Edmonton’s seventeenth Pecha Kucha Night was held on Saturday evening at the Winspear Centre downtown. With nearly 1000 people in attendance, it was one of our city’s biggest PKNs yet. I kept thinking back to the first-ever PKN in Edmonton, which took place in the lobby of the Winspear Centre back in 2008 – it’s pretty incredible how much has changed over the last five years!
In a break from past PKNs, this Designing Downtown edition featured speakers from across the country. The theme? New ways to think about designing and developing our city cores. Here’s what Designing Downtown is all about:
Designing Downtown is a movement to transform downtowns founded by Progress Unlimited, MADE, and Edmonton’s NextGen. Designing Downtown is a vehicle for inter-city exchange for partnerships that seek to enrich and advance the conversations and actions we take to shape downtowns as spaces for everyone. Designing Downtown is an experiment and exchange; an opportunity to create dialogue that celebrates & critiques; and a space to be a fixture in and designer of the urban experience.
In order of appearance, these were the presenters at PKN17:
- Johanna Hurme, Occupy
- Sophie Mankowski, Architectural Translations: From Memory to Music
- Janice Abbott, Atira Women’s Resource Society
- Dalton Higgins, Hip Hop World
- Curtis Olson, Designing a Creative City
- Micheline Clouard, Place & Identity
- Simon Taylor, Harsh Optimism
- Kamala Todd, Indigenize Our Urban Eyes
- Waye Mason, Urban Halifax Rebounding
We were also treated to a live podcast recording of 99% Invisible with host and creator Roman Mars. He opened the show with a segment on how buildings tell stories, and he closed with a piece on city flags.
For the most part I really enjoyed the presentations, partially because they were a return to “classic” PKN with a slant toward architecture and design. That said, I did find it someone disappointing that a few of the presenters relied on paper notes. Fumbling around with paper on stage is just awkward, but more importantly, it prevents the speaker’s passion from coming across. These are all talened, experienced individuals who know a lot about their topics – paper shouldn’t be needed for six minutes and forty seconds.
Johanna was up first and she talked about fighting the ambivalence of design. “There is power in the collective,” she told us. I found Sophie’s presentation a little difficult to follow, but ultimately she was talking about creating bridges between artists and architects. Her project, Portrait Sonore, is a collection of sound walks that guide you through cities, “revealing their architecture and their history in a lively and poetic manner.” Janice used her time to tell us about the innovative housing project Atira built in Vancouver’s downtown eastside using shipping containers. Last up before the intermission was Dalton, who provided us with the most upbeat and random presentation of the evening. While his energy was infectious, his message was a little less clear.
First up after the intermission was Curtis, who talked to us about some of the interesting projects he has undertaken in Saskatoon. He finished with an overturned car used as a garden, something the crowd seemed to really enjoy! Micheline spoke about some of her work in Montreal, and how it connects humans with nature. Simon talked about the school he worked on way up north in Cambridge Bay. It has become the central gathering place for the town, so he told us that “downtown can happen anywhere” (I disagree – there’s more to “downtown” than just being the central gathering place). Kamala spoke passionately about recognizing the indigenous narratives of our urban settings, using Vancouver as the focal point. The final presenter of the evening was Waye from Halifax, who shared some of the exciting changes that have been happening that city.
I love hearing about interesting uses for things like shipping containers, so I really enjoyed Janice’s talk. Having grown up in Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, I was naturally drawn to Simon’s talk on the school in Cambridge Bay. I think Curtis had one of the strongest presentations, with great visuals and a tight narrative.
Though Roman’s two segments did not fit with the PKN format, I thought they were a great addition to the evening. His style is just so inviting! There were a lot of folks on Twitter who said they were immediately subscribing to the podcast as a result. His closing segment focused on city flags. Roman is a fan of Chicago’s flag, and he walked us through some of the do’s and don’ts of flag design. Keep it simple, avoid words or seals, etc. In case you were wondering, this is Edmonton’s flag. There was quite a bit of laughter when he put the slide up because it breaks most of the don’ts! Roman also earned loud cheers and applause for calling Canada’s flag the best one out there.
Instead of having speakers from Edmonton in the lineup, two videos featuring a number of Edmontonians passionate about downtown were shown. Here’s the first vignette:
Here’s the second vignette:
In contrast with the last PKN, I very much felt like a member of the target audience for PKN17. There were a lot of familiar faces in the large crowd, which suggests the organizers did a great job of reaching out to previous attendees to get them to return. Equally, I kept running into people who had never been to Pecha Kucha before, so it’s great to see that the series continues to reach new communities.
In addition to the presentations, there were also some great activities in the lobby. Guests could take part in a collaborative mural, check out the LEGO display, get their photo taken in WinterCity’s winter patio, and much more.
Prior to the main event, Makescape took place in Centennial Plaza behind the Stanley Milner Library. Featuring food trucks, a live stream of the presentations, and Bench Talks, it was a neat complement to PKN. I missed the bench talks unfortunately, but I love the concept!
Kudos to Lisa Baroldi, the driving force behind PKN17 and Designing Downtown, on a fantastic event! I know it takes a big team of volunteers and the support of many sponsors to pull off an event like PKN, but you also need strong leadership. Well done to all involved!