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!

Peter Newman in Edmonton discussing Resilient Cities

Author Peter Newman, in town this week for ICLEI World Congress 2009, gave a free talk tonight at the Shaw Conference Centre on some of the central ideas of the book he recently co-authored, Resilient Cities: Responding to the Crash, Climate Change, and Peak Oil. Presented by Edmonton on the Edge, the talk was hopeful in tone – a nice way to end ICLEI.

Here’s the handbill description:

A new approach to urban development needs to be forged that can, at the same time, enable cities to respond to the deep challenge of decarbonising cities and can use the transition to accelerate the development of what the UN calls the Global Green New Deal. Some hopeful directions will be outlined based on cities from around the world, including cities from down under.

Peter Newman in Edmonton

Peter is from Perth, Australia and he started by saying that Perth and Edmonton are similar in a number of ways (population, land distribution, etc). He next touched on Peak Oil (which Peter says happened in 2008) and the global recession. Peter positioned the Crash as an opportunity (his approach reminded me a lot of Ray Kurzweil). Peter showed a slide with five major economic downturns from the last 300 years or so, and pointed out the technological advances that were made after each. The rate of advance became faster over time, so that today we have exponential progress (this is essentially Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns).

My favorite part of the talk took the bulk of the remaining time – examples, complete with pictures, of cities around the world that have become Smart and Sustainable (together, the two characteristics of cities of the future, according to Peter). A couple of examples:

  • Phoenix, one of the worst cities in the world in terms of transportation by transit, recently replaced two lanes of traffic running through the centre of the city with light rail transit. Peter said if Phoenix can do it, anyone can!
  • Perth has completed significant rail developments in the last 15 years, with some lines going as far as 80km away from the core. During that time, ridership increased from 7 million passengers/year to 90 million/year. Amazing.

Peter introduced a number of acronyms during his talk:

  • IT: Information Technology
  • ET: Environmental Technology
  • TOD: Transit Oriented Development
  • POD: Pedestrian Oriented Development
  • GOD: Green Oriented Development

Naturally, IT and ET go together and TOD, POD, and GOD go together. You can’t have one without the others!

Peter Newman in Edmonton

Peter made reference to the concept of “place based cities” a few times, but unfortunately didn’t elaborate. The general idea is that you can make the local economy more viable by creating a stronger sense of place. Something about it really resonates with me.

The talk was followed by a reception, featuring music by Melissa Majeau. A number of other organizations helped Edmonton on the Edge make tonight’s talk possible, including the City-Region Studies Centre, University of Alberta Faculty of Extension, Edmonton Design Committee, ISL Engineering and Land Services, The City of Edmonton, and M.A.D.E. in Edmonton. Great event!

That’s Edmonton For You!

What a great weekend here in Edmonton! Lots of sun, temperatures above 25 degrees, and plenty of things to do. Perhaps the main event on Saturday was the Edmonton Pride Parade, which was a smashing success according to everyone I talked to. Dave has a good post about it here, and Paula has dozens of photos here. Also on Saturday was the City Centre Market followed by Al Fresco on 104th, which Sharon wrote about here. Summer in Edmonton has finally arrived!

Yesterday’s big event was That’s Edmonton For You!, a free concert from noon until 3pm featuring leading members of Edmonton’s indie rock scene at Louise McKinney Riverfront Park. The event was commissioned by the City of Edmonton for the ICLEI World Congress. Conceived of and produced by Trevor Anderson, the event featured Edmonton’s poet laureate Roland Pemberton (Cadence Weapon) and 13 other musicians. Each created new songs about sustainable community, drawing from personal experiences.

I arrived at around 12:30pm, just as the crowd was starting to grow. I took a few photos and checked out the information booths that lined the edges of park area. Edmonton Next Gen was on hand to promote Pecha Kucha 4, Vegans & Vegetarians of Alberta had a busy table, Epcor had a portable water tap, and The EATery at The ARTery was offering food and beverages. Before long I made my way back to the Shaw Conference Centre however, to escape the sun and heat! The one drawback to the venue is the complete lack of shade.

I did make one more trip out to the concert, but unfortunately missed most of the last hour (I was inside for the ICLEI opening). Councillor Don Iveson stayed until the end and said the final song, which featured audience participation in the form of key jingling and bicycle bells, was truly amazing. The crowd that gathered was quite impressive!

That's Edmonton For You!That's Edmonton For You!

If you couldn’t make it down yesterday you missed a great event, but don’t worry – you can download the full album of songs from the website! Very cool, and not something I expected.

Considering the concert was created specifically for ICLEI, I’m not sure it’ll happen again, but I hope it does! It’s a great showcase for local musicians, and a great opportunity for Edmontonians to experience an afternoon of music.

You can see the rest of my photos here, and don’t miss this collection of excellent shots by Chris.

ICLEI World Congress Edmonton 2009: Opening Day

The ICLEI World Congress 2009 started here in Edmonton today. The conference is taking place at the Shaw Conference Centre through Thursday. Over 600 delegates from around the world will be discussing a range of topics related to sustainability and municipalities.

Shaw Conference CentreICLEI World Congress Edmonton 2009

A series of opening keynotes this afternoon set the tone for the event. Mayor Stephen Mandel, ICLEI President Stephen Cadman, Minister of Municipal Affairs Ray Danyluk, Chairperson of the World Mayors Council on Climate Change Bärbel Dieckmann, and Leader of The Economics of Ecosytems & Biodiversity (TEEB) Pavan Sukhdev all shared remarks this afternoon.

I thought the most passionate speaker was David Cadman, recently elected to his third term on the ICLEI Executive, and his second consecutive term as President. He discussed a range of issues, but focused on the need to transform the way we live. In particular, he stressed that water is going to become a larger and larger problem.

Epcor Water Station

Also during the opening plenary was a video to “pass the torch” from Cape Town, which hosted the congress in 2006, to Edmonton. This wouldn’t be noteworthy except for the fact that the video included B-roll footage of Calgary, not Edmonton! The Calgary Tower was clearly visible in a couple of the shots. I’m sure most in the audience didn’t notice, however.

Organizational and Program Implementation reports followed the opening speeches. Here are a few nuggets:

  • About 54% of ICLEI members are from North America, but 39% of the populations represented by ICLEI live in Asia. Europe is more balanced.
  • ICLEI’s USA office is moving from Oakland to Washington, DC. One wonders why it wasn’t there in the first place.
  • There are 27 ICLEI members in Canada. Our country’s office was created in 2003, has 3.5 staff, 5-10 projects per year, and a budget of roughly $300,000 USD.
  • Global budgets for ICLEI are expected to increase 22% this year compared to last. Revenue sources include membership, fees for service, host contributions, and by far the largest segment, grants.
  • Municipalities around the world are targeting a 30% reduction in emissions by 2020, and an 80% reduction by 2050.
  • ICLEI by the numbers in 2009: 223 staff, 1078 members, 102 projects, and a budget of $16.8 million USD.

I learned a lot about ICLEI today, and I absolutely see the need for such an organization. An increasing portion of the world’s population lives in cities, yet cities are often absent from landmark discussions related to climate change and sustainability. ICLEI gives municipalities a voice and a mechanism for pressuring their provincial and national governments to do more. Membership in the United States has increased dramatically in recent years, something ICLEI attributes to the Bush administration which largely ignored municipalities.

ICLEI World Congress Edmonton 2009ICLEI World Congress Edmonton 2009

Following this afternoon’s session was an opening night reception in Hall D. Councillor Don Iveson hosted the event which featured entertainment from Kita No Taiko and others. I had the opportunity to chat with a number of people, including Roy Blumenthal, a visual facilitator who was drawing caricatures of all the speakers on his Tablet PC. Such beautiful work!

A few other notes about the Edmonton event:

  • All attendees can ride Edmonton Transit for free simply by showing their conference badge.
  • Recycling facilities will be available at all locations visited by participants.
  • There are around 100 delegates who don’t speak English. There were headphones on hand today providing translations in English, French, Spanish, and Korean.
  • The City of Edmonton has turned on Wireless Edmonton service throughout the Shaw Conference Centre, providing attendees with free wi-fi.
  • There are guided walks of the river valley for attendees starting each morning at 7am.

I won’t be attending all of the sessions this week, but I’ll tweet and blog what I can. Dave Cournoyer also wrote about today, and will be covering ICLEI all week. Search Twitter for #ICLEI for updates. You can see the rest of my photos here. For a list of events taking place during and after ICLEI, click here.

Your Guide to ICLEI World Congress Edmonton 2009

Edmonton is hosting the ICLEI World Congress 2009 from Sunday, June 14th through Thursday, June 18th. More than 500 mayors, councillors, and other delegates from more than 800 cities around the world will visit our city to discuss environmental sustainability. The conference takes place every three years, and provides opportunities for peer exchanges, knowledge sharing, on-site visits, and more.

For the City of Edmonton, this event is a chance to show off just how “green” we are to the rest of the world. There have been a number of related announcements over the last few weeks from the City:

I’d expect more announcements from the event. Each day of the conference has a theme:

More than 20 speakers have been announced, including Mayor Stephen Mandel, Alberta’s Minister of Municipal Affairs Ray Danyluk, Deputy Mayor of Vancouver and ICLEI President David Cadman, and the founder of ICLEI, Jeb Brugmann.

I’ll be blogging and tweeting some of the more Edmonton-focused sessions next week, and will be attending a number of the events that have been planned to coincide with the conference. Here are some of the things you can check out:

Lights Down Stars Up – photography exhibit
On display at City Hall until Thursday, June 18th, FREE

Gone Green – art exhibit
On display at City Hall until Wednesday, July 1st, FREE

That’s Edmonton For You – live music and entertainment
Sunday, June 14th from noon to 3:00pm at Louise McKinney Riverfront Park, FREE

Pecha Kucha Night – Edmonton Volume #4 – ideas inspiring sustainability
Tuesday, June 16th from 6:30pm to 10:30pm at the Shaw Conference Centre, $9

2009 Emerald Awards Ceremony – recognizing Albertan environmental initiatives
Tuesday, June 16th at the Citadel Theatre, $?

Resilient Cities: Responding to the Crash, Climate Change, and Peak Oil
Thursday, June 18th from 7:00pm at the Shaw Conference Centre, FREE

Bikeology Festival Day – velo-love in Edmonton
Saturday, June 20th from noon until 5:00pm at Beaver Hills House Park, FREE

Reuse Fair – bring your unwanted household items (pdf)
Saturday, June 20th from 10:00am to 3:00pm at King Edward Park Community League, FREE

The Works Art & Design Festival 2009 – sustainability is a theme this year
Friday, June 26th to Wednesday, July 8th at Sir Winston Churchill Square, FREE

Also, June is Bike Month in Edmonton.

To learn more about ICLEI and the World Congress happening in Edmonton, check out the following links: