Food, agriculture and the battle over Edmonton’s future growth

The City of Edmonton is currently developing a comprehensive City-Wide Food & Agriculture Strategy. On the surface this sounds like a great initiative. Many other cities have recognized the vital importance of food and have developed strategies and policies, and it’s about time that Edmonton follows suit. The project introduction makes a strong case for this work:

We live in a dynamic and rapidly growing metropolitan centre with a geographic location that demands a thorough consideration of what it means to be part of the food and agriculture system. We know that a resilient local food and agriculture system can contribute significantly to the local economy and to the overall cultural, financial, social and environmental sustainability of Edmonton and the Capital Region.

Developing the Food & Agriculture Strategy is an important endeavor for our city, and it deserves the time, care, and attention that any other serious policy might receive. So why are we rushing it?

Food in the City
Councillor Loken speaks at the Food in the City kickoff event in McIntyre Park in May 2011

The timeline is aggressive: the project officially started on May 28th, 2011 and is scheduled to go to public hearing in the fall of this year. Considering that public involvement activities did not get underway until this spring (and are already largely over), the reality is that the City is trying to develop this strategy in just a few short months with very limited input.

Other cities have certainly taken their time with similar projects. In Toronto, the Food Policy Council was created in 1991 but the Toronto Food Charter was not accepted until ten years later. The City is now in the process of developing the Toronto Food Strategy. In Vancouver, City Council got the ball rolling in 2003 by calling for the development of a “just and sustainable food system” for their city. Four years later the Vancouver Food Charter was adopted and in 2009, Council adopted urban agriculture design guidelines.

I know that whatever goes to Council in the fall isn’t the end of the road – the strategy will be further developed over time. But I don’t think that’s a reason to rush things now, especially given the apparent reason for the rush: this strategy is one of the final pieces standing in the way of land development on the edges of our city.

The Food & Agriculture Strategy is an opportunity for us to consider the importance of food in Edmonton. It’s an opportunity to increase access to local food, to reduce our ecological footprint, and to contribute significantly to the local economy. But it’s also an opportunity to consider what happens to the agricultural land surrounding Edmonton, and that is ultimately a question about the kind of city we want Edmonton to be.

The Way We Eat

During the development of our latest Municipal Development Plan (MDP), known as The Way We Grow, an organization called the Greater Edmonton Alliance caused quite a stir. On more than one occasion from 2008 to 2010, they filled City Hall with Edmontonians demanding a “vibrant and sustainable food economy.” They staged The Great Potato Giveaway, an impressive publicity stunt that brought food to the forefront of the discussion in Edmonton.

MDP Second Reading
Edmontonians filled City Hall for the Second Reading of the MDP

Their efforts resulted in a key victory: the inclusion of polices related to food and agricultural land in the MDP (3.2.1.6 through 3.2.1.11). In particular, policy 3.2.1.7 which states:

Preparation of Area Structure Plans is authorized for the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest Urban Growth Areas, and shall only be approved following Council acceptance of, and adherence with the:

  • Growth Coordination Strategy;
  • Integrated Infrastructure Management Plan; and
  • City-Wide Food and Agriculture Strategy.

In other words, they convinced Council that a food and agriculture strategy had to be in place before any further development on the edges of the city could proceed. They convinced Council that high soil quality, particularly in Northeast Edmonton, is valuable and should be considered as part of any planning and development in the area.

For a document that many critics, myself included, said lacked any sort of bite with respect to curbing sprawl, this was a remarkable achievement.

The Future Growth of Edmonton

An Area Structure Plan (ASP) is at the core of creating and developing new communities. You can think of an ASP as the link between the Municipal Development Plan, which directs and shapes Edmonton’s urban form at a high level, and Neighbourhood Structure Plans (NSPs), which get into the details about what new neighbourhoods in the area might look like (then there’s NASPs which are ASPs for a single neighbourhood). Residential ASPs generally cover an area of between 200 hectares and 2000 hectares, and provide general guidelines as to how MDP policies are to be realized within that area.

There are currently 18 ASPs/NASPs approved in the City of Edmonton, and they contain a total of 86 NSPs (as of December 2011). Of these, 29 are considered completed in terms of land supply as at least 95% of planned low density lots have been registered. Of the 57 remaining, 13 are not yet approved and are at the planned stage, while 44 are under development. This data comes from the Developing and Planned Neighbourhoods Report for 2011, which states:

As of December 2011, the potential low density residential lot supply that is available in approved ASPs is slightly more than 65,000. Based on current absorption rates, Edmonton has an average of 18 years of remaining land supply.

Land supply remaining in the approved Area Structure Plans ranges from a high of 19 years in the Southwest sector to a low of 9 years in the Northeast sector.

The Capital Region Board estimates that by 2040, the population of Edmonton will grow from the current 812,000 to approximately 1.2 million. They project demand for 146,000 new dwelling units by 2039. To put that into perspective, Edmonton currently has a little over 338,000 dwelling units. It’s worth noting that these estimates are based on past trends of larger suburban rather than urban growth. Councillor Iveson wrote at length about this issue during the development of the MDP, which he flippantly called ‘The Way We Sprawl’:

In other words, for fiscal, social and environmental reasons, there is a strong case against conceding to so much peripheral development. Again, I’m not calling for a halt to it, since I don’t see how we could accomplish that under current legislation. I’m calling for greater urbanization within today’s footprint. We’re told that market demand’s not there, that demand is for the suburbs, and that we can’t fight that. But I think we have to work to make urban living more family-friendly – which we’re beginning to do – and we need to make it competitive in terms of affordability. This is work worth doing, even if it’s hard.

So, you can look at those numbers for remaining lot supply and determine than we’d have a shortfall of around 81,000 units but you have to keep in mind that the 65,000 refers only to low density units on the periphery. We also need to consider the medium to high density residential capacity in approved ASPs, which totals 65,100 units, as well as redevelopment projects in the mature and established suburban areas which total an estimated 44,600 units.

MDP Land Use

The alternative is to look at the three “Urban Growth Areas” defined in the MDP (the brown areas on the map above). Rural Southeast, Rural West, and Rural Northeast would together provide an additional 15 years of low density capacity (55,000) units plus additional medium to high density capacity of 24,500 units.

So let’s do the math:

Existing low density capacity in approved growth areas 65,000
Existing medium/high density capacity in approved growth areas 65,100
Mature & established suburban redevelopment capacity 44,600
TOTAL (excluding Urban Growth Areas) 174,700
New low density capacity in Urban Growth Areas 55,000
New medium/high density capacity in Urban Growth Areas 24,500
TOTAL 254,200

As you can see our total capacity is significantly more than anticipated demand of 146,000 units. Even excluding the Urban Growth Areas, we’d have a surplus of 28,700 units. Why would we bother developing the three Urban Growth Areas when we have more than enough capacity in existing, approved areas?

Northeast Edmonton

Of the three Urban Growth Areas, changes for the Northeast seem most imminent. As mentioned above, the Northeast sector of the city has the lowest amount of land supply at an estimated 9 years. It also has the highest forecasted job growth through 2024, with an estimated 12,000 jobs being created over that time. But even with that growth, the area will only represent 2-3% of the city’s total workforce. Wouldn’t extending the LRT further into that area to serve the economic need be a better investment than building new neighbourhoods?

The ASP that is being proposed for the eastern part of the Northeast sector is known as Horse Hill. The name was recently approved by the City’s Naming Committee.

The name Horse Hill comes from the area’s historical association with Fort Edmonton. It was previously used as the home of Fort Edmonton’s horse guard (Blue 1924). During this time, as many as 800 horses were kept here , playing an important role in the maintenance and protection of Fort Edmonton.

The area is approximately 3700 hectares and is bounded by Manning Drive on the west, the North Saskatchewan River on the east, and Anthony Henday Drive on the south (some of the neighbourhoods nearby include McConachie, Gorman, Brintnell, and Kirkness). Development of the ASP is being led by Stantec Consulting and the Stakeholder Advisory Group is made up of landowners, community leagues, residents, and the City. They have already circulated a draft to dozens of departments at the City, even though they know the Food & Agriculture Strategy needs to be in place first. The audacity to move ahead with a draft ASP underscores just how pervasive the business-as-usual mentality really is.

The most unique feature of the Northeast is of course the agricultural land. You’ve probably heard of some of the farms located there: Kuhlmann’s, Norbest Farms, Visser Farms, Horse Hill Berry Farm, and Riverbend Gardens to name just a few. I had the opportunity to tour Riverbend Gardens back in 2010 and found it breathtaking. Their 120 acres of land is pretty much as far as you can go northeast and still be within the boundaries of Edmonton.

Riverbend Gardens
Riverbend Gardens

Roughly 17% of land in Alberta is good for farming, and the majority of that is situated along the Edmonton-to-Calgary corridor. Edmonton is lucky to have Class 1, 2, and 3 agricultural soils within the city limits, but so far we have not done a very good job of preserving it. Since 1982, Edmonton has lost 74% of its Class 1 soils. Still, in 2009 the average net profit per acre in Edmonton was $79.68, more than double any other location in the Capital Region. And in the Northeast? The average net profit per acre was $270.72. The value of the land in the Northeast needs to be recognized.

Directly to the west of this area, across Manning Drive, is the Edmonton Energy and Technology Park. That ASP was approved by Council on June 9, 2010. The intent is to capitalize on the byproducts left over from oil sands production (the area is about 15 kilometers from existing and proposed upgrader sites).

The Edmonton Energy and technology Park provides a vision for a new eco-industrial area for the city of Edmonton. The opportunity for value-added industries and significant economic spin-off activity based on the development of Alberta’s oil sands was the catalyst for the development of this industrial plan. EETP is designed to take advantage of the primary petrochemicals and products from upgrading and refining in the region.

The 4857 hectare-sized area will be developed over the next 40 years with four primary land use precincts: petrochemical, manufacturing, logistics, and research & development. This is where a lot of that job growth is expected to come from.

crb transportation plan

Partially as a result of the expected increase in industrial activity on the west side of Manning Drive, plans currently exist to connect Highway 28A with Highway 21 via an expressway that would cut right through existing farmland and cross the North Saskatchewan River. The Capital Region Board (CRB) scored a victory in December 2011 when the Province agreed to shelve plans for the Regional Ring Road, but it seems that has done little to protect agricultural land in the Northeast. The CRB’s Integrated Regional Transportation Master Plan includes the expressway as a potential high load corridor (subject to further engineering and technical review). Who knows if the road will actually be built, but the draft Horse Hill ASP includes it.

horse hill asp

In anticipation of this development, an awful lot of land has changed hands. Some estimates suggest that just 15% of land in the area is still owned by original owners. Walton International, a land developer (some would say speculator) that has been active in the Edmonton region for many years, is now the largest landowner in the area. They purchase land at a small premium with the expectation that its value will be significantly increased as the opportunity to develop it draws near. There are a number of holdouts however, including Riverbend Gardens. Recently they and others formed the Northeast Edmonton Agricultural Producers association and launched Friends of Farmers to draw attention to the potential loss of agricultural land.

Business-as-Usual Growth

We cannot afford to grow in the future the way we have in the past. Councillor Iveson highlighted this section of the Growth Coordination Strategy after an initial read:

Although not included in the analysis at this time, operating and maintenance costs in suburban areas represents a significant operational expenditure to the City. Also a large component of capital spending, rehabilitation and replacement of infrastructure is not included in the analysis presented either. Administration is working towards the inclusion of these expenses into future versions of the Growth Coordination Strategy, but at this time the methodology for the gathering and synthesis of the data required for this is not developed sufficiently.

He then stated, “I’m concerned we may not have this full picture before the next Area Structure Plans (for the North East and South West green patches) come up for debate this fall.”

Some land developers will tell you that the City has an obligation to move forward on the three Urban Growth Area ASPs. To them, the City made a promise to develop the land when it annexed the three regions back in 1981. But can we really afford to hold the City of today to decisions that were made over thirty years ago?

I don’t know why the City pursued that annexation in 1981 – I wasn’t yet born – but the answer might be found in Doug Kelly’s book $100,000 An Acre. In Chapter 12 he writes about the development of Campbelltown (now known as Sherwood Park) in the 1950s and in Chapter 14 he elaborates on the City of Edmonton’s opposition to the development. “The city, even then, was concerned about fringe developments and its inability to tax or control development without annexation.” The McNally Report in 1956 and the Hanson Report in 1968 both recommended that Edmonton be allowed to annex St. Albert, Sherwood Park, and the industrial area of Strathcona County. “In all cases, the provincial government knuckled under to the small rural population and disallowed the annexation. It was an injustice to the citizens of Edmonton from which they have never fully recovered.”

SHERWOOD PARK, ALBERTA MAY 8th 1962 PIC 2
Sherwood Park in May of 1962

I wonder if that experience caused the City to become more aggressive about acquiring the surrounding land decades later. Perhaps they realized the situation for cities was not going to improve. When the province eliminated the Planning Act in 1995 and placed all legislation concerning land development into the Municipal Government Act (MGA), it didn’t come without a cost. “Now the rural municipalities can develop to the fringes of urban municipalities, greatly restricting the latter’s ability to expand for future growth,” Kelly wrote.

The relationship between urban municipalities and the province today seems poised for renewal. With the announcement last month that Calgary, Edmonton, and the province have committed to developing a big city charter, there’s hope that positive changes are on the way for Alberta’s big cities and the options they have for dealing with the unique challenges of growth.

Land developers have sunk money into the Urban Growth Areas and the only way they can get it back and make a profit is for the City to continue growing the way it has been. For sprawl to continue unabated. As a result, the City and Council are almost certainly feeling pressured to get these ASPs approved, but there is absolutely no requirement that they do so. All they must do is follow the process established under the MGA and its ASP Terms of Reference.

We must be willing to stand up and declare that the Edmonton of 2012 and beyond will be a more compact, sustainable city than the Edmonton of 1981. Change is hard, but if the will is there it can be done. We need to be willing to say that if you’ve based your business on decisions that were made over three decades ago, too bad; Edmontonians are no longer picking up the tab.

Food & Agriculture

In our haste to continue unnecessarily growing outward, I’m concerned that we’re going to end up with a Food & Agriculture Strategy that reflects the limited time and attention devoted to it. Determining the true value of the land in the Northeast is just one piece of the puzzle, there are so many other aspects to food and agriculture in the Edmonton region that should be considered.

The discussion primer for the project hits all the right notes, of course.

As part of the strategy, a comprehensive inventory of agricultural assets is being undertaken, as well as an assessment of local food business opportunities. The strategy will include a summary of this background information in order to provide a sense of the current state of food and agriculture in the city and what potential exists. Example practices from across North America are also being examined, as mentioned earlier, in order to gather ideas for what might work in Edmonton.

Assessing local food business opportunities, compiling a comprehensive inventory of agricultural assets – these are excellent ideas, but they are not things that can be completed overnight.

Consulting the right people takes time too. I had the opportunity to attend two consultation events, neither of which was very well attended. At the second such event, there was a lot of great discussion about farmers markets, food hubs, educating people about basic food skills, and much more. And yet, we barely scratched the surface.

Let’s use farmers markets as an example. Yes, everyone seems to agree that farmers markets are a great thing, but what good is a strategy if that’s all it says? Do we have the right number of farmers markets in the Edmonton region? What challenges do they face? What could the City do to help address those and other challenges? Do we have enough producers to support all the markets? These questions deserve to be explored in depth.

Highlands Market
Shoppers at one of Edmonton’s newest markets in Highlands

Given the limited time, I’m not confident that the final strategy will be anything more than a collection of high level goals. I’m sure it’ll be a great read, but I doubt it will be so bold as to make any strong recommendations to Council on how to actually achieve the vision of having a resilient food and agriculture system in Edmonton.

I hope I’m wrong, but I fear the Food & Agriculture Strategy will be viewed as nothing more than another box checked on the road to additional sprawl.

Closing Thoughts

Both the Growth Coordination Strategy and the Food & Agriculture Strategy are slated to go to Council sometime this fall. The Horse Hill ASP is also slated to be reviewed toward the end of October. City Council will soon be on summer break until the end of August, and I’d love for them to return to a flood of messages from Edmontonians expressing their thoughts on this issue. They need to know that a significant number of people support their efforts to curb urban sprawl.

The bottom line is that the agricultural land on the edge of Edmonton is some of the best land in the province. With more than enough capacity to support anticipated population growth within existing areas, there’s no good reason to relinquish such a valuable asset, especially before a proper analysis of the land and how it fits into Edmonton’s future is completed and a strategy is approved.

This is not just a battle between land developers and farmers in the city’s Northeast. This is a battle over the kind of City we want Edmonton to be. I want Edmonton to be a economically and environmentally sustainable city that recognizes the importance of food security and the value of a more compact region. How about you?

Edmonton Notes for 6/24/2012

Happy Birthday Sharon! We went to Calgary for the weekend to celebrate – I’m sure she’ll be blogging about the great places we ate at soon. Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

City of Edmonton Balloon Entry for Capital EX Parade

Here are some upcoming events:

2012-06-18 Pearl
The Pearl under construction

Upcoming public involvement opportunities!

It really feels like this is an unprecedented time for the City of Edmonton – there are so many projects and plans underway that it’s hard to keep track of them all! But that’s a post for another day. For now, here are some upcoming public involvement opportunities you should know about.

Help Create a Vision for Queen Elizabeth Park

“Queen Elizabeth Park has been a well-loved destination park for Edmontonians for almost a century. Given all the planned improvements in the area, including the new Walterdale Bridge and the repurposing of the Rossdale Power Plant, in addition to the demolition of the old Queen Elizabeth Pool, the time is ripe to re-imagine what this park means to us and to explore options for its future.”

There’s an idea gathering workshop scheduled for April 18 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at the Old Timers’ Cabin. See full details at ShareEdmonton.

Complete Streets: Give us your feedback!

“Complete Streets is a concept. It’s a City of Edmonton initiative that acknowledges a simple truth: when it comes to roads, one size doesn’t fit all.”

This is an online opportunity. Share your thoughts here by April 16.

Survey on Sanitary Utility Rate structure

“The City of Edmonton’s Drainage Services is considering changes to the Sanitary Utility Rate structure. Edmontonians are encouraged to share their thoughts and opinions by completing an on-line survey by April 9, 2012.”

This is an online opportunity. Share your thoughts here by April 9.

Survey on the Urban Traffic Noise Policy (UTNP)

“Since the UTNP was last updated in 2004, it’s time to review the policy and assess the public’s perceptions and opinions on the impact of traffic noise. Public feedback will be included in a revised policy, which will go before City Council in June 2012.”

This is an online opportunity. The survey will be available here soon and will be open until April 20.

Northwest LRT Open House

“The public is invited to participate in the kickoff open house for the Northwest LRT project. City staff will outline the project scope and process for evaluation of the Northwest LRT corridor. Participants will be asked to identify issues and opportunities for the project going forward.”

There’s an open house coming up on April 10 from 4pm to 8pm at the Calder Community Hall. See full details at ShareEdmonton.

Southeast to West LRT Community Conversations

“Public Involvement for this phase will include all 27 km of the line. As this is a large area and stakeholders will have specific interests and concerns, the study area has been broken into six consultation areas. Though information sharing and consultation on the entire 27 km will be a part of every meeting in every area, each meeting will be tailored to the specific area it’s in.”

There are three events still to take place. Strathearn to City Centre West will be discussed on April 11, City Centre West to 149 Street will be discussed on April 24, and 149 Street to Lewis Farms Transit Centre will be discussed on April 26.

The Way We Green Speaker Series 2012

“The Way We Green project is the City’s consultation with Edmontonians to develop a long-term environmental strategy for a sustainable community.”

The next event is scheduled for April 11 during the lunch hour at the Art Gallery of Alberta. See full details at ShareEdmonton. Additional events are scheduled for May 9 and June 5.

The Way We Prosper

“The City of Edmonton is preparing The Way We Prosper, a comprehensive economic development strategy for the city. The strategy is one of the six “Ways” – the 10-year strategic goals identified in the City’s strategic plan The Way Ahead that will help to set direction, guide decisions and align the priorities for transforming Edmonton’s future.”

There’s an economic development workshop scheduled for April 30 from 1pm to 4:30pm at the Shaw Conference Centre. See full details at ShareEdmonton. The City has already been holding focus groups on this plan, and I’m sure additional events will be held in the future.

Other

You might also want to read about the plans for the 2012 construction season. More than $122 million is being invested in projects to enhance Edmonton’s transportation infrastructure. In particular, take note of detours on Jasper Avenue related to the Central Station LRT Rehabilitation.

Oh, and don’t forget that census workers are hitting the streets for the 2012 Municipal Census. Legitimate census workers will have proper identification, they will not ask you for your name or phone number, and they most definitely will not ask to use your computer.

To keep up-to-date on public involvement events, check out the public involvement tag at ShareEdmonton.

Edmonton Notes for 4/1/2012

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

First & Jasper
The old BMO ‘63 building demolition continues!

Here are some upcoming events:


Happy April Fools from Google – it’s Edmonton in Google Maps 8-bit for NES!

For election related events, keep an eye on the following pages:

Central LRT Rehabilitation
You can learn more about the Central Station LRT Rehabilitation and Jasper Avenue Streetscaping here.

State of the Edmonton Twittersphere 2011 – Hashtags & Links

This is the third part in my State of the Edmonton Twittersphere for 2011 – you can read the overview post here. As we saw in that entry, local users posted more than 2.5 million tweets containing links. They also posted more than 3 million tweets containing hashtags. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly we tweeted about in 2011.

Here’s a breakdown of the number of tweets posted per month containing links. As expected, it trends up:

More interesting than the number of links is what those links are for! Of course, most links are hidden behind shortened URLs using a service like TinyURL. That makes it difficult to see the final destination of the link. Additionally, Twitter rolled out its own URL shortener in August which automatically wrapped all links with t.co. So to get a sense of what the links look like, I examined the data from January through August and excluded any t.co wrapped links. That gives us this:

As you can see, bit.ly is by far the most popular URL shortening service. Looking at the top ten, we can see that Tumblr, Facebook, Foursquare, and YouTube account for a large number of the links we post on Twitter every day. So, we use Twitter to link to other social networking sites!

Here are the top ten domains (excluding t.co):

  1. bit.ly
  2. ow.ly
  3. tinyurl.com
  4. tumblr.com
  5. fb.me
  6. 4sq.com
  7. yfrog.com
  8. twitpic.com
  9. youtu.be
  10. edmjr.nl

Other popular domains included instagr.am, goo.gl, and dlvr.it.

Perhaps more useful than links for determining what we tweeted about are hashtags. After all, the hashtag was created as a way to “categorize” tweets. In 2011, local users posted more than 3 million tweets containing hashtags. The most commonly used hashtag, by a longshot, was #yeg. Here is a word cloud of the most commonly used hashtags:

Local users used nearly 600,000 different hashtags in 2011. The shortest was just one character, excluding the hash, and the longest was 139 characters. The average hashtag was 14 characters long. There were seven hashtags that filled the full 140 characters of a tweet (when you include the #) and all but one of them had to do with using a long hashtag (the outlier was an extended hey!).

This should give you a sense of the diversity of hashtags used, and also of the prevalence of #yeg:

Removing #yeg from the word cloud allows us to get a better sense of the other top tags:

Here are the top ten hashtags excluding #yeg:

  1. #oilers
  2. #ff
  3. #yegfood
  4. #edmonton
  5. #ableg
  6. #yyc
  7. #cdnpoli
  8. #alberta
  9. #customer
  10. #canada

The only one that surprises me there is #customer. I have no idea why that hashtag was so popular! Given that it hasn’t been used recently, I suspect a bot may have helped boost its use at some point throughout the year.

I have always been fascinated by the number of local “subtags” as I call them, or hashtags that start with #yeg. In 2011, local users posted more than 3600 different hashtags that started with #yeg. The average length, excluding the hash, was 11 characters. The longest was 52 characters. Appropriately, it was about the weather – #yegohmygoodnesscantbelievewinterisherehowwillimanage.

Here’s a look at the top #yeg-related hashtags:

Here are the top ten #yeg-related hashtags:

  1. #yegfood
  2. #yegarena
  3. #yegweather
  4. #yegwx
  5. #yegtraffic
  6. #yegcc
  7. #yegarts
  8. #yegmusic
  9. #yegfed
  10. #yegtransit

So what did we talk about on Twitter in 2011? The same stuff we talk about everywhere else – food, politics, music, traffic, etc. The list above is pretty similar to the list from 2010, with #yegfood on top and a number of political tags like #yegcc, #yegarena, and #yegfed.

Here’s another way to visualize how popular those ten hashtags were, when compared with all other #yeg-related tags:

And here’s a look at the next most commonly used tags after excluding the top ten:

I imagine #yegdt, #yegmedia, and #yegbiz will all climb the charts in 2012!

2011 in Review

This year I have broken the report into sections:

  1. Overview
  2. Users & Clients
  3. Hashtags & Links

This entry brings the report to a close. I hope you found it useful. Thanks for reading!

State of the Edmonton Twittersphere 2011 – Users & Clients

This is the second part in my State of the Edmonton Twittersphere for 2011 – you can read the overview post here. As we saw in that entry, more than 46,000 local users posted at least one tweet in 2011, and more than 23,000 were active in December. Let’s take a closer look at users and the tools they used to post tweets.

In my experience the creation date for a user is not always populated, but assuming it is incorrect or missing equally across the year, this chart gives us an indication of when local users signed up for accounts in 2011:

As you can see only March seems to stand out – the number of users created is otherwise fairly evenly distributed across the year.

On to the lists!

Here are the 25 most followed users:

  1. hallsy04
  2. bioware
  3. NHL_Oilers
  4. revtrev
  5. Pat_Lorna
  6. ebs_14
  7. masseffect
  8. dragonage
  9. randyfritz
  10. MilesSTEREOS
  11. askandimagine
  12. darklarke
  13. jayrahime
  14. DavidPapp
  15. AskMartyMisner
  16. DancinginLife
  17. mps_91
  18. TheMaddigans
  19. CityofEdmonton
  20. subunit1
  21. edmontonjournal
  22. redneckmommy
  23. ctvedmonton
  24. GenePrincipe
  25. ThisBirdsDay

The average local user has 138 followers (compared to 120 last year). A total of 918 users have 1000 followers or more (compared to 420 users last year).

Here are the 25 most listed users:

  1. bioware
  2. revtrev
  3. NHL_Oilers
  4. masseffect
  5. dragonage
  6. hallsy04
  7. redneckmommy
  8. rootnl2k
  9. randyfritz
  10. paradepro
  11. Pat_Lorna
  12. gcouros
  13. edmontonjournal
  14. gsiemens
  15. DancinginLife
  16. ebs_14
  17. da_buzz
  18. ctvedmonton
  19. CityofEdmonton
  20. dantencer
  21. CBCEdmonton
  22. mastermaq
  23. britl
  24. askandimagine
  25. GlobalEdmonton

The average local user has been listed 4 times (compared to 5 times last year).

Here are the 25 most active users:

  1. rootnl2k
  2. etownmelly
  3. theleanover
  4. JoThrillzPromo
  5. auryanna
  6. CommonSenseSoc
  7. KikkiPlanet
  8. RyanPMG
  9. Leask
  10. BikiniOrBust
  11. LiarAllDay
  12. ZoomJer
  13. fraygulrock
  14. counterplot
  15. JovanHeer
  16. PoisonLolita (now @Shannanicorn)
  17. SaySandra
  18. Jenn_Etown
  19. sarahbartlett (now @sarahesinfield)
  20. DV1NE
  21. gcouros
  22. AskMartyMisner
  23. andrew_leach
  24. TrevorBoller
  25. habanerogal

Here are the 5 most active bots:

  1. WCIJobs
  2. EdmontonBizcaf
  3. MadMissee
  4. yegtraffic
  5. LocalEdmonton

Combined those were the top 30 most active users, and they accounted for 8.3% of all local tweets. The top 100 most active users accounted for 16.0% of all local tweets (compared to 18.5% last year).

Here are the 25 most active users using #yeg (and #yeg-related hashtags):

  1. iNews880
  2. ctvedmonton
  3. edmontonjournal
  4. CBCEdmonton
  5. TamaraStecyk
  6. MacsTheWord
  7. Edmontonsun
  8. Paulatics
  9. DebraWard
  10. JBH8
  11. k97
  12. mastermaq
  13. Sirthinks
  14. SimonOstler
  15. KikkiPlanet
  16. CommonSenseSoc
  17. metroedmonton
  18. britl
  19. lindork
  20. thepolishviking
  21. Slummer90
  22. Macgyyver
  23. CityofEdmonton
  24. GigcityYEG
  25. craigpilgrim

Here are 5 most active bots using #yeg:

  1. yegsphere
  2. EdmCa
  3. yegwx
  4. yegtraffic
  5. Oilogosphere

The top 100 most active users using #yeg and related tags accounted for 30.3% of all #yeg-tagged tweets, down from 51.8% last year. That suggests that more users are using #yeg! A total of 14,238 users posted at least one tweet tagged with #yeg or a related tag in 2011.

Here are the 25 most replied to users (by other local users):

  1. KikkiPlanet
  2. JasonGregor
  3. confessionality
  4. ZoomJer
  5. JenBanksYEG
  6. Wildsau
  7. britl
  8. Pokerclack
  9. CommonSenseSoc
  10. dantencer
  11. SaySandra
  12. RockstarJodie
  13. TamaraStecyk
  14. Rainyfool
  15. Leask
  16. NoPantsAsh
  17. lindork
  18. Luzzara
  19. NHL_Oilers
  20. FeliciaDewar
  21. habanerogal
  22. TrevorBoller
  23. nielson1260
  24. Sirthinks
  25. MeghanDarker

Those 25 users accounted for 11.2% of all local replies. The top 100 most replied to local users accounted for 24.5% of all local replies (compared to 32.8% last year).

Here are the 25 most retweeted users (by other local users):

  1. edmontonjournal
  2. NHL_Oilers
  3. ctvedmonton
  4. dantencer
  5. CityofEdmonton
  6. mastermaq
  7. metroedmonton
  8. cbcedmonton
  9. Paulatics
  10. GlobalEdmonton
  11. SimonOstler
  12. yegtraffic
  13. JasonGregor
  14. britl
  15. KikkiPlanet
  16. edmontonsun
  17. sunterryjones
  18. EdmontonHumane
  19. GenePrincipe
  20. hallsy04
  21. iNews880
  22. joshclassen
  23. bingofuel
  24. Wildsau
  25. davecournoyer

If you ever needed proof that Edmonton is a hockey town, look no further than that list! A total of 38 users were retweeted by other local users 1000 times or more. Just the top 6 users were retweeted more than 4000 times, and just @edmontonjournal was retweeted more than 10,000 times.

I like to say that the “most retweeted” is the most important of all the lists in this post, because the retweet is the social currency of Twitter. If someone retweets you, that means that whatever you posted was important/clever/funny/inspiring/etc enough to share with others.

Clients

More than 3100 different applications and services were used to post tweets in 2011, up from more than 2000 last year. Here are the top ten:

  1. web
  2. Twitter for iPhone
  3. Twitter for BlackBerry®
  4. TweetDeck
  5. HootSuite
  6. Echofon
  7. twitterfeed
  8. Twitter for Android
  9. txt
  10. Tweet Button

The top ten clients accounted for 76.8% of all local tweets in 2011 (compared to 76.2% last year).

Coming Up

This year I have broken the report into sections:

  1. Overview
  2. Users & Clients
  3. Hashtags & Links

If you have suggestions for additional parts to the report, I’d love to hear them. Thanks for reading!

It’s time to stop investing in Edmonton Stories

Nearly three years ago the City of Edmonton launched Edmonton Stories, a new approach to marketing Edmonton. The project will be discussed by Executive Committee tomorrow, and at least one Councillor has been quite vocal about his desire to shut it down. Councillor Diotte wrote about the issue yesterday on his blog:

I argue we have no performance measures for the website. Social media gurus tell me the costs surrounding Edmontonstories are astronomically high and we can’t even gauge if it alone has drawn a single person to come live in this city.

I don’t always agree with Councillor Diotte, but in this case I think he’s right – it is time to very seriously ask if continuing to put resources into Edmonton Stories is the right thing to do. I first raised questions about the value we’re getting back in September 2009, and followed up with then Communications Branch Manager Mary Pat Barry in February 2010. My conclusion at the time was that while the cost was high, the site was starting to deliver results. The case study that was created in conjunction with the Edmonton Police Service was a really positive step.

Now, two years later, where are we? Not much further ahead. Here’s the sad reality:

  • In its first four months, EdmontonStories.ca attracted 113,979 total visits. Five months later, that number had grown to 203,685. And in the two years since, it has attracted just 358,691 more visits, bringing the total to 558,376. Most of the growth took place in the first year! Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a graph to show you what the growth curve looks like (linear and logarithmic):

edmonton stories traffic

  • And remember that those numbers are total visits. There’s no word on how many are uniques. The number of people visiting from outside Edmonton is even less, especially when you consider that when an Edmontonian’s story goes up they likely share it with friends and family in the city.
  • The number of stories on the site likewise has grown very slowly. The total now sits at 339 compared to 272 in February 2010.
  • The same case study that was held up in defense of the site two years ago is the one Administration is using now (the EPS one). The report mentions just six organizations that have joined the Recruitment Campaign Partnership. Six! Out of all the organizations in Edmonton!
  • And yes, the budget is a concern. Incredibly, the report does not make it clear how much has been spent on the project. It does state that $1.5 million was allocated in the first year and that a consultant’s estimate of the “right” investment amount was about $5 million. Councillor Diotte says that with this year’s $600,000 budget factored in, a total of $3.5 million will have been spent on the site since it launched.
  • Worse than the overall budget however is the breakdown. UPDATE: The numbers have now been posted at EdmontonStories.ca. Here’s the split identified for the 2012 budget:

So, let me get this straight:

  • $180,000 is being spent to advertise the website to extend its reach, yet we know that the growth rate has declined significantly over time.
  • $144,000 is being spent on the recruitment program, which has attracted just seven partner organizations in the last two years.
  • $126,000 is being spent on “managing, maintaining, monitoring and engaging target audiences of various social media platforms.” You know, the stuff you and I do every day for free.
  • $54,000 is being spent on “research, planning & development.” I’m not exactly sure what this would refer to in the third year of a program like this.
  • $54,000 is being spent on “website development & maintenance.” I pay $90 per month total to host this site and at least half a dozen others on Amazon EC2. And I can confirm that it more than handles the kind of traffic EdmontonStories.ca has.
  • $30,000 is being spent to extend the brand into trade shows and other events.
  • $12,000 is being spent to help people write new stories, yet just 67 new stories have been posted in the last two years.

Clearly the cost is a concern. But perhaps the biggest problem is that the site’s champion is no longer driving the site forward. I don’t think it is a coincidence that after Mary Pat left the City the site received less attention. Reading the report from Administration, it certainly feels like there’s a gap from 2010 until now. It’s hard to look after someone else’s baby.

I recognize that you don’t get results over night and that developing a successful program can often take time. But three years should be enough time to decide whether or not to pull the plug. That’s an eternity in the online world! Incredibly, Administration thinks we should do the opposite by reaching out to more organizations, recruiting student partners, and enhancing the site with things like Google Maps.

I think there’s value in what has been created at EdmontonStories.ca and I believe there are ways to continue to leverage that (perhaps via EEDC, which always did seem like a more suitable home for it), but I don’t think the City should be investing any more into the project.

State of the Edmonton Twittersphere 2011 – Overview

Welcome to the State of the Edmonton Twittersphere for 2011, my look at the intersection of Twitter and Edmonton in 2011. You can see my 2010 recap here, and my 2009 recap here.

I’ve done my best to ensure all of the data in this report is accurate, but I make no guarantees – use it at your own risk. The data comes from the Twitter API, and was collected over the course of 2011. If a user has his or her location set to Edmonton, St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Leduc, Nisku, Stony Plain, Fort Saskatchewan, Beaumont, Spruce Grove, or matching lat/long coordinates, they are considered an Edmontonian, and thus a “local user”.

Please treat the numbers in this report as a minimum. There are instances where I wasn’t able to capture all of the data, and there are certainly users here in Edmonton who do not match the above definition of a “local user”. More important than the raw numbers themselves are the trends, and that’s why in many cases I have presented rounded rather than exact figures. You can click on any graph to see a larger version.

Here are the highlights for 2011:

  • More than 46,000 local users posted at least one tweet.
    • A little over 1000 of those accounts no longer exist.
  • More than 11.2 million tweets were posted by local users, which works out to 21.4 tweets per minute.
    • That’s 2.3 times as many tweets as were posted in 2010.
  • Here’s a breakdown of those tweets:
    • More than 715,000 tweets were tagged #yeg or a related hashtag (like #yegfood) (6.4%, down from 7.7% last year)
    • Nearly 700,000 tweets were retweets (6.2%, down from 7.2% last year)
    • More than 4.4 million tweets were replies (39.4%, up from 34.7% last year)
    • More than 1.7 million tweets were replies to other local users (15.2%, up from 13.5% last year)
    • More than 2.5 million tweets contained links (22.9%, down from 26.9% last year)
    • More than 320,000 tweets were twooshes (a twoosh is exactly 140 characters) (2.9%, down from 3.9% last year)

While more than 46,000 local users posted a tweet last year, just under 24,000 were active at the end of the year in December (active means they posted at least one tweet). That’s 1.9 times as many active users as January. That’s slightly better growth than we saw in 2010, when December had 1.8 times as many active users as January.

When the year started, Edmontonians were posting a little over 600,000 tweets per month. By the end of the year, that number had nearly doubled to 1.1 million tweets per month. That’s less than the growth that Twitter as a whole experienced last year (3 times as many tweets were posted as compared to the same point in 2010) but is more or less what we saw in Edmonton in 2010 (as compared to 2009).

Roughly 49.1% of all tweets in 2011 were posted between the hours of 9 AM and 6 PM, down slightly from 50.8% in 2010. Once again the lowest point for tweet volume was around 4 AM. Last year there were clear early morning and late night spikes, but this year only the late night spike is present (8 PM to 11 PM).

There’s a much nicer looking curve for days of the week this year, with the most tweets being posted during the middle of the week. Sunday typically had the lowest volume of tweets posted.

Here’s a look at the number of tweets posted per day for each day of the year. As with last year’s chart, the trend is clearly up, and there are some visible spikes and troughs. The dip on April 9 appears to be an anomaly in the data, perhaps there were issues with the Twitter API that day (unless you have another idea!). The peak on June 15 was not immediately obvious but it turned out after looking at a Wordle of the tweets that the spike was due to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. With nearly 45,000 tweets posted that day, it remained the record until October 25 when discussion about the downtown arena became the talk of Twitter here in Edmonton. More than 46,000 tweets were posted that day, with almost as many being posted on the next two days as well. The spike on November 17 appears to be related to the snow and cold weather that arrived that week.

Coming Up

In order to make it easier for me to write this report, I have decided to break it into sections. This entry provided an overview, and upcoming entries will focus on different aspects of Twitter usage in Edmonton:

  1. Overview
  2. Users & Clients
  3. Hashtags & Links

If you have suggestions for additional parts to the report, I’d love to hear them. Thanks for reading!

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

Roundup: Reaction to the latest downtown arena vote

On Wednesday afternoon, City Council approved a financial framework for the new downtown arena. The vote passed 10-3, with Diotte, Iveson, and Sloan voting against. Council also agreed to spend $30 million to complete the design of the arena to 60%, to enable contractors to bid on the construction project with a Guaranteed Maximum Price of $450 million. From the news release:

“A new downtown arena is a catalyst for revitalizing downtown. This is a fair agreement and will help sustain NHL hockey in Edmonton while increasing economic activity in the city,” says City Manager Simon Farbrother. “It will also improve land values and the livability and sustainability of Edmonton for all citizens.”

John Karvellas from the Katz Group also issued a statement:

“We very much appreciate City Council’s strong vote of support for the downtown arena, as well as the considerable time and effort Mayor Mandel and City Administration, in particular, have put into this project. We will work with the City administration to understand the implications of the new elements of the deal introduced in today’s motion in the context of the agreements that need to be completed by month-end.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also shared some comments:

“I am thrilled for the City of Edmonton and I want to congratulate and thank Mayor Mandel and Daryl Katz for their hard work and commitment. The future of the Oilers couldn’t be brighter.”

I was paying attention to the meeting on Wednesday, and as the vote approached I tweeted much of Council’s final remarks. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Mayor Mandel: “I have not had one, not one call since SLRT opened about what it cost us to build.”
  • Mayor Mandel: “Today is about making a decision to change our downtown.”
  • Mayor Mandel: “This is a project about Northern Alberta, it’s not just about Edmonton. The province should come to the table.”
  • Councillor Anderson: “Thank goodness he lives here.” (referring to Daryl Katz)
  • Councillor Anderson: “I believe that the casino and the gravel project would sit for another several decades if this does not go forward.”
  • Councillor Anderson: “We all have to remember however, that no matter how we vote on this, it is still subject to $100 million appearing from somewhere.”
  • Councillor Batty: “I applaud Daryl Katz for his perseverance.”
  • Councillor Gibbons: “Hopefully we can work toward keeping Edmonton on the map.”
  • Councillor Gibbons: “We’ve done such a good job of growing out, maybe we can grow back inside.”
  • Councillor Gibbons: “I’ve travelled all over the world, and a great city has to have a great downtown.”
  • Councillor Leibovici: “We do have a downtown that needs a bit of a lift.”
  • Councillor Leibovici: “Do we need an arena? Yes. Do we need to change what we have? Yes.”
  • Councillor Leibovici: “A lot of this reminds me of the airport debate.”
  • Councillor Sohi: “I know it’s not a perfect deal, but it’s a reasonable deal that I can defend to the people I represent.”
  • Councillor Krushell: “It’s time to tell the Prongers of this world that Edmonton is not just a city with great people.”
  • Councillor Krushell: “The project will play a key part in revitalizing our downtown, and that is why I am supporting this.”
  • Councillor Loken: “This is a game-changer in my mind.”
  • Councillor Loken: “This is about Edmonton, this is about vision, this is about the future.”
  • Councillor Diotte: “There’s no reason to agree to a bad deal.”
  • Councillor Diotte: “I think we can all agree that the majority of Edmontonians want to see a new downtown arena.”
  • Councillor Sloan: “I maintain grave reservations about the costs and associated risks that the City is undertaking.”
  • Councillor Sloan: “I am further concerned that a lack of clarity has resulted in both Council and Admin losing face in the public.”
  • Councillor Caterina: “I’m comfortable that this is a much fairer deal than what was brought back from New York.”
  • Councillor Henderson: “I’m prepared to continue moving forward because I think at this point that our interests are being served.”
  • Councillor Henderson: “I don’t think the arena by itself is the magic wand.”
  • Councillor Iveson: “Nothing would anger me more in my old age than to see this debate play out again in my lifetime.”
  • Councillor Iveson: “I’m sold on what a new arena can do for our downtown, but I believe a better deal can be found.”

Slowly but surely, our Councillors are becoming more familiar with the tools and technologies available to them. Three Councillors blogged their final remarks, something I’d like to see the norm rather than the exception.

Many people tweeted about the news on Wednesday, and as I showed in my brief analysis, the response seemed to be mostly positive. There was also a fairly active thread on Connect2Edmonton about the deal.

Here’s what Paula Simons wrote about the deal:

“On Wednesday, Mayor Stephen Mandel described the arena as something to benefit all of northern Alberta. Sohi called on Edmontonians to petition Premier Alison Redford for financial support. Indeed, the province may be more willing to come up with the necessary cash, perhaps by some sleight of hand with casino money, now that the city and the Katz Group have come to terms. But this story, dear readers, isn’t over. We’ve just taken a whole new plot twist.”

Here’s what John MacKinnon wrote:

“Now that Oilers owner Daryl Katz’s downtown arena project is a qualified ‘go,’ maybe people can focus on what should have been the main issue all along: how this facility will help transform Edmonton’s downtown.”

Here’s what Gary Lamphier had to say:

“As I’ve said repeatedly over the past couple of years, I’d love to see a new downtown arena. But not at any price. I don’t think this deal represents anything close to an equitable sharing of risks and rewards between Katz Group and city taxpayers.”

In that same article, U of A sports economist Brad Humphreys shared his thoughts:

“It’s a terrible deal. They’re still short $100 million and I don’t see it going very far until they come up with the remainder of the funding.”

Here is what David Staples wrote:

“So did we get fleeced? Not even close. This is a good deal, far better than the existing Oilers deal at Rexall, and certainly right in line with what we see in terms of public/private funding models for new arenas in other NHL cities.”

Here is what Terry Jones wrote:

“The late great city of Edmonton has dared to be great again.”

Northlands CEO Richard Andersen hasn’t made many statements since the vote, but the Sun quoted him yesterday:

“We want to move on and get busy doing the other things we do. This is a huge distraction.”

Oilers star Taylor Hall tweeted his reaction to the news:

“Excited news on the new arena for Edmonton. In other news @ebs_14 and I got iPhones and they put BlackBerrys to shame.”

Here is what Yukon Jack wrote in his column:

“Finally! Finally another step in the downtown arena project. To say this thing is moving at a glacier’s pace is an insult to climate change.”

Bruce Urban, owner of the Edmonton Rush, is a fan of the project:

“It’s very exciting. Let’s picture Downtown Edmonton with this beautiful arena, the businesses that will follow, the restaurants and entrepreneurs who will follow. It’s very exciting for the city.”

The Calgary Herald asked Flames CEO Ken King to comment and received this statement:

“The news coming out of Edmonton regarding their new building is wonderful.  A state of the art new facility will be a great boon to their community and create a viable future for their team.”

Writing for the National Post, here is what Jesse Kline had to say:

“This is nothing more than corporate welfare, and by threatening to relocate the Oilers, Mr. Katz was essentially threatening to make business decisions based on how much money he can extract from local governments, rather than what city is the best market to do business in.”

The Edmonton Sun said that with the deal done, it is time to move on:

“City council has decided to proceed with a package that will see a major chunk of downtown Edmonton revitalized. It has been an acrimonious two-year debate, and the sensible move at this point is for the city to move forward together.”

The Edmonton Journal said the decision was the right call for our city:

“In this corner, the belief is that all Edmontonians will benefit – from economic spinoffs boosting the tax base, from the proliferation of non-hockey entertainment options that they will use, from the greater future attractiveness of Edmonton as a place to live, and from the fact that NHL hockey will now be guaranteed to remain a key part of community pride for at least the next 35 years.”

I’m sure I have missed some reaction, but I think the quotes I have highlighted are fairly representative.