Foundations for an Open Edmonton

Today at BarCamp, I led a discussion around building an open Edmonton. Inspired by the great things happening in Vancouver, I wanted to stimulate the discussion here. I started with two fundamentals:

  1. The City of Edmonton must have the desire to be an open city.
  2. The primary audience is the Creative Class of Edmonton, the secondary audience is all citizens.

Next, I shared what I feel are the five basic foundations of an open city:

  1. Free – both financially and philosophically
  2. Permissive Licensing – things like Creative Commons, should be public domain
  3. Open Standards – formats that anyone can read and write
  4. Plentiful Data – make as much data available as possible
  5. Timely Access – eliminate delays and give everyone equal access

After my five slides (a photo for each of the above) we got into a great discussion about the idea. Here are some of the questions that came up:

  • Are citizens ready for so much data?
  • Why would City Council not want to be an open city?
  • What is the current state of progress on the idea in Edmonton?
  • How does privacy & security factor in?
  • What are some great examples of other cities doing this?

All things that we need to explore further. I’m not sure what the next step is, but eventually, I think it would be great to make a presentation on becoming an open city to Council.

In the meantime, Edmonton has already made some data available – a Google Transit data feed – and some other examples include London’s mySociety. Also, be sure to read Vancouver’s Open City Motion.

Edmonton Stories

The City of Edmonton just launched a new campaign called Edmonton Stories. The goal of the campaign is to offer citizens an opportunity to share their stories about Edmonton with one another, and with people around the world. These stories will then be used in targeted marketing to attract labour and visitors to the city. There are two aspects to the campaign – the Edmonton 2030 video/vision that was unveiled at last week’s State of the City address, and the website.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to an Edmonton Stories preview earlier this week with a dozen or so other community members. Project lead Mary Pat Barry took us through some background information and a walk-through of the website. She explained that the City has done a lot of research into how Edmonton is perceived both internally and externally, and they found a big discrepancy. It turns out (according to their survey data at least) that Edmontonians view their city far differently than people who live elsewhere do. In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. And across almost all measures, Edmontonians view their city positively. Hence the push to get Edmontonians to share their stories.

Here’s how it works. They’ve seeded the website with roughly 60 stories covering a variety of topics. Anyone can go on the site and submit a story of their own. All entries are moderated, but the goal is a turnaround time of less than 72 hours for each one to be posted. In addition to text, you can attach images or video. Currently the site is focused on the city itself, but the entire capital region is a goal and input is not currently limited to any geographic area (in fact, “Calgary” was the default in the demo…minor glitch I’m sure). I haven’t been able to try it it yet, but posting a story looked simple enough in the demo.

Roughly $1 million was approved last year for the 2009 campaign. Most of that money is being spent on the website and the team of people who will manage and curate it. The website was built by Parcom Marketing Inc. and Yellow Pencil, and will be managed by the City of Edmonton and Parcom. I think it’s very attractive and well designed, but it’s not without flaws. For instance, there is now an RSS feed, but you really have to look for it. Also, there should be one for each category. I’m sure everything will be sorted out shortly, however.

I think the City is on the right track with Edmonton Stories. Despite being yet another place to create content, I can see how it serves a specific purpose. There are probably a significant number of people who have a story or two about the city to share, but not enough to warrant creating a blog. Edmonton Stories gives them a place to share a few things.

That said, I think Edmonton Stories faces some challenges:

  • Getting people to post stories is the key challenge. Will enough Edmontonians head over to the site to share something?
  • Ensuring stories are shared over time is another issue. To continue to have an impact, the site can’t go stale.
  • Maintaining a certain quality will be a challenge. What if many of the submissions are just a few sentences long? On the flip side, what if a story is clearly a marketing piece for a business or other organization? The moderators have their work cut out for them!

Not insurmountable, but challenges nonetheless.

Edmonton Stories is a more creative approach to the problem of how to market our city than the typical branding/marketing campaign, so kudos to the City for the concept. Now we’ll see how successful it is, and if it resonates with Edmontonians or not.

Take a look at the site and read the about page. What do you think? Also, you can follow @edmontonstories on Twitter.

UPDATE: There are more details on the campaign at the City of Edmonton website.

Edmonton’s State of the City Report 2008-2009

The City of Edmonton recently released it’s State of the City report for April 2008 – March 2009. It includes a summary of “civic programs and services delivered to meet the goals of City Council, representing the priorities of all Edmontonians.” Also included is a message from Mayor Mandel, information on the City Vision, the City’s Strategic Plan, and more.

Here’s a Wordle of the report with the words “Edmonton” and “city” removed:

You can see a larger version here, and a version with those two words included here.

State of the City Report 2008-2009

Edmonton's New Downtown Plan

edmonton's new downtown plan The City of Edmonton unveiled a draft of its New Downtown Plan this week, an overhaul of the Downtown Redevelopment Plan that was first created back in 1997. There were information displays setup in various places downtown, including at the City Centre Farmer’s Market today.

I quite like the marketing for the plan. Dark, bold colors, and a clear message: “My Downtown Is…Sustainable. Dynamic. Well-designed. Liveable. Accessible. Moving Forward.”

The plan outlines seven strategic priorities:

  1. Spaces for People. More open spaces, including parks and plazas.
  2. Expand the Knowledge Base. Support the continued expansion of education institutions.
  3. Increase Cultural and Entertainment Options. New facilities and expansion of existing opportunities.
  4. Enrich Jasper Avenue. Restore the prominence of this street as Edmonton’s main street.
  5. Connect to the River Valley and Adjacent Neighbourhoods. Build walkable links and improve access to the Legislature and North Saskatchewan River.
  6. Pedestrians First. Connect downtown with richly landscaped, sustainable streets.
  7. More Amenities. Build a downtown that is rich in things for people to do and places to go.

According to the Edmonton Journal, 600 people have participated in the creation of the plan by filling out surveys, questionnaires, and attending public meetings over the last few years.

“Edmontonians have told us they envision a dynamic neighbourhood, with more amenities and cultural activities to attract, residents, businesses and students,” said Shafee Mohamed, senior planner for the Downtown Plan.

“We have tried to capture that vision in this plan.”

I live fairly close to downtown, on 122nd street and 104th avenue. For many years I had an office right in the core at 101st street and Jasper Avenue, and I continue to spend a lot of time downtown. Even though I think it has come a long way since 1998 when I moved back to Edmonton, I’m happy to see renewed interest in improving the downtown area. We still have a long way to go before we’re on par with cities elsewhere in Canada.

The city is collecting feedback on the plan now, and will make revisions before presenting it to council in November. You can help by filling out the survey, or by calling 780.496.6064 to leave your comments.

If you’d like more information, check out the Downtown Plan website, call 780.496.6225, or write to You can also check out a public Open House on Tuesday, September 9th at the Winspear Centre. There will be brief presentations at 5, 6, and 7pm in addition to information displays.

I took a few photos of the information that was on display at the Farmer’s Market today, which you can see here.