Quarterly Update on the City Centre Airport Redevelopment

Today the City of Edmonton provided an update on the City Centre Redevelopment. Phil Sande, the project’s executive director, gave a brief overview of the report (PDF) that will go to Council on Friday, and was available to the media for questions. As you can see, the project now has a logo!

Phil talked most about the process for the design competition. Submissions from the five finalists are due on January 21, 2011, and are to contain display material, a five-minute video, and written content. Each finalist must also make a case for why they should be chosen. Here are the updated dates:

  • January 21, 2011: Submissions from finalists due.
  • January 24/25, 2011: Submissions should be available to the public online.
  • January 28 – February 6, 2011: Submissions will be on display at City Hall (and other locations).
  • February 8-10, 2011: Selection Committee will review the submissions and interview each team.
  • March 2011: Recommendation from Selection Committee will go to City Council.
  • April/May 2011: Winning submission selected and contract negotiations begin.

The winning submission will then undergo a 15 month “master plan process” which will include extensive public involvement. After that process is complete, the City will have more reliable numbers for both number of residents and potential tax revenue from the redevelopment. Tenders for construction of the first phase of the project could go out as early as the summer of 2013, with utility work beginning around the same time.

Phil Sande, CCR

There’s an update on the environmental analysis in the report:

The Phase II Environmental Site Assessment on the east portion of Edmonton City Centre Airport site identified three locations where there are contaminants above acceptable criteria. A risk management approach is being applied to these sites, which means no remediation is necessary until such time as the site is redeveloped.

There were lots of questions about the updated revenue estimates for the redevelopment. Here’s what the report says:

Based on current development practices, upon full build out, preliminary estimates suggest that the City Centre Redevelopment will generate annual tax revenues in excess of $20 million per year and generate net sales revenues in excess of $70 million.

Phil stressed that we’ll have better information after the master plan process, and that the estimates are conservative and very approximate. He cited a change in parameters (notably the amount of land set aside for institutional use, and an increase in the amount of residential use and thus a decrease in the more lucrative commercial space) as contributing to any differences from previous estimates.

Here’s what Economic Impact Analysis (PDF) from June 2009 said:

The overall benefit to the City of Edmonton resulting from redevelopment of the ECCA lands is estimated to total $93 million (2009 $ net present value over 35 years using a 10% discount rate).  This benefit is expected to range between $55 and $168 million when the discount rate applied to future costs and revenues is varied by ±3%.

You can find all the other relevant documents here. It’ll be interesting to see how these numbers change as we learn more, but right now, they don’t seem that far off from where we were at last year.

Phil said that the redevelopment is still a vitally important project for the City of Edmonton, one that will bring a number of benefits to Edmontonians. His team has not received anything from the finalists in the design competition just yet, but it sounds like they are hard at work. I look forward to seeing what they have come up with in January!

UPDATE: Here’s a PDF document that outlines the range of redevelopment opportunities as they were envisioned in 2009. The net revenues of the options range from $91 million to $486 million.

UPDATE2: Another update from the City, received this evening:

Previous estimates of City revenues ranging from $91M to $486M remain accurate. These are based on the City acting as developer in four possible redevelopment scenarios. The anticipated revenue from the sale of the land as reported in the update is $70M. This number is based on the City selling the land to a developer, rather than acting as the developer itself, as is intended. The option for the City to simply sell the land was not one of the previous four redevelopment scenarios, and should not have been included in the quarterly update report. It is not an option the City is considering.

Edmonton City Centre Airport Design Competition Finalists

Today Simon Farbrother, City Manager, and Phil Sande, City Centre Airport Executive Director, announced the five finalists in the City Centre Airport Lands Design Competition. These finalists will now work until the end of the year on their plans to redevelop the 216-hectare site into a sustainable, transit-oriented community.

City Centre Airport Design Competition Finalists

From the press release:

“We had an overwhelming response to our request for qualifications,” says Phil Sande, Executive Director, City Centre Airport redevelopment project, City of Edmonton. “We’ve received 33 submissions with a wealth of experience in innovative sustainable design, urban design and redevelopment, engineering and architectural design.”

The five winning firms are (in alphabetical order):

  1. BNIM, Kansas City, USA
  2. Foster & Partners, London, UK
  3. KCAP, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  4. Perkins + Will, Vancouver, Canada
  5. Sweco International AB, Stockholm, Sweden

The contents of their submissions is confidential, so all we got to see were the covers of the proposals. The City also suggested the following visuals: BNIM, Foster & Partners, KCAP, Perkins + Will, Sweco International AB.

Local firms involved in the proposals include Williams Engineering, Bunt & Associates, Cohos Evamy, and Calder Bateman.

City Centre Airport Design Competition Finalists

Their submissions were based upon the Master Plan Principles that City Council approved earlier this year. The review committee included: Simon Farbrother, City Manager; Gord Jackson, Acting Manager of the Policy and Planning Branch; Rick Daviss, Manager of Corporate Properties Branch; Peter Hackett, Exec. Professor School of Business, VP Research and a Fellow of the National Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Alberta; Chris Henderson, CEO of Delphi Group, Canada’s leading strategic consulting firm in the environment and clean energy sectors; and Todd Latham, President of Actual Media Inc. which produces ReNew Canada, the infrastructure and renewal magazine. James McKellar, Associate Dean, External Relations Academic Director, Program in Real Estate and Infrastructure, Schulich School of Business, York University ensured the review process was transparent and fair.

Some additional notes from the press conference:

  • The first phase of the build out could be completed by 2024.
  • Preliminary results of the environmental evaluation show three small sites with limited contamination potential. The findings thus far were described as “very positive”. More information will be available in about 3 weeks.
  • Each firm will receive an honorarium of $50,000 to participate.
  • Phil said that consideration of Edmonton as a Winter City was important, and was something the finalists both embraced and have experience with.

Edmontonians will get to review all five submissions at the end of the year. The review committee will then be joined by Lars Franne, Retired Project Manager, Hammarby Sjöstad Sustainable Redevelopment, Stockholm, Sweden, and potentially others, and will make a recommendation to City Council, who ultimately has the final decision.

It’s great to see this project moving forward!

UPDATE: Here are the biographies of the five finalists (in PDF), provided by the City.

Edmonton City Centre Airport Lands Master Plan Principles

A report went to City Council today outlining the vision and principles for development of the City Centre Airport lands.

The ECCA lands will be home to 30,000 Edmontonians living, working and learning in a sustainable community that uses 100% renewable energy, is carbon neutral, significantly reduces its ecological footprint, and empowers residents to pursue a range of sustainable lifestyle choices.

You can download the report here. A few of the highlights for me:

  • The challenge is to be experimental, not to wait for the perfect solution to arrive.
  • Common goal is defined by: design excellence, empowering people, reducing consumption, offering lifestyle options, innovating, measuring achievements.
  • Examples mentioned: Vastra Hamnen (Western Front), Malmo, and Hammarby Sjostad, Stockholm, both in Sweden, and One Planet Communities.
  • The goal is to achieve LEED Gold certification for all buildings, and to encourage LEED Platinum.
  • Under transportation: LRT is a focus, of course, but also “designs to discourage high speed traffic”, “bike paths and multi-use trails to provide fully connected routes”.
  • Technology is identified as a key component of the Master Plan: “A key to success in adapting new technologies will be the engagement of three major local players: EPCOR, the University of Alberta and NAIT.”
  • Our climate is highlighted: “It must be recognized that Edmonton has severe winter conditions, which bring their own challenges, but these need not stand in the way of achieving sustainable development.”

The report also highlights the historical significance of the lands, and states that the Master Plan must embody that through preservation, naming, interpretation, and designation:

  • Identify opportunities to re-use hangars as recreation facilities or other community facilities (e.g. farmers market).
  • Explore the idea of a “mall of museums” that would acknowledge the historical significance of structures such as Hangars 8 and 11 that are all on the Inventory of Historic Resources in Edmonton.
  • Acknowledge the history of the site through naming opportunities for thoroughfares, places and buildings that are associated with the past.

The Master Plan process will be guided by a new steering committee, and is broken into the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and Request for Proposals (RFP) phases. In the RFP stage, the City is looking for 3-5 proposals. Selection would be made by “an independent jury of distinguished professionals.” Excluding formal approvals by Council, the entire process is expected to take a year.

I think the report is a great first step, but there’s still a long way to go. In the background section, there are lots of specific targets, such as the One Planet principles that include “100% of power coming from renewable energy”, “98% reduction in solid landfill waste”, “82% reduction in CO2”, and “20% of materials manufactured on site”. The section that outlines the Master Plan is largely devoid of such targets, however. I found only a couple:

  • At least 20% of the housing units built must be affordable housing.
  • Achieve an overall density of 25 units per acre minimum.

To get an idea of what 25 units per acre looks like, check out this PDF (4 MB).

Council will be discussing the report today. You can watch or listen live online here.

What do you do in your spare time?

A post at the Canadian Developer Connection blog last week caught my eye. Joey deVilla posted about something he had read at the Harvard Business blog related to interview questions. In both posts you learn about Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who safely made an emergency landing in the Hudson river last month. What does “Sully” do in his spare time? Anything and everything related to aviation, apparently. As a result, both posts argue that the most important interview question to ask, is:

“What do you do in your spare time?”

I couldn’t agree more. People who are excellent at their jobs are probably passionate about what they do, and spend more time and energy on things related to their area of expertise/interest than the average person. My experience with software development definitely backs this up. The best developers are usually the ones who go home and work on a hobby project after they’re done with the “day job”. There are exceptions, of course, but as a general rule I think you need to practice your craft outside of work to be good at it.

I’m currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and right near the beginning of the book he argues the same point. Practice makes perfect. He estimates you need to spend 10,000 hours practicing something to truly master it. Gladwell uses The Beatles, Bill Joy, and Bill Gates as examples, and argues that in addition to their hard work it was a series of fortunate events that made it possible for them to spend about 10,000 hours practicing, and that’s what truly made them successful.

Every time I look at a resume, I look for the “extra” stuff. In the case of a developer, I look for programming competitions, contributions to open source projects, anything outside of school and work. It’s amazing how few mention anything like that.

I want to see passion, and by extension, practice!

Microsoft is adopting jQuery moving forward

Just came across some really excellent news for developers. Microsoft’s ScottGu has announced that the ASP.NET team is adopting the popular jQuery library and will be shipping it with Visual Studio moving forward:

We are really excited to be able to partner with the jQuery team on this. jQuery is a fantastic library, and something we think can really benefit ASP.NET and ASP.NET AJAX developers. We are looking forward to having it work great with Visual Studio and ASP.NET, and to help bring it to an even larger set of developers.

I think this is just fantastic. I’m a fairly recent convert to jQuery, but I’m sold. I won’t build another website without it. The most immediate benefit of this announcement is the Intellisense support that Microsoft will be shipping in a few weeks as a free download.

You can read jQuery creator John Resig’s comments on the partnership here. This is an interesting kind of move for Microsoft. Instead of building their own or trying to buy a competitor like normal, they’re recognizing that jQuery is great as it is. Using jQuery will benefit Microsoft, and I’m sure it will benefit jQuery too as Microsoft can submit patches, bug reports, and other things.

Great stuff!

SubSonic 2.1

subsonic I’ve been using SubSonic for about a year now, and I’m a big fan. As the website says, SubSonic is a open source toolset for .NET developers that helps a website build itself. Essentially what SubSonic does is automatically generate your data access layer for you. It saves you from having to write the same boilerplate code over and over. Developers like to talk a lot about improving productivity, and SubSonic actually helps in that regard. The latest version, 2.1, was released on Tuesday.

SubSonic is known as an Object-Relational Mapping (OR/M) tool. What that means is that it generates objects that reflect your database structure. So if you have a table called “User” it will create an object called “User”. Unlike most OR/M tools however, SubSonic prefers convention over configuration. This is my favorite part about SubSonic – there are no mapping files! You don’t need to say that “User” is a table you’d like to use, and that the “Username” column is a string. SubSonic figures that out on its own. Everything just happens automagically.

I like to run SubSonic manually on the command line, so that I can stick the code it generates into a class library. You do this by running SubCommander. The objects SubSonic generates by default are Active Record objects. You use them like this:

User user = new User();
user.Username = "mastermaq";

The newest version of SubSonic also supports what’s known as the Repository Pattern, for developers who don’t like the Active Record way of working with objects. You can learn more about that here.

Also new in SubSonic 2.1 are query factories, which let you write fluent code like this:

return new Select()

Doesn’t that look wonderful? It almost makes working with the database enjoyable!

If you are still writing your data access code by hand, I’d definitely suggest taking a look at SubSonic. If you’re using a different OR/M tool, you might want to see how SubSonic compares. It currently works with SQL Server 2000/2005/2008, MySQL, and Oracle.

You can download SubSonic 2.1 from CodePlex. Check out the SubSonic website for more information, and also Rob and Eric‘s blogs.

jQuery: Don't build websites without it!

jquery For the last few weeks I’ve been using a JavaScript library called jQuery. The more I use it, the more I wonder how I ever built websites without it! Here’s the official description:

jQuery is a fast, concise, JavaScript Library that simplifies how you traverse HTML documents, handle events, perform animations, and add Ajax interactions to your web pages. jQuery is designed to change the way that you write JavaScript.

jQuery makes all of your page manipulations easier. Best of all, it does so in a consistent, reliable way across all browsers. No more little hacks in your JavaScript to make something work in both IE and Safari.

In general, I’m a big fan of doing things client-side on the web. That might sound weird coming from an ASP.NET developer, since the whole idea behind ASP.NET’s postback model (called Web Forms) is to make everything happen server-side. I think most experienced ASP.NET developers would agree however, that the postback model is crap. It’s flawed, and if you can avoid it, you should.

We built Podcast Spot in ASP.NET, but we don’t use postbacks. ASP.NET is essentially just our rendering engine. We made use of prototype, another popular JavaScript library, but a lot of the code we wrote is just ugly. I wish I had known about jQuery back then. I’m tempted to rewrite everything using jQuery, but I’m mindful of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage.

It’s very unlikely I’ll be building anything new without jQuery though. That’s how much I love it! Here are my favorite things so far:

  • Works in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera. Cross-browser support FTW!
  • At just 16 KB for the minified, gzipped version, it has a very small footprint.
  • The API feels natural if you already know JavaScript quite well.
  • Chainability – the magic of jQuery. If you’re familiar with object-oriented programming, you’ll love jQuery.
  • The jQuery UI API is much more consistent and complete than script.aculo.us, and the effects seem much smoother too.

To get started with jQuery, just visit the website. You’ll probably also want to take a look at jQuery UI. The documentation is excellent, and there are quite a few tutorials available online.

Something to keep an eye on: Microsoft Velocity

Last week I heard about a new project from Microsoft code-named Velocity. You can think of Velocity as Microsoft’s version of the very popular memcached:

“Velocity” is a distributed in-memory cache that provides .NET applications with high-speed access, scale, and high availability to application data.

Basically it’s a backend technology that helps to make websites perform better. Instead of accessing the database every time a page is requested, the website can often get the data it needs from the cache which is much faster than accessing the database.

ASP.NET has had caching built-in for years, but it doesn’t work in a server farm. That is, if you have more than one web server, there’s no way for all of them to share the same cache. Velocity makes that possible. For a good technical overview of Velocity, check out this post from Dare Obasanjo. Also check out Scott Hanselman’s podcast interview with two of Velocity’s architects.

We use memcached in Podcast Spot, and we’ve been very happy with it. It’s simple, efficient, and does just what we need it to do. Of course, our memcached installation is no where near the size of Facebook’s. I’ve read in a few places in the past that they run a 200 server cluster with 3 TB of memory solely for memcached. I’m sure it has grown since then too.

I have no idea how well Velocity will perform compared to memcached, or even if it’s full of bugs or not! I am eager to play around with it though, and it’s a project I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on. Velocity is a project from Microsoft that is long overdue, in my opinion.

Twitter doesn't know what's wrong

twitter Even occasional Twitter users will no doubt be familiar with the service’s frequent downtime. It’s a rare day when I don’t run into at least one or two “something’s technically wrong” messages on the site. That has prompted a lot of discussion about how to improve Twitter, and also some discussion about how things could be so bad.

I’ve been willing to cut them some slack. They’ve grown exponentially, and continue to do so. Then on Wednesday, Twitter founder Jack posted this on the official blog:

We’ve gone through our various databases, caches, web servers, daemons, and despite some increased traffic activity across the board, all systems are running nominally. The truth is we’re not sure what’s happening. It seems to be occurring in-between these parts.

Transparency is great, but surely they must have some idea about what’s wrong? I don’t know much about their architecture or systems, but it seems odd to me that they’d be totally stumped. It suggests to me that their architecture was never designed, and was instead thrown together over time. Now they’re in too deep to start over.

Twitter developer Alex suggests that the main problem is the system was originally put together as a content management system, when in reality it’s a messaging system. If that’s the case, fine, but messaging systems are not new. They must be able to examine and learn from some existing stuff right?

Posts like the one Jack made don’t inspire much confidence that they’ll be able to turn things around, but I sure hope they do. I really love Twitter. Maybe the $15 million in additional funding that they recently secured will help.

Six months with the day job – no thanks to school

Post Image Today marks six months of me working at Questionmark. I started there in July as a .NET developer, and so far I’m really enjoying it. The work is interesting, and the people are great. After focusing mostly on Paramagnus for the last couple years, I was kinda worried that the transition would be painful, but it hasn’t been.

Of course, transition may not be the best word as I’m still working on Paramagnus too (along with Dickson). Not as much as I used to, obviously, but Questionmark has been very accommodating thus far. The first month or two was a bit difficult, but I have more of a routine now, so that’s good. The vacation last month was a nice break from everything as well.

I think part of the reason that doing both Paramagnus and Questionmark isn’t impossible is that I’ve never worked solely on Paramagnus. Until April of 2007, I was still a full-time university student! And all jokes about skipping class aside, it still required a fair bit of time and effort. So in a lot of ways I have just replaced school with the Questionmark job.

Those of you who know me well know that I do not look back on my time at the University of Alberta with much fondness. I really enjoyed the Economics courses I took and a few of my options were pretty interesting too. My computing sciences classes, on the other hand, were largely a waste of time. I always felt that the things we were learning about were entirely irrelevant! It still bugs me, because I love technology and I love software development but I absolutely hated most of the CS courses I had to take.

I’ve always wondered if any of the CS stuff I learned would be useful in a real job. None of it was at Paramagnus (except maybe the two database courses), but I don’t think that should really count, because I have complete control over our development and how it works. Questionmark should count though, right?

I can honestly say that if I had to rely on the things I learned in computing sciences for my job at Questionmark, I’d be completely screwed.

Instead of a Bachelor’s degree in Computing Sciences, I should have gotten the BFA in Software Development, as described at Joel on Software:

When I said BFA, Bachelor of Fine Arts, I meant it: software development is an art, and the existing Computer Science education, where you’re expected to learn a few things about NP completeness and Quicksort is singularly inadequate to training students how to develop software.

Imagine instead an undergraduate curriculum that consists of 1/3 liberal arts, and 2/3 software development work. The teachers are experienced software developers from industry. The studio operates like a software company. You might be able to major in Game Development and work on a significant game title, for example, and that’s how you spend most of your time, just like a film student spends a lot of time actually making films and the dance students spend most of their time dancing.

That sounds like it might have been useful! Better yet, screw university and just start a company. I mean it – I have learned so much from Paramagnus. I can’t imagine where I’d be had I not started the company. I certainly wouldn’t have a job at Questionmark.

Is it my fault for going to the University of Alberta instead of NAIT? No, I don’t think so. The U of A is supposed to give you the best education possible, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of preparing you for the real world. Will I look back twenty years from now and find value in the CS courses I took? Never say never, but I seriously doubt it. The tech industry changes too quickly.

I think the current education model for software development is horribly flawed. Very few people want to be computer scientists, charged with proving theorems and all that other crap. I think a lot of people want to learn how to develop software, from start to finish. I laughed at first, but I think the BFA in Software Development idea is actually quite good. It could totally work!

If I’m ever in a position to make it happen, I absolutely will try.