It’s the season of detours downtown!

Summer means lots of construction here in Edmonton, so we shouldn’t be surprised by detours and road closures. More than $122.9 million is being invested in special projects, road paving, and other growth infrastructure projects this year! While walking around downtown today, I took some photos of a number of the projects underway.

On the east side of the 105 Street hill there’s a new sidewalk! It’s much wider, which is great for pedestrians. Looks like they are still doing some work on the west side.

New sidewalk on 105 Street

Between Jasper Avenue and 102 Avenue there is pavement renewal work being done on 106 Street:

Construction on 106 Street

There’s a lot of activity near the Legislature grounds, as the Federal Building and Centennial Plaza construction continues.

Centennial Plaza Construction

Work also continues on Capital Boulevard (108 Street). If you look closely here, you can see the street widen near the construction signs.

Capital Boulevard Construction

There’s also rehabilitation work happening on the north end of Capital Boulevard:

Capital Boulevard Construction

The most visible construction downtown is definitely the Central Station LRT Rehabilitation and Jasper Avenue Streetscaping. Basically avoid Jasper Avenue from 100 Street to 102 Street if at all possible.

Jasper Avenue Construction

They have now started removing the surface near 102 Street:

Jasper Avenue Construction

This section near 100 Street looks like it’ll be next. It has been pretty interesting to see how they do this work over the last couple weeks. It looks like the use a giant saw to slice the road (the thin straight lines in the photo below) then they’ll use the larger machinery to dig it up.

Jasper Avenue Construction

I didn’t make it up there today, but there is of course the North LRT to NAIT construction taking place along 105 Avenue and 105 Street (among other places). Here’s a great panorama from Hugh Lee:

LRT Expansion Expanded

One of the projects you’ll encounter as you enter downtown is the Grierson Hill Bridge & MacDonald Drive Pedestrian Underpass Rehabilitation. The City has been updating that page with photos.

For an overview of all current major road projects in the city, click here. Or, check out the more detailed construction schedule at Construction On Your Streets.

Downtown Edmonton’s Super Saturday

If you’re in Edmonton this Saturday, downtown is without a doubt the place to be. Some of us have been calling it “Super Saturday” because there are just so many things happening all day long!

Here’s a list of some of the activities you should check out:

TEDxEdmonton: Activating Ideas Citadel Theatre 8:30am – 5:30pm  
DECL Pancake Breakfast 4th Street Promenade 8:30am – 11:00am
City Market 4th Street Promenade 9:00am – 3:00pm
Edmonton Pride Parade 102 Avenue, from 107 Street to 99 Street 12:00pm – 2:00pm
Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids Stanley Milner Library 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Bikeology’s Heritage Bike Ride Ezio Faraone Park 3:00pm – 5:00pm
Al Fresco Block Party 4th Street Promenade Noon – 11:00pm
What the Truck?! 4th Street Promenade 5:00pm – 11:00pm
Mercer Warehouse Street Superparty 4th Street Promenade 7:00pm – 11:00pm
Al Fresco After Party Halo Lounge 9:00pm – 2:30am

Tickets are still available for TEDxEdmonton, so get yours here. You can read my recap of last year’s event here, that should give you a sense of what to expect. DECL’s Pancake Breakfast is a toonie breakfast, so bring your coins! For the City Market, the tasting area of Al Fresco, and for What the Truck?! you’ll need cash, so come prepared.

And since this post is about downtown, here’s an amazing panorama from Hugh Lee (78 images stitched together, taken from the top of the Crowne Plaza Hotel):

Downtown from the Crowne

Saturday is going to be an amazing day. Let’s hope the weather cooperates, but even if it doesn’t, bring an umbrella and enjoy!

Edmonton’s City Market Downtown needs community representation

This is a long post, so here’s the summary: the City Market Downtown has called a Special Meeting to change the organization’s bylaws so that vendors have complete control over the affairs of the market, whereas previously a healthy mix of vendor and community representation has been required. I believe this is an unfortunate and reactive turn of events that will prevent the City Market from growing and achieving success in the future. The City Market is successful presently because of the partnership that exists between vendors, consumers, residents, businesses, and the City of Edmonton, and I would like to see that partnership remain and become even stronger. I’m sharing this in the hopes that more Edmontonians will look at the City Market not just as a great place to shop at on Saturday, but also as an integral part of our downtown and of the city we all want Edmonton to be.

In a little over a week the City Market Downtown will return to 104 Street for the summer season. Even though it has been nearby throughout the winter at City Hall, I’m positive that May 19 will feel more like a return than simply a shift in location. The outdoor market is an altogether different and special experience, one that thousands of Edmontonians enjoy every weekend from May through October!

For more than one hundred years, the City Market has played an important and unique role in our city. In the early days, the existence of the market reflected Edmonton’s aspirations to be a place of importance. In recent years, the market has helped to revitalize our downtown. It’s most important role however, has been as a mechanism for connecting urban Edmontonians with their rural neighbours. As Kathryn Chase Merret wrote in her book, A History of the Edmonton City Market, 1900-2000, “the years during which the Edmonton City Market flourished were years when it embodied a popularly held and powerful civic idea, the interdependence of country and city.”

City Market Downtown

When the City Market moved to 104 Street in 2004, the idea of connecting country and city became embedded in the bylaws of the Edmonton Downtown Farmers’ Market Association. Among other things, the bylaws outline the composition of the board: five to ten members, including at least two members representing vendors, one member representing residents, and one member representing the business community. That composition is significant because it puts vendors and the community on equal terms, fifty-fifty. For the organization to work with such a structure, there must be a partnership between both sides. I firmly believe that partnership is what has enabled the City Market to flourish over the last seven years. And that is why I was alarmed to receive a notice about an upcoming Special Meeting to amend the bylaws in such a way that vendors would have complete control over the market.

Over the last week I have spent a significant amount of time and energy trying to get a better understanding of the situation. I wanted to know more about the history and the people involved, and I wanted to figure out if my initial alarm regarding the changes was warranted. I have talked to both current and past board members, I have talked to residents and businesses on 104 Street, and I have talked to both current and past City Councillors. What follows simply cannot represent every viewpoint on the matter, but know that I have done my best to gather as many perspectives as possible. Unfortunately both Dieter Kuhlmann and Dan Young, the current and past chairs of the City Market board respectively, declined to comment.

Proposed Bylaw Changes

On April 27 a “Notice of Special Meeting” was mailed to all members of the Edmonton Downtown Farmers’ Market Association. The notice indicated that a Special Meeting would take place on Monday, May 14, 2012 starting at 7:30pm at the Sutton Place Hotel to vote on a Special Resolution to amend the current bylaws. A copy of the amended bylaws was included, but the current bylaws were not, making it difficult to compare. In addition to a number of smaller changes, there are three big and important changes proposed.

  1. The categories of membership under the current bylaws are: Regular Member, Associate Member, Honoured Life Member. Regular Members are further categorized as Vendor Members and Community Members, but both have full and equal voting rights. Under the proposed bylaws, the categories of membership are: Voting Member, Non-Voting Member, and Honoured Life Member. Importantly, only vendors would be allowed to be Voting Members.
  2. As mentioned above, the current bylaws state that the Board of Directors must comprise five to ten members, including at least two Regular Members representing vendors, one Regular Member representing residents of downtown Edmonton, and one Regular Member representing the business community of downtown Edmonton. Under the proposed bylaws, the Board of Directors would be comprised of five to nine individuals, including a minimum of five Voting Members (ie. vendors), and if additional board members are elected, one Non-Voting Member who would represent residents and one Non-Voting Member who would represent the business community. If a full slate were to be elected, the eighth and ninth members would also be Voting Members.
  3. Under the current bylaws, each Director serves a two year term and may serve no more than three consecutive terms. Under the proposed bylaws, there is no limit to the number of terms a Director may serve.

To summarize, the changes remove the requirement to have resident and business representatives on the board, they remove the right of non-vendors to vote, they require that vendors always have a majority on the board, and they remove the term limits for board members.

I think it is important to point out that inadequate notice has been given for this Special Meeting. According to Service Alberta:

The by-laws must say that in the future the by-laws can only be changed by a special resolution of the members. Special resolution is defined in Section 1(d) of the Societies Act. The definition cannot be changed.

If you look at that section of the Societies Act, you’ll find that for such a resolution to be valid, “not less than 21 days’ notice specifying the intention to propose the resolution has been duly given.” In this case, just 17 days notice has been given.

Why did this come forward?

Practically speaking, someone brought a petition forward signed by twenty-five members of the association, as required by section 9.03 of the bylaws. I have been told that the petition was not a board initiative, and although no one was willing to name names it has become clear to me that there is one individual in particular who has taken it upon himself to drive this forward.

For some time now, there have been complaints from the businesses on the street about the logistics of the market. The businesses feel that the configuration of the market on the south end of the street unnecessarily hides their storefronts, blocks the sidewalks, and makes it difficult for consumers to shop. The market has typically responded with concern about the impact any changes would have on the logistics of setting up and tearing down the market. In my opinion, both sides have handled the situation poorly. The market seems to have taken the perspective that it is the greatest thing to ever happen to the street, and the businesses don’t seem to realize that perhaps they could do more to attract some of the 15,000+ people who walk by on a Saturday. Discussions have been ongoing and with Councillor Batty acting as a mediator between the two sides in recent weeks, a small amount of progress was finally made a few days ago when both sides agreed to trial a reconfiguration of the south end of the market. I think this ongoing negative situation has contributed to the desire by some vendors to remove any business representation from the market.

Another contributing factor appears to be last year’s vote on whether or not to pursue the Mercer Warehouse as a year-round venue for the market. The motion was defeated overwhelmingly, 69-3. Sharon and I abstained from that vote because we felt it was inappropriate to vote on something that could have such a significant impact on a vendor’s financial situation (each would have had to contribute thousands of dollars). In hindsight, it seems that a number of community representatives pushed quite hard for the building and that may have contributed to some vendors feeling threatened and ultimately led to the decisive vote.

Most significantly, it seems that personality conflicts have played a major role in this turn of events. Arnold Renschler was recruited to the board as a community member and was elected in January this year, but stepped down just a couple of months later after attempting unsuccessfully to bring vendors and businesses on the street together to discuss their differences. He quickly found that others on the board were not supportive of his initiative. “We need people to volunteer and while I am willing to give my time, the organization has to be open, transparent, fair, and democratic,” he told me. Arnold felt that the organization was one he did not want to be associated with, a message I have heard from a number of other individuals as well.

Why does this matter?

In my conversations over the last week, people overwhelmingly feel that the proposed changes would take the market in a negative direction. “A healthy balance between vendors and non-vendors is what has made the market successful,” is what former board member Jennifer Fisk told me. That healthy balance is precisely why the original board members wrote the bylaws the way they did. They recognized that the City Market is unique specifically because of its location. Instead of occupying a building that it owns and operates, the City Market calls 104 Street home just on Saturdays and just during the summer months. You might say that they are a guest of the street for that time, and that being a guest comes with certain expectations. “Downtown has many stakeholders, all of which need to be willing to hold dialogue with each other and discuss the issues in a rational, open-minded manner,” Chris Buyze, President of the Downtown Edmonton Community League, told me. “It’s about maintaining balance and a willingness to work with others.”

Without question, many vendors have a much larger stake in the market than residents or local businesses do. For many vendors, the market is their livelihood, and they’ve almost certainly put more blood, sweat, and tears into participating in the market than someone who simply lives on the street. However, because of that greater investment vendors are more likely to act in their own self-interest than in the best interests of the market. Having outside representation can help to provide a broader perspective. “I believe it should be a vendor led board, but that doesn’t mean that you have to exclude the other parties,” Arnold told me. There are few organizations that are as political as farmers’ markets are, and often that’s because of turf wars and other petty differences.

From a logistical point-of-view, having a balance of vendors and non-vendors is vitally important. Vendors are busy and many live outside the city, so they cannot be expected to keep up-to-date with what is happening on the street. That’s one area in which residents and businesses can be extremely valuable contributors. For example, they can both provide input to the board about changes to the street and can attend meetings in the city such as the ones that Transportation is scheduling to discuss future LRT construction.

Most people I talked to also feel that it is difficult to compare the City Market to other markets. Each market is different and what might work for one won’t necessarily work for another. For example, the St. Albert Market is completely run by the Chamber of Commerce and it has grown to become possibly the most successful single-day market in the province. In contrast, the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market is vendor-run and yet it too is extremely successful. The context in which the City Market operates is completely different, and I think a strong case can be made for a healthy mix of vendor and community representation.

The City Market does not operate in a vacuum. It needs the support of the community it parachutes in and out of for twenty-two weeks over the summer. “I do think that this market in particular works best when the community and the market are integrated,” former City Councillor Michael Phair told me. “It would be very valuable to have voting representation on the board from someone that has a connection to those living or working on the street.”

Why does the City Market matter?

There are lots of farmers’ markets in the Edmonton area, and new ones seem to be popping up all the time. But there aren’t any other markets like the City Market. Being located in the heart of downtown is a huge advantage that no other market has. The City Market is the only farmers’ market accessible via LRT, for instance, and that draws thousands of people into the core every week. When the LRT was extended to Century Park, there was a noticeable jump in attendance at the City Market.

According to Alberta Agriculture, the average person spent $35 per visit to a farmers’ market in 2004. By 2008, that number had jumped to $45. “The average customer to the City Market spends $68 each week,” former board member and 104 Street resident Jon Hall explained to me. “The market supports millions of dollars of commerce each year.” And he pointed out that the weekly average spend does not include parking, coffee, or other things that people might buy while they are in the area.

We throw the R-word (revitalization) around a lot these days, but there’s no question that the City Market has played and continues to play an important role in the turnaround of downtown. That’s especially exciting because it was not very long ago that the market itself was in need of a turnaround! There seems to be a interesting mix of fortunes for downtown and the City Market. For example, one of the key reasons that Sharon and I moved downtown was because of the City Market.

Future of the City Market

While the City Market still has a number of years on its lease with the City for 104 Street, there is no guarantee that it will remain there. Starting next year, the market will likely face significant logistical challenges at its present location due to the construction of the proposed third and fourth Icon towers in the parking lot on the northwest corner of 102 Avenue and 104 Street, as well as the eventual construction of the Downtown LRT Connector (which runs down 102 Avenue). There are alternatives that don’t require the market to move off the street, however. Michael Phair suggested that both the alley behind Sobeys and 104 Street south across Jasper Avenue could be viable locations for the market to expand or move into. “As you go south, you have quite a bit of space,” he said. “I think it would be relatively easy to manage the crossing at Jasper Avenue.” He points out that thousands of people cross Gateway Boulevard every Saturday from the parking lot to the Old Strathcona market, so why can’t they cross Jasper Avenue, which has even less traffic?

If the City Market cannot remain on 104 Street because a new location is truly better for the market, then that’s a valid reason to move. But if the market decides to move because it cannot or will not get along with the 104 Street community, that’s a different situation altogether. And I fear that without representation from the downtown community that has been home to the market for over one hundred years, there’s a real chance that the market may consider moving outside the downtown core. That would be a significant blow to the momentum that downtown now has, and I think would ultimately have a negative impact on the market itself.

Conclusion

The City Market on 104 Street is successful today because of the partnership that exists between vendors, consumers, residents and businesses on the street, and the City of Edmonton. Without the significant investments made by the City over the last two decades, 104 Street simply would not have been able to develop into one of Edmonton’s premier streets. The residents, businesses, and City Market together all bring the foundation provided by the City to life and positively contribute to the vibrancy and attractiveness of the street.

I believe that partnership is worth fighting for, and as such I view the proposed bylaw changes with great concern. I do not believe that the changes have been suggested with the best interests of the City Market at heart, and I think it is clear that they have been brought forward without adequate notice in an effort to avoid healthy discussion of the matter. I feel that strong vendor and community representation is a necessity for the City Market to continue to thrive, and I think that any attempt to cut either side out of the equation is shortsighted and harmful.

The City Market is not simply a place to buy food and crafts on the weekend. Rather, it connects Edmonton’s urban and rural communities and contributes significantly to the ongoing revitalization of our downtown. The City Market is one of the few remaining connections we have to our city’s earliest days, and I hope it continues to successfully play a role in the lives of Edmontonians for years to come.

City Market Downtown

How You Can Help

Tell others that you care about the City Market and its role in the city. Contact the City Market and buy a $10 membership. Go to the meeting on Monday night and express your concerns. Write to your City Councillor. Tweet your thoughts. Whatever you do, please don’t take the City Market for granted!

UPDATE (May 12): As per the comment below from City Market board chair Dieter Kuhlmann, the meeting has been postponed until mid-June. Here’s the notice that was sent to members:

The Special Meeting that was called for May 14, 2012 has been cancelled. Notice of a Special Meeting for the week of June 11, 2012 will be issued and mailed out next week in order to provide members with the required 21 days notice of the Special Resolution that will be the topic of the Special Meeting.

While this is a welcome change that will allow for more discussion, it doesn’t mean the issue is done just yet.

More power and money to cities in Alberta? I don’t believe you!

If you haven’t already done so you should check out Cities Matter, a website created by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. It features questions in ten categories related to municipalities that all five of the major provincial parties have answered. The Municipal Financing category asks what each party would do to provide long-range, sustainable, and predictable capital funding for large cities in Alberta. Here are some highlights from the responses:

Alberta Liberals:

Our view is that provincial funding for municipalities should be provided with little to no strings attached, and that local governments are best positioned to determine what their own priorities are and how money should be spent.

Alberta Party:

We are committed to ensuring municipalities have access to stable, adequate and predictable funding. The Alberta Party will shift from 3‐year budget cycles to 5‐year cycles to ensure more long‐term planning can happen. We will also explore alternative ways for cities to raise their own revenues, so that they are less dependent on provincial funding and are more able to accurately budget for their needs.

Alberta’s NDP:

An NDP government would support municipalities’ efforts to occupy the entire property tax and would be prepared to consider additional sources of revenue for municipalities which are appropriate to their responsibilities.

PC Alberta:

The PC Party also plans to help meet the fiscal needs of our cities with city charters and more local decision making through transfer of power. Municipalities are entitled to a greater say and accountability in their own governance and fiscal management.

Wildrose:

Our Balanced Budget and Savings Pledge will lay the groundwork for growing surpluses in the short term; combined with rising income taxes this will ensure that municipal funding increases along with Alberta’s economy.  It also means that municipal leaders won’t need to curry favour with government ministers and align their ideas with the latest trendy notions among bureaucrats.  Wildrose trusts local communities to know what their short and long term priorities are, and with this formula will give them the autonomy to carry through in meeting them.

Sounds good right? More power and money to cities!

Thing is, I really don’t believe any of that.

Consider the proposed downtown arena. Our local leadership has determined (whether you agree or not) that a new arena is something the city needs, that it is something that would benefit Edmontonians. Yet none of the provincial parties seem to have acknowledged that decision. In fact, in many cases they have explicitly disagreed.

Here’s NDP Leader Brian Mason’s take:

“There are far bigger priorities for tax dollars in Edmonton than giving handouts to billionaire hockey owners. Instead, the New Democrats want to accelerate the construction of more light rail transit in Edmonton with more funding. We could use that $100 million to provide interest-free loans to 20,000 homeowners for energy efficient home renovations, or build 250 long-term care beds. New Democrats use public money for the public good.”

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith was even more blunt:

“We would not provide funding to a new arena in Edmonton.”

PC Leader Alison Redford hasn’t been quite so direct, but her government has thus far avoided the issue and has been more than happy to move ahead with the new Royal Alberta Museum (which nobody was talking about until the announcement dropped out of the sky). And she too does not appear to agree with the need:

“I think that we have enough funding in our system right now to allow for projects that matter to communities to be built.”

I have not seen either the Alberta Party or the Alberta Liberals directly address the arena (if you can point me to something that would be appreciated).

You might argue that these leaders are just responding to what Edmontonians are saying – they don’t want public money going to the arena. Walk down the street and ask people what they think however, and you get a much different response. I think a lot of people feel that other levels of government need to come to the table to support this project.

Either way, we seem to have conflicting statements here. On the one hand, these provincial leaders are happy to suggest that they would grant more control to municipalities to determine what they should build and how they should spend their money. On the other hand, they’re opposed to providing funding to a new arena in Edmonton. So which is it? Or perhaps a better question, exactly what strings will be attached to the greater autonomy granted to municipalities? The arena is just one example. The City Centre Airport is another (and we know that at least the Wildrose would reopen that can of worms) and of course there’s LRT.

I find it really hard to believe that any of these parties would truly give more control over finances and decision making to municipalities. And that’s a shame, because cities really do matter.

Recap: Blink Edmonton, Pedway Pop-up

A month ago we held Blink, a pop-up restaurant that Sharon and I organized. On February 26, sixty people filled the pedway that connects Commerce Place and Scotia Place across 101 Street for a six-course meal. We sold out just twelve hours after tickets went on sale, and had a number of people on the waiting list. There’s certainly a hunger for unique experiences in Edmonton!

Blink Edmonton: Pedway Pop-up

We had only minor glitches throughout the evening, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. The food that Chef Tony Le and his team created was delicious, and I love that they were able to do something different. As Century Hospitality’s VP Culinary Paul Shufelt wrote in the Edmonton Sun:

Yearning for any opportunity to express our creativity. #Blinkyeg was just the opportunity we needed, a chance to create with far less limited boundaries.

Because of the space constraints of the venue, we needed to limit the tickets to 60 people. This allowed us to play with ingredients and techniques that were a little more obscure, and seen far less often on the everyday menu.

So with that in mind, we set out to assemble a menu that would allow us to express a different side of our creativity.

Sharon did a great job capturing the dishes and other details about the restaurant, so check out her recap for more.

We really wanted to hold Blink in a pedway because it fulfilled our desire to utilize a forgotten or under-appreciated space. Usually I speak against pedways, because I’d rather see people on the street than indoors, but they’re an important part of the overall pedestrian system downtown. And even if we succeed at making the streets more attractive, welcoming, and filled with shops and other reasons for people to use the sidewalks, the pedways aren’t going anywhere. So we might as well make the most of them!

Blink Edmonton: Pedway Pop-up

As I mentioned in my post announcing Blink, the first hurdle was to figure out who owned the pedway and who we needed to get permission from. Fortunately the Downtown Business Association’s Jim Taylor was extremely helpful in that regard! He was able to track down the information and make the necessary introductions. As a member of the pedway committee, he was already working on gathering that information and they’ve made significant progress in the last year.

Last week, the Downtown Pedway Committee submitted its annual report to Executive Committee. Established in 2010, the pedway committee exists to examine and address the challenges & opportunities related to the downtown pedway network. While much of the committee’s initial work was focused simply on finding ownership, maintenance, history, and other information about the pedways (which culminated in the creation of a database), they are now starting to make some positive changes. By the end of Q2 this year, the committee hopes to have the existing maps updated throughout the system (with help from Edmonton Transit). And next on the list is an integrated way-finding signage system. The signs throughout the system are dated, some are incorrect, and they’re very inconsistent. Refreshing them also provides an opportunity to look ahead, by incorporating digital-friendly way-finding solutions (that was my initial feedback to the committee). All of those improvements will help make navigating downtown easier. And who knows, maybe we’ll see more exciting events take place in pedways!

Blink Edmonton: Pedway Pop-up

Thanks again to everyone who had a hand in making Blink happen, especially the Downtown Business Association, the Downtown Edmonton Community League, GWL Realty Advisors, Morguard, and of course, Century Hospitality and everyone at Lux.

And thank you to everyone who bought tickets to Blink – you made it a success! Check out Sharon’s recap here, and you can see my photos here. We are in the process of planning another Blink, so stay tuned for updates!

What kind of festival does Metropolis want to be?

After eight weekends in Churchill Square, Metropolis has come to an end. Featuring four large shrink-wrapped structures, the new festival took a different approach to staging a winter event. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was successful. Sharon has already done a very thorough job of discussing some of the highs and lows of the festival as we experienced it over the past two months, so please make sure you read her post. She concluded:

“It’ll be interesting to see what organizers decide to do next, and what Metropolis might look like should the festival return again. Although I am glad Events Edmonton took a risk, I hope they are able to learn from this initial run and improve in the future.”

I’ll be a little stronger and say that I would be disappointed to see Metropolis return next year only slightly improved. If it is going to continue, I feel a major overhaul is needed. Originally envisioned as a showcase of cold weather construction techniques but sold as a festival to help Edmontonians embrace winter, Metropolis did neither.

Metropolis & Fireworks
The structures were nicely lit on New Years Eve, but were plain and white most of the rest of the time.

I think it’s clear the “build it and they will come” approach that Metropolis took was a failure. I know it’s a lot of work to get something like Metropolis off the ground, so it’s no surprise that the idea was scaled back numerous times (from nine structures down to six and eventually down to just four). Programming an event over a single weekend takes a lot of effort, let alone over eight weekends, even when you leave the programming to others as Events Edmonton did. As a result, there was little to draw people to the festival, and the attendance reflected that. As recently as December, Events Edmonton was estimating attendance of about 13,500 people per day or 300,000 total for the festival. I would be absolutely shocked if they achieved anything even remotely close to that. As Sharon noted in her post, we walked through Metropolis most weekends while it was on and it never seemed busy.

Maybe it was the warm weather or maybe it was the lack of marketing (remember the atrocious website they launched with?). Maybe it was that Events Edmonton put too much faith in the community stepping forward to do something with the structures. Maybe it was poor communication or maybe it was broken promises to partners. Realistically, it was probably the combination of these and other factors that ultimately prevented Metropolis from achieving success. That said, I think there are two fundamental issues facing the festival:

  1. Metropolis was born out of the idea that we should celebrate the cold weather construction techniques that have made Edmonton and other northern cities possible, yet the festival did very little of that.
  2. Metropolis took place in January and February and was therefore considered a “winter” festival, but embracing winter is about much more than picking the right dates on the calendar.

Cold Weather Construction

A little over a year ago, I sat down with Giuseppe Albi to talk about Metropolis. At the time he was still trying to build support for the new festival, so his pitch was well-rehearsed by the time we met for coffee. He talked about the idea itself, but also were it came from. Events Edmonton had been considering ways to mitigate the extreme cold that we often get on New Years Eve, and hit on the idea of some sort of temporary heated dome. That didn’t happen of course, but it provided the seed for Metropolis.

Giuseppe told me about his interest in architecture, something he has loved ever since high school. He remembered cutting articles out of the newspaper when they wrote about a new building going up. One in particular that he talked about was the Professional Building, the first building in Canada built using cold weather construction technology. As he told Elise Stolte in December:

“We pioneered working in cold climates, and 1961 was crucial. That basically ushered in an era of cold-climate construction technology. For 50 years now, we’ve used it all over and we’ve built most of Western Canada and the North with that technology.”

We talked about many other aspects of the festival that day, but what I took away from the conversation was Giuseppe’s passion for showcasing our history of cold weather construction techniques. It really struck me as an important aspect of how Edmonton came to be – imagine how little we’d be able to construct if we needed it to be warm all the time! Apparently we are one of the few cities with a scaffolding training program too. Finding a way to extend the construction season to make the most of our climate is a great story, and I one that I think is worth showcasing.

Metropolis

To be fair, Giuseppe did at least bring some awareness to this story. Metropolis was on the program at the Cold Climate Construction Conference that took place here in Edmonton last May, for example. I certainly have a heightened awareness about cold weather construction, and am interested to learn more.

The real opportunity was at the festival itself however, and that opportunity was missed entirely. Sure the structures themselves were built using scaffolding, but I don’t know much more about them than that. There was no information on site, no presentations about cold weather construction. In the program (which originally cost $5 but was given away by the end of the festival) there are a few features on construction companies, but very little in the way of education.

I wish Metropolis had been more focused on cold weather construction. It would have resulted in a less pedestrian event, and would probably have been of interest to a smaller number of Edmontonians, but I think the chances of success would have been much greater.

Embracing Winter

A few hours after that conversation with Giuseppe, I met with Pamela Anthony, the Artistic Director of Winter Light. I had been very critical of Winter Light and the significant funding it received from the City, but I felt it was finally starting to develop something unique. Last year’s Illuminations featuring Circus Orange was simply amazing. It was freezing cold outside, but the Square was packed with people enjoying themselves. “You need motivation to go somewhere when its cold,” Pamela told me. “It’s exciting how hungry people were for that.”

We of course talked about Metropolis. Aside from a lack of communication (neither Metropolis nor Winter Light reached out to one another) Pamela sounded happy that someone else was also putting energy into building the winter festival scene. She wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the plan for Metropolis itself, however. “It shouldn’t be about denying winter or sheltering people from winter,” she said. “It’s not a commitment to the winter experience.”

I have thought a lot about that conversation over the last year, and I’m convinced now that Pamela was absolutely right. Just because a festival takes place in January doesn’t mean it’s a “winter” festival. There is nothing about Metropolis that celebrated winter. Bringing people indoors is most certainly not a commitment to the winter experience. Especially when the food and programing offered is the same as anywhere else.

To some extent, I think Metropolis was able to take advantage of the momentum behind “downtown revitalization” to gain support. It was said that Metropolis would bring some focus to downtown during the winter months, and that was certainly the message Giuseppe brought to the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force in October. I remember hearing then and many times after, that “when it is colder than minus 15, people don’t want to be outside”. Kind of like the argument made for the pedways that connect the downtown core. Thing is, we have lots of proof that people will happily spend time outside!

Winter Light Illuminations 2011
People! Outside! In the cold! At Illuminations 2011.

I have already mentioned last year’s Illuminations. The square was full of people enjoying winter that night, even though the temperature was minus 20 with a wind chill of minus 26. How about Deep Freeze? Both last year and this year, Deep Freeze demonstrated that people enjoy doing things outdoors. How about the Mill Creek Adventure Walk? I was blown away by how many people participated this year, it was incredible. And then there’s the annual favorite, Ice on Whyte. Thousands of people attend that outdoor event every year!

Want more proof? Look at the most popular ideas on the WinterCity Strategy’s IdeaScale site. Skating trails, snow hills, safer sidewalks, an outdoor pool, street hockey, an outdoor ice bar festival, an outdoor Christmas market, winter camping, etc. None of those ideas are for things that take place indoors. I think the WinterCity Strategy page is spot on:

This strategy is about changing how many of us feel about winter – from enduring to embracing it. It’s about how we can create a city where people want to be outside on sunny winter days because there are inviting, vibrant public spaces with activities and comfortable places to gather. It’s about using light to create warmth and luminescence during long winter days and using snow as a resource, for things like wind barriers and ongoing public sculpture activities.

Does that sound like Metropolis to you? It sure doesn’t to me.

What kind of festival does Metropolis want to be?

I think Events Edmonton needs to decide if Metropolis is going to be a festival about cold weather construction, or if it is going to be a festival for the masses that truly embraces winter.

I would love to see an event focused on cold weather construction – our history, where are we now, and what’s coming in the future. That would be truly interesting. Reading through Giuseppe’s “Vision for Metropolis” in the program guide, I am once again reminded of his love for this topic. “Winter construction fascinates me,” he wrote. A festival that focused on that fascination would indeed be worth staging.

I would also love to see a downtown event focused on winter.  But on embracing winter, not enduring it. With lots of activities and opportunities for Edmontonians to see that winter doesn’t have to suck. Pulling that kind of festival off means being outside, however. I don’t get the impression that Events Edmonton is willing to commit to the outdoors.

If Metropolis returns next year, I hope it does so with a renewed sense of purpose and a clear mission.

The Downtown LRT Connector should run along 102 Avenue

Today City Council is scheduled to vote on the recommendation from the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to shift the route of the Downtown LRT Connector from 102 Avenue up to 102A/103 Avenue. I’m opposed to this change for a variety of reasons. Here’s what the Journal’s Editorial Board wrote on February 2:

Responsive government is indeed a positive thing, but Edmonton’s city council has done far too much listening at the expense of decisive action on the LRT file. Councillors approved the current east/west downtown leg along 102nd Avenue in 2010 – yes, two years ago – but on Tuesday the smaller transportation committee voted to recommend a route shift and other changes that could increase the project’s cost by $115 million and delay construction by at least a year to entertain more discussion and allow for further planning.

We know that LRT is our top priority, we know that LRT is vital for our city’s future as an enabling technology for our urban centre, and we know it will only get more expensive to construct over time. Further delaying this important infrastructure is not the correct course of action.

I am certainly not a fan of the way the City does public involvement (though there have been some more positive signs lately) but they did do a lot of consultation on this project. It is disappointing to see that if one group screams loud enough, they can render the rest of the consultation process irrelevant. It sets a dangerous precedent for future LRT construction too.

downtown lrt connector

The route that Transportation officials recommended back in 2010 makes the most sense to me. Here are some of the reasons you can find in the report:

  • 102 Avenue is already more developed than 102A Avenue, which means ridership potential is greater along 102 Avenue.
  • Related to that – all of the destinations are along 102 Avenue! The City notes there are 10 activity centres along 102 versus just 3 along 102A. Churchill Square, the Stanley Milner Library, the Citadel, the Winspear Centre, City Centre, the YMCA, Norquest College, the City Market in the summer, the Edmonton Chinatown Multicultural Centre, etc., are all along 102 Avenue.
  • 102 Avenue is closer to Jasper Avenue, and therefore closer for riders to make connections to other routes. 102 Avenue can connect directly to Churchill Station. I also like that 102 Avenue is half-way between 104 Avenue and Jasper Avenue, which will aid connections to MacEwan, the Arena & Entertainment District, etc.
  • Any option other than 102 Avenue will require an amendment to the Transportation System Bylaw and an amendment to the Capital City Downtown Plan. This would further delay any construction on LRT.

There are three key reasons that Council should vote against changing the route from 102 Avenue:

  1. 102 Avenue is more developed, has more people living and working along it, supports connections to existing transit best, and supports the Capital City Downtown Plan best.
  2. The 102A/103 Avenue route would add significant cost and further delays to the construction of this route.
  3. Changing course now sets a dangerous precedent that could negatively impact further LRT construction.

I strongly urge City Council to vote against the recommendation to change the route from 102 Avenue to 102A/103 Avenue.

UPDATE: Well that was a quick meeting! Council voted to keep the route along 102 Avenue as originally proposed. Excellent news!

Blink: Pedway Pop-up in Downtown Edmonton

blink edmontonOn Sunday, February 26, 2012 we are transforming the pedway across 101 Street that connects Commerce Place and Scotia Place into a sixty seat pop-up restaurant called Blink. The single-night-only restaurant will feature a delicious six-course meal prepared by chefs Paul Shufelt and Tony Le of Century Hospitality/Lux. Sharon and I have been working on this for quite a while, so we’re very happy to announce that tickets are on sale now!

Pop-up restaurants are all the rage in major cities like New York and London and they’ve started to become popular elsewhere too. The term “pop-up restaurant” is used to mean various things, but I think about three main categories of pop-ups: kitchen takeovers (a chef takes over an existing restaurant’s kitchen and space to create something new), temporary dining spaces (there may not be a kitchen on-site, but some sort of space has been transformed into a dining room), and full-on temporary restaurants (empty spaces completely transformed into restaurants outfitted with kitchens for a short period of time). We’ve had some kitchen takeovers here in Edmonton, but Blink is the first temporary dining space (we’ll have to wait for our first full-on temporary restaurant, an undertaking which requires considerable expense).

When we started discussing the idea for Blink, Sharon was immediately drawn to a pedway. We both love the idea of utilizing forgotten or neglected spaces, so a pedway seemed perfect. When was the last time you stopped in a pedway to look out the window? We walked through the pedways downtown, looking for power outlets, measuring dimensions, etc. We had a few candidate bridges, but decided that we needed a chef on board with the idea first. Knowing that Lux was conveniently located in Commerce Place, we approached Tony and thankfully he agreed to take part in our project right away! That made narrowing the pedway choice down to the one connecting Commerce Place and Scotia Place much easier.

Pedway between Commerce Place & Scotia Place

Next we worked on getting the necessary approvals in place. Jim Taylor, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, was incredibly helpful in that regard. He introduced us to the building managers, and helped us track down the owner of the pedway (we discovered as part of this process that ownership is uncertain for many parts of the pedway system). Everyone really liked the idea, so we quickly started working out the logistics. Thank you to the DBA, GWL Reality Advisors (on behalf of Commerce Place), Morguard Investments (on behalf of Scotia Place), and DECL for helping us make this pop-up restaurant happen!

Pedway between Commerce Place & Scotia Place

We’ve got some work to do still, but our goal is for Blink to look and feel as much like a real restaurant as possible. We have decided to go with a communal table for seating, to enhance the experience of eating in a unique space with other Edmontonians. The menu makes my mouth water every time I read it, with dishes like confit rabbit pot pie and Alberta pickerel – where possible it features local ingredients. Tickets are $65, which I think is a great deal for six courses, and a cash bar will be available as well. The restaurant will open at 5pm for cocktails, with dinner service beginning at 6pm.

We hope to see you on February 26 at Blink in the pedway!

You can read Sharon’s post on Blink here.

Startup Edmonton announces a new home for creative innovation in the Mercer Warehouse

startup edmontonToday Startup Edmonton is excited to announce that it will be moving into the Mercer Warehouse on 104 Street later this year. Edmonton’s new collaborative home for technology, entrepreneurism, and creative innovation will be located on the third floor of the historic building with an anticipated move-in date set for the spring.

The Mercer Warehouse project is a natural extension of the 104th Street/Warehouse District revitalization efforts, solidifying the area as the start-up hub of the city. Built in 1911, the Mercer Warehouse enters its next phase of service, from its beginnings as entrepreneur John B. Mercer’s liquor and beer cold storage to housing the next generation of creative endeavors and innovations.

The news comes just a week after a series of exciting announcements related to the ongoing revitalization of the Warehouse District. For more on the history of the Mercer Warehouse, check out Lawrence Herzog’s article from March 2010.

It should be no surprise that I’m incredibly excited about this! The new space will play a significant role in anchoring the north end of 4th Street Promenade, and it provides Startup Edmonton with the space and physical presence we need to grow and achieve our goal of making Edmonton a hotbed for creativity and entrepreneurship. Here’s a concept sketch for the space:

startup space sketch

And here’s a concept floor plan:

startup space sketch

There’s a lot of renovation work yet to be done, but don’t be fooled by the sketch above. The brick, the beams, all of the historic elements that give the space character – that’s all staying. The space needs to be functional, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose the history! Last week I had the opportunity to check out the building, and took some “before” photos.

Startup Edmonton @ The Mercer Warehouse
The team meets with Kelly & Devin Pope.

Startup Edmonton @ The Mercer Warehouse
The space!

Startup Edmonton @ The Mercer Warehouse
Ken with the floor plan sketch.

Startup Edmonton @ The Mercer Warehouse
The other side of the space.

Startup Edmonton @ The Mercer Warehouse
I don’t know why painting over the brick was so popular. I love the brick!

Startup Edmonton @ The Mercer Warehouse
Cam and Ken ham it up!

I can’t wait until the doors officially open! To keep informed on this and other Startup Edmonton initiatives, sign up for the mailing list and follow @StartupEdmonton on Twitter.

UPDATE: You can learn more about the space here, and also check out Ken’s thoughts on what this means for Startup Edmonton and our city.

4th Street Promenade is seeking an Event & Volunteer Coordinator for Al Fresco 2012!

4th st promenadeFor the last few years, 4th Street Promenade has staged a block party called Al Fresco in June. It happens on the same day as DECL’s Pancake Breakfast, the Pride Parade, the City Market, and a bunch of other cool events, making it probably the busiest day of the year downtown. This year it takes place on June 9, and we’re looking for someone to take the lead on organizing:

The 4th Street Promenade is seeking an Event and Volunteer Coordinator for the annual Al Fresco Block Party, which is taking place on June 9, 2012. This is a paid contract position to start immediately and end following the event. This position will appeal to a person who truly enjoys working with people and achieving success through running successful events and functions. The successful applicant will be an outgoing, people-oriented and deadline-driven organizer with a proven track record of coordinating high-quality events of scale. The successful applicant will also be an enthusiastic and community-minded booster of all things Edmonton. A flexible schedule is also a must.

There’s a strong planning committee already in place, so if you get the job you certainly won’t be on your own! Think you’ve got what it takes to make Al Fresco 2012 a success? You can download the full job posting and get details on how to apply in PDF here.

You can learn more about Al Fresco by reading Sharon’s recap of last year’s event and taking a look at my photoset:

If you have any questions, let me know. Please feel free to pass this along to anyone who you think may be interested in the position!

PDF Al Fresco Event & Volunteer Coordinator Job Description