WinterCity Strategy: Let’s embrace winter in Edmonton

wintercity strategyTonight Edmonton took another bold step toward becoming a city that embraces winter rather than one that simply endures it. Dozens of Edmontonians filled City Hall for the WinterCity Strategy Kick-Off Party which featured a keynote address from John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee. His remarks were passionate and inspirational and left me feeling absolutely pumped about playing even a small role in helping to tackle the challenge before us.

As part of a move to encourage citizens to embrace and engage in winter, the City of Edmonton is leading the development of a new WinterCity Strategy to highlight Edmonton as a leading winter city.

This strategy is about changing how many of us feel about winter – from enduring to embracing it.

When John took his turn at the podium this evening, he did so wearing an Oilers jersey and joked that he hoped it would keep him safe if we didn’t like what he had to say. He started by recounting his experience of arriving in Canada from Ireland. He came to Edmonton and after being told to “help make Canada a better place” by the customs official became a nation builder, even if he didn’t realize it at the time. “I felt like they’d send me back if I didn’t do my part!”

John Furlong

For most of his speech, John took us through the ups and downs of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Building the team, preparing for the event, pulling it off, etc. He shared many stories, everything from being interviewed for the job to watching Crosby score the game winning goal in overtime. One of my favorites was about the snow, or lack of snow, when the games began. Based on the last 100 years of history, there had to be snow in January. But there wasn’t any. “It was as if God was looking down on us saying ‘anyone can pull off the Winter Olympics with snow, you have to do it without snow!’” John told us. They eventually trucked snow in from Manning Park, which put up a banner that read “Official Snow Supplier” for the games. Feeling that the task was impossible, John was at the park every day, encouraging the team to keep going. He called in the Premier, the Prime Minister, and others to help encourage the team. One day, the guy in charge of the site finally spoke up and said “John, stop coming here every day. We’re not going to fail.” The lesson was one John cited many times throughout his remarks this evening – you need to trust people.

Another story I quite enjoyed was about transportation during the games. Enabling people to get around the city safely and efficiently was a tall order, and John and his team realized that to do it, there would have to be less cars on the road. So they asked Vancouverites to find alternative modes of transport, to leave their cars at home. Unsurprisingly, people laughed at the idea. They mocked it. The team was looking for a reduction in traffic of 25% and nobody thought it was possible. To prepare, they held single day trials a few weeks in advance of the games. The results were discouraging – traffic volumes dropped just 1 or 2 percent. But on the day the games opened, the reduction was 37%, well above targets. “We asked people nicely,” John said, “and I think they realized this was their way to play a role in making the games a success.”

Here are a few of the things he said that really stood out for me:

  • “To be a champion, you have to have belief.”
  • “Visions can’t be about stuff, they must be about people. About humanity.”
  • “The legacy you want to leave behind is the human one.”

As motivational as John’s remarks were tonight, I’ll admit that applying the lessons of Vancouver 2010 to the City of Edmonton’s WinterCity Strategy seems incredibly daunting. Someone in the audience was brave enough to ask John that very question – “how do we do that here?” He said we need two things: strong belief in the vision, and strong leadership.

WinterCity Strategy Kick-Off

Councillor Henderson has taken the lead on the WinterCity Strategy, and tomorrow morning will be sharing the results of his trip to Finland and Norway to identify best practices of winter cities. He’ll be joined by a committee of community leaders at the first symposium to explore the question, “what would make you fall in love with winter in Edmonton?” In his remarks tonight, Councillor Henderson said that “at some point, Edmonton sort of fell out of love with winter.” It’s time to get that back.

ideascaleI’ll be in and out of the symposium tomorrow, and I look forward to participating in future public involvement events related to the WinterCity Strategy as well. The goal is to draft the strategy this spring, with Council reviewing and hopefully approving in the fall. The timeline is relatively short, so don’t wait to get involved. The easiest way is to participate in the WinterCity IdeaScale site. There you can submit ideas and vote and comment on ideas from others.

Here’s my first bit of feedback to the team leading the WinterCity Strategy: get rid of all mentions of turning Edmonton into “a leading winter city” or making Edmonton “one of the best winter cities in the world.” Recognition is a by-product of doing something well, not the target we should be aiming for. Instead, let’s focus on making Edmonton a great winter city for Edmontonians. On embracing winter rather than enduring it. As John said tonight, “you almost always get the reward you deserve.” If we can succeed at making Edmonton a more winter-friendly city for the people who live here, global recognition will come.

Let’s embrace winter in Edmonton! You can learn more about the WinterCity Strategy here.

Edmonton Tweets during the Men’s Gold Medal Hockey Game

I’m sure you’ve seen by now the chart that EPCOR released showing water consumption in Edmonton during the men’s gold medal hockey game on February 28th. It’s pretty amazing how closely the data matches the end of the periods! I’m sure the game had an impact on many other parts of our lives as well. For instance, tweeting!

Here’s how much Edmontonians were tweeting during the game:

I’ve also stuck February 21 and March 7 in there, so you can see the difference from normal. We posted 27 tweets per minute from noon until 6pm on game day. That’s about three times more than normal!

Here’s what we were tweeting about:

No surprise there! I’ll have more Twitter stats up soon.

Olympic Torch Relay in Spruce Grove with GM’s Art & Serge

The Olympic Torch rolled through Stony Plain and Spruce Grove this morning, and I got to tag along with GM’s Art and Serge! General Motors is one of the major sponsors of the torch relay, so they have a team that travels with the convoy to ensure all the vehicles are kept in top shape. Like all sponsors, GM is using its role in the relay as the foundation for some marketing, so Art & Serge have been documenting their adventures on their blog and on Twitter and occasionally have invited bloggers to join them.

Olympic Torch in Spruce Grove

I met Art and his technician Dan at around 7:10 AM in Spruce Grove (I learned that Art & Serge switch off every 15 days, so that’s why he wasn’t there). They had come from a service call earlier in the morning, where they had to fix a gas leak of some kind. I jumped in their Chevy Silverado (loaded with everything a vehicle tech could want, including enough juice to boost a Mack truck) and we set out to join the torch convoy. Art had a minute-by-minute schedule of the route, and explained that everything is very accurately mapped out in advance. Unfortunately we couldn’t get as close as we had hoped, so we followed from a distance until the convoy turned.

Olympic Torch in Spruce Grove

It was pretty cool to see all the people lining the streets with their glowsticks in hand and Canadian gear on. There were a ridiculous number of flashing lights too, thanks to all of the police and fire vehicles helping to clear a path for the convoy, so I’m sure Art and Dan see flashing lights in their sleep!

We eventually stopped and got out to take some pictures as the torch went by on its last leg in Spruce Grove. I didn’t get a chance to see the torch on the street the other day in Edmonton, so it was neat to have that experience.

Olympic Torch in Spruce Grove

Throughout the morning I asked Art dozens of questions and learned a lot about his team’s role in the relay. Here are some of the things I found quite interesting:

  • I had no idea the relay was so large. Art mentioned about 100 vehicles and over 200 people are involved! Amazingly, they can service all of those vehicles in about five hours.
  • Roughly 30% of the GM fleet are hybrid vehicles. They often get comments about how quiet the vehicles are when they stop.
  • One challenge has been finding parts at local dealerships to fix the vehicles when something goes wrong, because most of them are 2010 models!
  • Every night Art’s team is responsible for washing all of the vehicles. How else do you think they’d stay clean and shiny for all the photographers?
  • There are two terms for the torch relay: convoy mode, when they are travelling to another location, and torchbearer mode, when the torchbearers are doing their thing.
  • Some of the vehicles involved include the Pilot (lead vehicle), Media One (where all the media/cameras are), a van to carry the torchbearers, and two Olympias (they are the Zamboni-like vehicles that give stuff away).
  • Both Art & Dan said they prefer the early morning or evening routes, because everything (especially the flame) looks so much better when it’s dark out.

I had fun this morning learning about the torch relay and getting to see it from a different perspective. Like Chris Wheeler who I met earlier this week, Art and his team have a pretty tiring schedule. Despite that, both Art and Dan said that seeing the torch and all of the excited, smiling people along the way never gets old. They were upbeat and proud to be playing a role in the torch relay, mentioning that going back to their normal jobs would be difficult!

Thanks again to GM Canada for the opportunity!

Olympic Torch Relay in Edmonton

I have never seen Churchill Square as packed full of people as it was tonight for the Olympic Torch Relay celebration! Olympian Doreen Ryan ran the final leg of the relay, and lit the “celebration cauldron” shortly after 7pm. You could just feel the energy moving through the crowd, despite the relative cold!

Olympic Torch in Edmonton

Getting setup in Churchill Square

Olympic Torch in Edmonton

City Hall was nicely colored for the festivities

Olympic Torch in Edmonton

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performed the Olympic music by John Williams

Olympic Torch in Edmonton

The Square starting to fill up

Olympic Torch in Edmonton

Lots of entertainment

The most energetic of the performances

Olympic Torch in Edmonton

Clear path for Doreen Ryan

Olympic Torch in Edmonton

Churchill Square full of people

Olympic Torch in Edmonton

The Olympic Torch appears!

The final leg of the Edmonton relay

Olympic Torch in Edmonton

Celebration Cauldron and dignitaries

The Journal has a nice recap of the event here. You can see the rest of my photos here. For more excellent photos from the event, check out Bruce Clarke’s blog. This was potentially the most photographed moment in Edmonton’s history though, so I’m sure there are thousands more photos that will appear soon!

Go Canada Go!

Torch Relay Reporter Chris Wheeler comes to Edmonton

Today I had the pleasure of hosting Chris Wheeler, a video journalist capturing the Olympic Flame as it makes its way throughout the country. I was asked by EEDC a few weeks ago if I’d be interested in the opportunity, and I said absolutely. I love Edmonton and I love meeting new people, so it was good fit for me! EEDC regularly hosts travel media from around the world, something that most Edmontonians probably don’t know, but which absolutely makes sense to do.

DISCLOSURE: I got paid for my time today, but I am not getting paid for this blog post.

Chris is the iCoke Torch Relay Reporter, a project of Coca-Cola, the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), and Tourism BC. This is the seventh time that Coca-Cola has sponsored the Olympic Torch Relay! So far the videos have been getting lots of views and Chris says that as he works his way west, the excitement is definitely building.

I started today by meeting Chris at the airport. He was in Saskatoon until very early this morning, and I quickly learned that the last 75 or so days of his life have consisted of “wake up, shoot footage all day, then edit/upload/sleep/travel”. It’s a grueling schedule, but one that Chris is passionate about!

Welcome to Edmonton

We first made our way to the new Art Gallery of Alberta, where we got a very brief tour amongst all the construction that is still going on. Chris interviewed AGA Board Chair Allan Scott, and I think was really amazed at how long he has been working to make the new AGA a reality for Edmonton. I’m very excited for the new AGA building, which officially opens on January 31, and I can’t wait to see it all finished!

Torch Reporter in Edmonton!

Next we walked to Blue Plate Diner for a quick lunch – tasty as always! It was really interesting to hear from Chris about the places he’s been on the trip, and some of the challenges he has faced along the way. One of the biggest, of course, is bandwidth. Chris shoots all his videos in high-definition, so even after editing and finalizing a video the files are still quite large, and hotels typically don’t have the fastest Internet. It’s pretty amazing that Chris has managed to continue posting new videos every few days!

Lunch at Blue Plate Diner

Our next stop was West Edmonton Mall, and more specifically, Sea Lions’ Rock. We didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out that Chris was able to get up close and personal with Pablo, the largest of the sea lions. Chris got to hug Pablo, and even got a big kiss! We also stayed for the scheduled show, something I haven’t seen in quite a while. It’s very entertaining, and is definitely something to check out at least once! Right after we left, Rick Mercer and Danielle Smith showed up for a shoot. Both Chris and I are RMR fans, but resisted the temptation to interrupt them.

Torch Reporter in Edmonton!

Torch Reporter in Edmonton!

Chris is in Edmonton all day tomorrow as well, filming the Torch Relay and related festivities (on ShareEdmonton). After that he’ll be on his way to other locations in Alberta and eventually, back to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Best of luck with the remainder of your trip Chris!

Thanks again to EEDC for the opportunity. You can see the rest of my photos from today here. Keep an eye on Chris’ YouTube channel for the Edmonton video, which should be up in a few days.