Will Edmonton be a second-class city without the new arena?

Last week City Council was again discussing the proposed downtown arena. Though Administration provided an update at the Wednesday meeting, it certainly didn’t feel like much new information was brought forward. Details on the proposed Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) were delayed yet again, this time until the first week of April. The meeting did not go well.

Mayor Mandel seemed to be upset that progress had stalled. He wants Council to make a decision in the next month or so:

“It’s enough already. I think we’re going around too many circles and let’s make a decision.”

But there was another comment he made that stood out:

“Either we build a new arena or we become a second-class city, which in my mind we don’t want to be.”

I’ll admit that comment even surprised me. Does Mandel really think we can’t be a first-class city without building the new arena? Is the project really a make-or-break one for Edmonton? Boosterism has long been a part of this debate, something Dave covered back in January. And as our Mayor I think Mandel needs to be Edmonton’s greatest champion, a role he has definitely not shied away from while in office. But is there no hope for Edmonton if the arena project doesn’t go ahead?

“My choice of words probably wasn’t right,” Mandel admitted when I asked him about it. “It’s just that when opportunities come up, you have to make a decision. Edmonton in the past hasn’t made an effort to seize opportunities that have come up.” It’s a good point, I think. You can’t simply wait for things to come along, you have to go out and get them. If we want to take Edmonton forward, we need to make a concerted effort to do so. “You’ve got to fight for things,” Mandel said.

Mandel stressed the need to improve our downtown. “Cities are evaluated by their downtowns, not their suburbs. Edmonton’s downtown has a long way to go.” I asked if that meant we had to have the arena. “There’s millions of ingredients that go into it,” he said. The arts community and our IT sector were just a few of the examples he cited. He of course thinks the arena is one of those ingredients, however. “The arena with a good financial deal will make Edmonton better.”

Stephen Mandel at Candi{date} Sept 29, 2010

When discussions get intense, people say things without fully thinking them through. I think that’s what happened to Mandel last week with the second-class comment, but he’s certainly not the only one who has made regrettable comments. Is it true that “the anti-arena faction is out in full force” as David Staples suggested (archive) a couple of weeks ago? I think it is, and there have certainly been some puzzling comments from them as well. The debate needs people on both sides, to help us tease out the details and ultimately arrive at the best decision for Edmonton. Mandel has decided to support the arena. Others have decided to fight it. A good debate is healthy for Edmonton.

On Saturday, Gary Lamphier writing in the Edmonton Journal reminded us that there are many key questions about the project that have yet to be answered (archive):

Although Mayor Stephen Mandel seems determined to wrap up the Seinfeldian arena "debate" — such as it is — in early April and push the project ahead at Mach speed, it’s hard to see why with so many key questions unresolved.

With weeks to go before a pivotal report on the project is presented to city council — following which councillors may have little time to reflect on it before they vote — it’s puzzling that so many key questions remain unanswered.

Today, Danny Hooper writing in the Edmonton Sun offered some compelling reasons to move ahead with the project (archive):

We are not the arctic outpost some think of us. This is a vibrant, energetic, resourceful, caring, and fun community, yet I don’t think our downtown best makes that statement. And I think it should.

Where some see a downtown that feels dull, disjointed, and at times lifeless, I see a blank canvas. The Katz group have at least brought out the paint and offered their vision of what our city centre could be. Of what it should be. And we’re all welcome to pick up a brush.

Maybe it comes down to perspective, as is so often the case with difficult questions such as this one. Do you choose to see the arena as Mayor Mandel does, as an opportunity to enhance our downtown that we should at least make an effort to capitalize on? Or do you choose to see the arena as those against the project do, as an expensive pet project that will do little to help Edmonton’s core?

There are no guarantees in this debate. Edmonton will not be relegated to “second-class” status if the project dies, nor will Edmonton automatically be world-renowned if it goes ahead. There’s obviously no secret recipe either, or we’d have already turned downtown around. Whether you support the arena or not, it’s important to recognize that revitalizing our downtown and becoming the city we want to be will take much more than any single project.

Stephen Mandel for a greater Edmonton

Last Saturday morning I had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor Stephen Mandel and two of my fellow local bloggers (Dave, Jeff) for an informal chat. We talked about a variety of things, including a few issues that I am particularly interested in.

Mayor Stephen Mandel

Homelessness

I asked Mandel what he thought about the conversation he had at The Learning Centre, where the biggest issue was homelessness. He admitted that he found it frustrating, because many of the people didn’t know too much about the Edmonton Homeless Commission or the plan that has been put into place. I think that illustrates how much work there is still ahead, something Mandel mentioned a few times. He said that “we need partnerships to get it done” and said there is an increasing desire from people and organizations to get involved. He noted that the plan continues to evolve, and while I think Mandel recognizes that completely ending homelessness is definitely a stretch goal, he is truly committed to making a difference.

Working With Councillors

Mandel likes to say that our current council has been quite successful at moving things forward. We asked him why, and what it’ll take to continue that momentum, and he replied that it’s about building consensus. He talked about this at a different event a couple weeks ago, and noted that councillors often do and should want to do more than just deal with ward issues. Mandel seems to want a team of thirteen that can think about Edmonton as a whole, and that can work together to progress things.

Local Food

I wanted to know what Mandel thought about food security and other issues surrounding our local food system. He agreed that the Municipal Development Plan was a good start, and noted the successful push by the Greater Edmonton Alliance in helping that document evolve. He talked about our food processing industry, and said it would be good to help it expand (something others are thinking about right now too). When I asked about beekeeping or chickens within the city, he said “we need to make it possible for people to do these things” but noted that it’s a complex issue.

In the economic vision he released yesterday, Mandel pledged to pursue “a new program to accommodate and promote Edmonton’s Urban Agricultural Strategy as both a community and economic initiative.”

Danielle Smith

I asked Mandel if he had any regrets on how he handled the Danielle Smith airport issue, and he replied “absolutely not.” He was quite emphatic that he’d say the exact same thing if it were to happen today.

Entrepreneurship

I think there are some incredible things happening in Edmonton related to entrepreneurship, whether it’s with Startup Edmonton, Keep Edmonton Original, or just creative people doing things. Mandel said it is important to find a way to effectively support entrepreneurs, noting that “it doesn’t even have to be that much money.” He talked about finding ways for small businesses to compete with big business for City contracts, something he mentioned in yesterday’s economic vision as well. He also brainstormed out loud that a startup fund or something like the Edmonton Arts Council for startups might be a good idea. From yesterday’s press release:

“There are leaders in this community already working to make Edmonton a hotbed for connected young creatives, engineers and entrepreneurs who can compete in a global creative economy,” says Ken Bautista, local tech entrepreneur and co-founder of next gen groups artsScene Edmonton and Startup Edmonton. “We are strong believers that under Mayor Mandel’s continued leadership and this vision, Edmonton will have the best environment for young entrepreneurs to connect, do and win in the economy of the future.”

The feeling I got from Mandel on this issue is that he sees the creative economy as very important to the future of Edmonton (indeed “creative” seems to be one of his favorite words) and that he’ll help if he can, but ultimately he doesn’t want to get in the way.

Open Data

I asked Mandel about open data and the City’s Apps4Edmonton competition, and he had nothing but positive things to say about the issue. He was familiar with a few of the apps, though he admitted the app he uses most is Sudoku! I mentioned that some departments at the City seem to be hesitant about releasing data, to which Mandel replied “I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t release it. I think we should just make it all open.”

Twitter

As you may know, Mandel himself hasn’t been updating the @MandelforMayor Twitter account. Paul Mennier, who leads communications for the Mandel campaign, said “it’s his words, my fingers.” Mandel told me he found Twitter “interesting” and that he’d like to explore it more after the election is done.

Development in the River Valley

I think we should explore limited development in the river valley, something Mandel agrees with. He noted that the efforts we have made so far, such as Louise McKinney Park, are not enough. The two biggest roadblocks as Mandel sees it? Proper access, and more vocal public support.

Mayor Stephen Mandel

October 18

I think Stephen Mandel is the the right mayor for Edmonton for the next three years, which is why I signed this letter of support along with hundreds of other Edmontonians. I encourage you to consider voting for Stephen Mandel on Monday, October 18.

Edmonton Election 2010: Final Mayoral Forum Recap

Last night was the second and final mayoral forum, held at Eastglen School. It was extremely well-attended, so much so that the overflow seating was all gone shortly after the event began at 7pm (estimates put the total attendance at around 600). Dozens of people stood at the back of the theatre and in the lobby throughout the entire evening. There were large sections of supporters in the audience, most wearing t-shirts for their respective candidates.

Mayoral Forum

It was an evening full of surprises, heated discussion, and some comedy (perhaps unintentional). When Stephen Mandel delivered his opening remarks, he was greeted with boos and jeers from people in the audience who support his rivals. It would happen throughout the night. Probably the biggest surprise came when Andrew Lineker stood up to deliver his opening remarks. He accused David Dorward of stealing his platform, said Daryl Bonar had no platform, and finished with “this forum for myself is done” before he stormed out. Bob Ligertwood delivered a meandering and off-topic opening address, while Dave Dowling talked about democracy. Dan Dromarsky was strong all evening, and made a good impression with his opening statement. Daryl Bonar presented himself as the alternative to Dorward and Mandel, saying he was “beholden to no one but voters”.

Here are some of the more memorable quotes from the forum:

  • “Vote for the future of Edmonton.” – Mandel
  • “I’m Dan Dromarsky and I can count to seven.” – Dromarsky in response to Dowling suggesting there were only four viable candidates
  • “Being your mayor will be a tremendous challenge, no doubt.” – Dorward
  • “I would definitely support an inquiry, if not a criminal investigation.” – Dowling on EPCOR
  • “That’s a lot of plebiscites.” – Dromarsky commenting on Dowling’s love of direct democracy
  • “Closing the City Centre Airport was a vote against your democratic rights.” – Ligertwood
  • “I grew up in social housing. It doesn’t work.” – Bonar
  • “Our city is at a crossroads, make no mistake about it.” – Bonar
  • “The winds of change are upon us.” – Dorward
  • “We should be experts at snow removal, but the sad thing is, we’re not.” – Dromarsky
  • “We need to place needs before wants.” – Dromarsky
  • “It would be the biggest mistake we’ll make in our lifetimes.” – Ligertwood on the Downtown Arena
  • “We’ve found creative solutions and we’ve moved forward – all of us.” – Mandel
  • “I Dave Dowling…” – Dowling

There wasn’t much time for questions, which was unfortunate. I also thought it was odd that the first question came from Ward 6 candidate Adil Pirbhai. The candidates were surprisingly brief with most of their answers.

Mayoral ForumMayoral Forum

As is so often the case nowadays, Twitter played a role in the event. From 6pm to 10pm last night, there were 1225 tweets posted using the #yegvote hashtag or one of the candidates’ names. There has been consistent chatter on Twitter over the last couple of weeks, but the forum really stood out:

Here’s a wordle of those tweets, with only the #yegvote hashtag removed:

And here’s a wordle with the candidates, #yegvote, and Twitter names removed:

It doesn’t come out as clearly as I thought it might, but the key issues last night included the City Centre Airport, the EPCOR deal, LRT expansion, and transparency.

Here are all the tweets, from oldest to newest:

Hopefully that’s useful as you prepare to vote on Monday. You can read the Edmonton Journal’s recap here. Here’s the CBC’s recap. The recorded webcast will be available here shortly. Stay tuned to the Election centre on ShareEdmonton for updates, including live results on election night!