sense of place increases the viability of the local economy and facilitates innovation. Social media is driving transparency in cities and is enabling citizens to tell the story of their place like never before.

One definition for social media comes from JD Lasica and Chris Heuer, and it goes like this: “Any online technology or practice that lets us share (content, opinions, insights, experiences, media) and have a conversation about the ideas we care about.” Put another way, you could say that social media tools and technologies are strengthening democracy.

Social media is becoming the best amplifier of a city that we’ve ever seen. True, social media makes it easy to spread the word beyond a single city and there’s definitely value in that, but it’s at the local level where social media truly shines, by taking the network efficiencies created by cities to the next level. Social media is helping to facilitate a new relationship between government and citizens, is enabling creatives inside cities to better connect with one another, and is empowering citizens like never before. In short, it improves a city’s social capital.

Natural capital is made up of the natural environment, such as the river valley here in Edmonton. On top of that we build infrastructure capital – roads, houses, buildings, lights, etc. Human capital and organizational capital refer to the individuals and organizations that use the natural and infrastructure capital to start and grow families, to build companies, and to otherwise create economic value. Social capital represents trust, social engagement, civic participation, reciprocity, and networks.

Social capital is critical for enabling innovation, making it possible to tackle tough problems. Within a city, social capital is vitally important because as Cameron Sinclair pointed out in his TED Wish, “all problems are local and all solutions are local.” Or as you’ve probably heard in the past, “think global, act local.” I think that applies quite broadly; for instance, to climate change. It’s a global problem, but it’s one that we need to approach locally. If we don’t succeed at reducing our impact on the environment at the local level, there’s no hope for solving the problem globally.

For these reasons, I’m extremely passionate about social media and the city. I’ve written a lot in the past about the impact social media is having on Edmonton and other cities, and I’ll continue to do so. Cities are increasingly important, and social media is making them stronger. I think that’s very exciting!

Related links worth clicking:

Thanks to Ted Gartside for the Creative Commons-licensed globe photo of New York.

Edmonton City Centre Airport closure delayed

Back in July, City Council voted in favor of phased closure for the City Centre Airport. The first runway (16-34) was scheduled to be closed by April 30, 2010, but today Council voted to delay that until October 2010 so that the Rexall Edmonton Indy can be held next year (only Councillor Batty voted against the decision). You know, the race that cost taxpayers $5.3 million last year (figures for the 2009 race haven’t yet been released). I guess this means the design competition will also be delayed.

Just last week a report suggested that air traffic may be closed for four weeks to accommodate the Indy. The only other alternative that was presented was to spend the money on a new track, a decision that probably wouldn’t have gone over very well with anyone.

The current contract with the Indy Racing League expires after the 2010 race, but City Manager Al Maurer says that discussions about a longer term agreement are underway. If the 2009 figures don’t show a big improvement from 2008, it’ll be hard for City Council to justify a renewal.

I think City Council missed an important opportunity today to reinforce their decision to close the City Centre Airport. Additionally, they’re in danger of setting a bad precedent of delays. What happens the next time Tom Hendricks or someone else goes to Council to ask for more time?

I hope this is the first and last delay in the closure process. We’re watching you City Council.

UPDATE: The Journal reports that the delay would be until July 31, 2010 not October 2010.

UPDATE2: The text of the motion is as follows:

That the City of Edmonton cooperate with Edmonton Regional Airports Authority to ensure that any closure of Runway 16-34 would not take effect until after the 2010 Edmonton Indy and Alberta Aviation Museum’s Airfest 2010.

You can download the minutes in Word here.

How far beyond the city does Edmonton Stories reach?

The winners of the Edmonton Stories contest were announced by Mayor Stephen Mandel on Tuesday at City Hall during the lunch hour. About 50 people attended the public event, not including the large number of City employees who were present. Nearly all of the City Councillors were on hand as well, a strong show of support for the project. Congratulations to all of the contest winners and runners up!

Edmonton Stories Contest Announcement

Mayor Mandel’s speech started by highlighting some of the traffic statistics for Here are some of the key numbers:

  • 242 stories have been posted, 44 of which include videos
  • 453 comments have been posted on 78 stories
  • Users in 2159 cities from 131 countries have visited the site
  • Total Visits: 113,979
  • Total Unique Visits: 87,049
  • Local Visits: 60,497
  • Total Page Views: 348,750

Those are pretty good numbers, though they are unverified. I think the “local visits” stat is interesting – over half of all visitors to the site have come from Edmonton. That makes sense at this stage, as Edmontonians are visiting to submit and vote on stories. Over time though, I would hope for that percentage to drop.

I’d love to see more stats on the non-local visits. For instance, I’d like to know the bounce rate for non-local visits. How many non-local visitors come to the website and then promptly leave? Referral statistics would be interesting to know as well – how did they get to the website?

As Edmonton Stories moves into its second phase, recruitment and visitor attraction, non-local visits will become increasingly important. There are a solid number of stories up on the site now, but if they aren’t shared with the rest of the world, how successful can the campaign be?

The City has repeatedly stressed that Edmonton Stories is unique because it focuses on social media and online marketing as opposed to traditional marketing. Most of the social media marketing I have seen thus far has been directed at Edmontonians though, not the rest of the world. I don’t think they’re doing enough to spread the word beyond Edmonton.

For a website marketed almost entirely online, I’d expect it to have a decent number of other web pages linking to it. I tallied the number of inbound links for some Edmonton websites, using Yahoo! Site Explorer:

Obviously the City of Edmonton site has the most inbound links, no surprise there. What jumped out at me about this graph is the number of inbound links for That’s Edmonton For You. Despite launching a month later than, and without a large budget to promote it, that site managed to accumulate over half the number of inbound links that has. I would anticipate that a majority of the inbound links for That’s Edmonton For You would be from other local sites, which doesn’t bode well for how far beyond the city is reaching.

The budget for promoting isn’t insignificant either, when you consider that it’s being spent on social media and online marketing, not traditional marketing:

The total budget for 2009 is $1.4 million dollars. City Council approved $1 million, and EEDC kicked in another $400,000. According to The Journal, project staff expect to ask for another $1 million in 2010. Should they get it? I’m leaning toward no.

I wonder how much of that $268,500 earmarked for social media marketing has been spent. Based on the number of inbound links above, I’d hope very little, but given that there are only three months left in 2009, I’m not so sure. If there’s a lot to spend still, I expect to see Edmonton Stories everywhere online for the next few months.

I think Edmonton Stories is a great concept, and I’m glad to see that Edmontonians are contributing stories. The project was created to help market the city elsewhere though, and I don’t think it is accomplishing that yet.

West & Southeast Edmonton LRT Route Recommendations

This afternoon Edmonton Transit announced its recommended routes for West and Southeast LRT lines. The routes “work towards the Transportation Master Plan’s vision to expand LRT service to all sectors of the City of Edmonton by 2040.” Back in June, City Council approved the LRT Network Plan, which identifies how the LRT system will be expanded. These two routes are part of that plan.

Here’s what the recommended routes look like (click for a larger image):

There was a lot of information shared during today’s briefing, which I did my best to live-tweet. Here are some of the highlights:

  • This is not the LRT you’re used to – it’s low floor technology with smaller, urban style stations.
  • Initially, there are seven stations planned for the West LRT route and six for the Southeast LRT route.
  • The two routes are actually part of a single line, which means you’ll be able to travel from Mill Woods to Lewis Estates without any transfers.
  • Travel time from either end to downtown will be 20-25 minutes. Both speed and carrying capacity is expected to be the same as the current LRT line.
  • The estimated cost for each route is between $900 million and $1.2 billion.
  • Short-to-medium term ridership for each line is expected to be 45,000 riders per day by 2040.
  • Though bus routes will almost certainly be eliminated, service hours will likely remain the same and will simply shift elsewhere (so in effect, the LRT is making the bus system more efficient).
  • The downtown connection still needs to be considered.

The routes were evaluated based on a new set of decision-making criteria established in December 2008 for LRT route planning. Initial screening looks at feasibility, community, and environment. The next stage is the specific evaluation criteria, with weights in brackets:

  • Land-use/Promoting Compact Urban Form (4)
  • Movement of People/Goods (3)
  • Feasibility/Construction (2)
  • Parks, River Valley and Ravine System (2)
  • Social Environment (2)
  • Natural Environment (2)

Southeast LRT

Recommended Route
Route Options

The Southeast LRT corridor travels north from Mill Woods Town Centre on 66 Street, continuing north on 75 Street. It then uses Wagner Road to extend either over or under the CP Rail line to 83 Street. From there, it proceeds along 83/85 Street north to 95 Avenue, then along 95 Avenue to Connors Road with the route crossing the North Saskatchewan River, either replacing the Cloverdale footbridge or adjacent to it, and east into downtown to connect to the proposed Quarters development, providing a surface (street level) connection to Churchill LRT station, ultimately connecting to Grant MacEwan College.

Major potential stations: Muttart Conservatory, Bonnie Doon Mall, Grey Nuns Hospital, Mill Woods Town Centre

Key benefit: Direct link to downtown, minimizes traffic impacts to Connors Road.
Key weakness: Neighbourhood disruption.

West LRT

Recommended Route
Route Options

The West LRT corridor goes from Lewis Estates east along 87 Avenue, then north on 156 Street. It connects to downtown via Stony Plain Road and 104 Avenue, providing a surface (street level) connection to Grant MacEwan College.

Major potential stations: MacEwan, Oliver Square, Jasper Gates, MacEwan Arts Campus, Jasper Place, Meadowlark Shopping Centre, Misericordia Hospital, West Edmonton Mall

Key benefit: Direct connection to downtown, opportunity to transform Stony Plain Road into a transit corridor for west neighbourhoods.
Key weakness: Impact on established neighbourhoods.

Discussion & Analysis

At this point, I’m simply happy to see this moving ahead. The South LRT expansion has been going well, and it’s important to keep momentum and interest. The West LRT route has definitely been the more controversial of the two, and I don’t see that changing (which likely means that the Southeast LRT route will get built first).

I talked to Councillor Kim Krushell this afternoon to get her thoughts on the recommended routes. While she too was happy to see progress, she had reservations about the West route, telling me that she didn’t necessarily agree with the weighting of the evaluation criteria. “Some estimates put the number of people working at the U of A at 50,000 and the number working downtown at 60,000. The recommended route bypasses a major employment centre.” While she’s “not against the Stony Plain route” she will be asking questions to better determine if the Stony Plain route is actually better, and admitted that “the Oliver connection is appealing.”

That got me thinking about the impact of the West LRT route on the University of Alberta. While many who work in the area may not replace their vehicles with the bus, there’s a good chance they’d use Park and Ride and take the train to work. Students on the other hand, will almost certainly use the bus if no other transit option is available. I called Students’ Union President Kory Mathewson to get his thoughts: “The biggest impact for students is access to afforable housing. The more transit connections we have to the University, the more options students have.”

I expect to see a number of community meetings and town halls related to the West LRT route over the next couple of months.

What’s next?

This is far from a done deal, and there are a bunch of upcoming events you should know about. First up are a series of public information sessions taking place on September 21 and 23 for the Southeast LRT route and September 29 and 30 for the West LRT route (full details here). This is your opportunity to learn more and to ask questions.

Next is a statutory public hearing on November 9th, followed by a report back in December 2009. Concept engineering, which includes working with individual neighbourhoods to site stations, complete environmental analysis, planning a new maintenance facility site, and further defining the downtown connection, will take place from November 2009 through December 2010. It is during the engineering phase that details like home expropriation will be determined.

Funding is in place for a Lewis Estates Transit Centre and Park and Ride facility (with over 800 parking stalls). The Transit Centre is expected to be completed in March 2010, and the Park and Ride in July 2010.

Beyond that, a lot depends on the direction and priorities set by City Council. We should get some indication of their thoughts at the Transportation Master Plan public hearing taking place on September 14.

To keep up-to-date on these and other LRT projects, visit

UPDATE: Thinking about the West LRT a little further, does it matter that it doesn’t go directly to the University of Alberta? By the time it’s built, the Quesnell Bridge will be widened and express bus service from West Edmonton Mall to the U of A will likely be quite fast.

Visualizing Edmonton’s Municipal Development Plan

The Municipal Development Plan (MDP), also known as “The Way We Grow”, is the City of Edmonton’s strategic land use plan. You can think of it as the implementation of the City Vision for the next ten years (along with its sister document, the Transportation Master Plan). The next public hearing on the draft MDP takes place tomorrow (you can download the agenda in Word here).

From the Executive Summary:

By the year 2040, Edmonton will be home to more than 1 million people. To accommodate our growth and to aid Edmonton’s evolution to a more sustainable, healthy and compact city, this plan takes a holistic city building approach to managing growth and development. Success will give Edmonton a grater range of housing, living and work place choice, greater financial sustainability, an ecological system throughout the city and a fully functioning integrated transit and land use system.

Though a plan like this is probably just good to have, it’s also required by the Municipal Government Act – all municipalities in Alberta with populations greater than 3,500 are required to prepare a Municipal Development Plan.

The draft MDP is a hefty document, so I like to start by trying to visualize it. Here’s a Wordle of the entire 141 page draft document (which you can download in PDF here), with common terms (such as Edmonton or Municipal Development Plan) removed:

I thought it would be interesting to compare that with the current 109-page MDP (which you can download in PDF here):

Not surprisingly, they are fairly similar. The three that jump out at me are “neighbourhoods”, “transportation”, and “transit” in the draft plan – all are much smaller in the current plan. On the flip side, “business” and “services” are much larger in the current plan.

The key bullet points from the draft plan describe what the City of Edmonton is attempting to achieve:

  • Emphasizing the role urban design plays in a world class city.
  • Recognizing the need to address Edmonton’s financial sustainability by integrating land use and transportation decisions with city infrastructure and lifecycle costing.
  • Shifting from an auto-oriented transportation system to a system offering citizens more choice of transportation modes.
  • Focusing investment to transportation corridors that facilitate the movement of goods within the City and throughout the region.
  • Promoting integration of ecological networks and biodiversity in our approach to land use.

I haven’t read the entire thing, but two themes seem to be common throughout the draft MDP – population growth and financial sustainability. Edmonton’s current population of 782,439 is expected to grow by 400,000 people by 2040. Here’s what that looks like:

Looks a bit like the classic hockey stick curve! It takes a lot of infrastructure to support that many people. The City of Edmonton currently has more than $32.6 billion of City-owned infrastructure, most of which has a life cycle of 50 years. That’s a big number, so here’s a visualization to hopefully help you make sense of it:

I tried to pick items related to Edmonton in some way. It’ll be interesting to see how that number grows over time.

Proposed revisions and amendments to the draft will be considered by City Council tomorrow. The next public hearing is currently scheduled for November 12th. That gives you lots of time to scan through the document if you’re up to the challenge!

I’ll have more on the MDP over the next few weeks.

Transforming the City of Edmonton IT Branch

On Friday the City of Edmonton’s IT branch held its first ever IT Vendor Open House. The event was a big success, with dozens of local technology professionals stopping by throughout the day. Attendees had the opportunity to learn more about how the IT branch does business, and about some of the initiatives and projects that are coming down the pipe. The event also gave the IT branch a chance to share some of the work they’ve done recently to transform internally.

Chris Moore, the City’s Chief Information Officer, delivered two keynotes during the day, called “IT New Directions”. Chris isn’t your typical CIO – he doesn’t have a desk in his office, he avoids PowerPoint whenever possible, and he is always one step ahead of everyone else. For example, it wasn’t possible for anyone to run Macintosh computers at the City until recently. While everyone has been focusing on making that a reality (a few Councillors switched over earlier this year), Chris is looking at what’s next: bring your own technology. Chris imagines an environment in which employees can run whatever they like.

Edmonton CIO Chris Moore

He touched on a few main points:

  • There are around 1100 different applications and systems at the City. Only 132 of them are Access or Excel. That means there’s an incredible amount of overhead required for management and support, not to mention data in 1100 different places.
  • Throughout the spring, the IT branch held mini town halls, with about ten employees in each (there are 300 employees total).
  • Out of those discussions and other meetings, a new Agile Service Delivery Model emerged.

One of the few slides Chris showed during his keynote was a list of highlights from the past sixty years:

  • 1954: Univac 120 – First in Western Canada
  • 1960: IBM 1401 – First in Canada
  • 1966: IBM 360 – One of the first in Canada
  • 1978: Early adopter of GIS
  • 1980: City recruits IT staff from the U.K.
  • 1985: Sale of COINS to Orange County, CA
  • 1991:, “early Internet adopter”
  • 1996: POSSE – Award winning system
  • 1999: One of the first cities to move to Enterprise GIS
  • 2009: First city in North America to use SAP CRM for 311

The slide was titled “Western Canada’s Municipal Information Technology Leader”. That’s perhaps a bit of a stretch for the last few years, but it’s certainly the goal for the future. Chris and his team want to get back to being the innovators.

On June 18th, the Information Technology Corporate Audit Report for 2008 was released and it talks a lot about the drivers behind the transformation that Chris touched on in his keynote. Here’s a Wordle of the report:

Among other things, there were two clear conclusions from the report (which you can download here in Word format):

  • That Corporate IT resources can be used in a more cost effective and efficient manner.
  • That the IT Governance Framework is not effective in prioritizing and allocating operating and capital resources for information technology.

In reality, there isn’t much of a Governance Framework at the moment, but the IT branch is already working to change that. They’ve created something they call COKESFORIT, or the “ten ways of being”:

  1. Collaborative
  2. Open
  3. Knowledgeable
  4. Empowered
  5. Supportive
  6. Flexible
  7. Organized
  8. Responsible
  9. Innovative
  10. Trusting

The idea is that everything the IT branch does should align with these concepts.

During ICLEI a couple weeks ago, visual facilitator Roy Blumenthal worked with the IT branch, and captured eighteen impressive visual notes. As a fan of open data, I like this one:

I’m excited about the changes taking place at the IT branch. I think the organization is heading down the right path: to become more efficient and more transparent. If you’ve got ideas or feedback, now seems like the right time to get in touch with them!

Idea Zone Edmonton

Idea Zone is the City of Edmonton’s new system for open innovation. It’s one of their first attempts at leveraging a crowdsourcing model, and it represents a shift in the way the City tackles large problems. Perhaps more importantly, I think Idea Zone is another small step toward becoming an Open City.

I was first introduced to the system a few months ago, but at that time it wasn’t ready for a test drive. The first people outside the City to see it in action were the ICLEI World Congress 2009 attendees last week. You’ll notice that Idea Zone is currently described as an opportunity to “connect with your colleagues who share your interest in local sustainability.” The plan was to have ICLEI attendees seed the system with ideas before opening the doors to citizens. Unfortunately, only about 30 users signed up, far less than the goal of 100. There are currently 34 users signed up on the site, and a total of 34 ideas have been submitted.

Idea Zone is very similar to Dell’s IdeaStorm or My Starbucks Idea – you create an account, submit your own ideas, and vote and collaborate on others’ ideas. Submitting an idea is straightforward – you choose a category (current categories include “Climate” and “Energy”, for example), enter a title and summary, and optionally attach files that further define the idea. Other users can then vote on your idea, leave comments, and make additions. You can also make a collaboration request to other users, essentially inviting them to help you flesh out the idea. Anyone can choose to “Champion” an idea, which means they become responsible for seeing it through to completion. Finally, the City can issue “Challenges” which are like requests-for-ideas.

The specific software the City of Edmonton is using is called Idealink Open, by Quebec-based BrainBank Inc. There are actually a few instances running. Idea Zone is the simplified, public instance meant for citizens. There are also a couple of internal instances for use by City of Edmonton employees. The internal instances feature a more involved and detailed workflow, designed to carry ideas through to implementation.

The most interesting thing about Idea Zone to me isn’t the software itself, but the opportunities the system will enable. In the long term, Idea Zone could dramatically impact the way City employees collaborate to solve problems. Sounds very pie-in-the-sky, I know, but I have proof. Check this out:

That’s a photo of what is almost certainly the first Microsoft Surface shipped to Alberta. The City of Edmonton is working with local consulting firm Quercus Solutions to explore how the Surface can be used with Idea Zone for collaboration. The Surface is certainly a more inviting and natural interface than the web browser! Thanks to Quercus for the above photo.

I hope the City’s willingness to experiment with new and innovative technologies like Idea Zone and Surface is a sign of things to come. Feel free to sign up for an Idea Zone account and let me know what you think. I’ll be keeping an eye on the system to see how it evolves. It definitely has potential!