Why I’m Supporting Don Iveson

In tomorrow’s civic election, Don Iveson is my pick for Mayor.

First, a disclosure and a couple of comments:

  • Don and his wife Sarah are friends, and I am a part of Don’s campaign team.
  • It’s worth reiterating that this is purely a personal opinion, not an endorsement on behalf of any organization I may be a part of.
  • This is an endorsement for Don, not against any other candidate.

The last comment bears repeating. Edmonton is fortunate to have a deep pool of candidates to chose from. Karen Leibovici offers many attributes that would serve her well as Mayor, and while I have a different outlook than Kerry Diotte, his small government vision is an important part of the public discourse. That said, Don is the best pick, for reasons I will outline below. And no matter who wins – for both Mayor and Council – I hope they will take my advance advice for city-building in the last two sections.

Don Iveson Rally
Photo via Mack Male.

The Role of the Mayor

The Mayor of Edmonton does not possess the executive powers that Mayors of some cities do. Thus, the key functions of the office are three-fold – put forward a positive vision for where the city needs to go, serve as the face and advocate for the city, build consensus and bring key individuals, groups, and stakeholders together – in both government and the community. On all three, Don excels.

He understands the need to think long-term, and take incremental steps in the short-term to get there. His policies outlines not just short-term steps, but a long-term vision – what we’re trying to achieve a generation from now.

Throughout this campaign, he has stressed the need for the Mayor to take a lead in selling Edmonton to potential residents, investors, and businesses across the globe. He is an articulate, enthusiastic pitchman for Edmonton.

In six years on Council, he has shown an ability to negotiate behind the scenes, and find consensus and common ground with his peers. He has brought together diverse groups of stakeholders through initiatives like City of Learners. Outside of City Hall, he has worked with counterparts across the region to make progress on transit issues.

Experience

When discussing this, I think it’s important to make a delineation. Experience, in pure form, is what you’ve done – for better or worse. It’s important, but what matters the most is relevant experience, and accomplishment. On the latter, Don’s record extends to well before his terms on Council. He took The Gateway from a campus newspaper reliant on student fees to one with a thriving business model. He brought student groups, university administrators, and municipalities together to successfully negotiate a Universal Bus Pass for students. As a Councillor, he has provided leadership in advancing the environmental strategic plan, City of Learners, and regional cooperation on transit – to name three. In everything he’s done, Don has been a leader and secured significant achievements. The skills he has used to do so – vision, strategic thinking, bringing stakeholders together – will transfer to the role of Mayor.

Cities in the 21st Century

If the past generation or two have been about fixing the provinces’ role in confederation, the next two have to be about addressing the appropriate roles for cities and metropolitan areas. As it stands, we are equipping cities with 19th century tools and systems to address 21st century problems. Don gets the need to change the rules of the game, and in particular to work with Calgary and the province to find solutions that work for big cities today.

The investment in quality of life amenities such as transit, active transportation, and infill housing is something every city needs to do to be competitive going forward. Cities across North America are doing this. In the American energy belt, cities like Houston and Oklahoma City are making investments to become more urban and offer better amenities. Same with the Mountain West cities of Denver and Salt Lake City. Cities are undergoing a transformation, and Don sees where Edmonton has to go to meet this demand. He speaks the same language that I hear from thought leaders online, and in forums such as the ICIC Summit and New Partners for Smart Growth.

Edmonton and the Next 5-10 Years

It has been implied, if not said outright, that Edmonton needs a manager, not a visionary, given the planning work that has been done recently. This is dangerous thinking. Certainly, the implementation of the downtown plan, Blatchford Development, and LRT network are crucial. Yet, those alone will not build the city we want. If we are serious about competing for people, investment, and jobs with cities across the country (never mind the continent or the globe), we have to keep pushing forward. With key approvals in place, we are not post-vision. We will never be. Sustainability of communities and infrastructure, economic diversification, poverty and inclusion – to name three – continue to be issues that need work.

Vision has, unfortunately, come to be synonymous with spending lots of money. The things touted as “visionary”, such as arenas and convention centres, come with hefty price tags. But significant change can occur through government actions that come with low costs. Don has a record of supporting these. Think of the Open Data initiative, relaxation of patio and food truck restrictions, and Start-Up Edmonton organization. All come with small price tags, but yield big results – particularly in the city’s core. Should it be successful, his recent inquiry into the caveats on former Safeway sites may have a similar catalyzing effect in mature neighbourhoods.

Should we rest on our laurels, Edmonton will fall behind. Other cities are also making investments in downtown, infill housing, and public transportation. Over the past 5 years, I’ve been to more than 20 cities across Canada and the United States – many of them several times. I see the same investments and changes happening everywhere – new housing and amenities in the core, cool independent restaurants and pubs, quality of life investments in trails and parks.

It’s critical that Edmonton continue to be aggressive. There may, frankly, never be a better time for Edmonton to make the leap and join the conversation of Canada’s leading cities. We can never assume continue economic prosperity is a guarantee, and this is especially true in a resource-driven economy. The stars are aligned for Edmonton. We’re a leading city for economic growth, and have low unemployment. Meanwhile, other cities face challenges. Toronto and Vancouver are increasingly unaffordable for many; Montreal continues to suffer because of regressive provincial battles over culture and identity. While the West does relatively well, the rest of Central Canada and much of the Atlantic is stuck in neutral. This will not always be the case.

If Edmonton is a city of ambition, now is the time to keep moving forward. On the region, economy, and quality of life, Don has shown that he gets where Edmonton has to go. As a Councillor, he has demonstrated the skills to help get us there.

Arenas and Civic Myopia

This afternoon, Edmonton City Council will consider the Master Agreement for the proposed downtown arena. It will almost certainly pass, with some contingency to cover the missing $100 million if provincial funds don’t materialize.

The purpose of this post isn’t to rehash the debate. The arguments on both sides are well known, and anyone who tells you the project is certain to succeed or fail is deceiving themselves (and you, if you believe them). Despite my concerns, which I’ve expressed over a number of posts on this site, I long ago resigned myself to the fact that this would almost certainly go ahead. I don’t wish ill upon my hometown, so I do hope this does becomes a success once built.

This post is about a different aspect of the debate. A few months ago, I realized what really bothered me about this debate. It’s not so much about the project itself (flawed as I may see it), it’s about the underlying approach and outlook which drives it.

I visit Portland, Oregon, about once a year. It’s one of my favourite cities, and one that is well-regarded as a model of civic development. It also follows very few of the rules and practices that are popular for urban development. Its downtown is devoid of mega-projects. It’s arena and convention center are across the Willamette River, removed from the city core, and really peripheral to what we think of as Portland. It has no signature building (the John Deere sign is the only image that comes close). I took the photo below while walking across the Hawthorne Bridge, facing west towards downtown. Unless you’re familiar with the city, you’d be hard pressed to name where this picture was from. The greenspace in the foreground is the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The city tore up a freeway and turned it into parkspace in the 1970s, when the auto-boom in cities was still going strong. It’s a great example of a forward-thinking action that most cities are just catching up to now.

Portland Skyline

While I was there in December, I read an article by baseball writer Jonah Keri, which talks about how the successful Tampa Bay Rays and the not-so-successful Kansas City Royals (who had just consummated a major trade) approach building a team differently. He writes:

It’s the rigid and binary ways that we — fans, media, even general managers — think about team-building. And how the most effective decision-makers rarely consider only two possibilities when making a move.

He critiques the Royals General Manager by adding:

He also, whether consciously or unconsciously, shut out other possible ways for the Royals to improve their team.

The same principle applies to city-building. In this context, Keri is commenting on how the Royals fixated on getting an “ace”, one of the generally accepted building blocks for a successful club. The Rays have been one of the most successful clubs by challenging many of these assumptions, and using a data-driven approach to how they assemble and manage their team differently than the status quo.

He finishes by saying:

The Royals didn’t necessarily make a terrible deal. They just showed a terrible lack of imagination. In the long run, that might be what hurts them the most.

I’ve sensed the same lack of imagination from many arena proponents. Certainly, not all of them (the Mayor, in particular, has shown tremendous imagination and leadership on countless other issues.) Yet, for many leading civic voices, it’s been a 6-year fixation, at the expense of considering other ways to build a better city. The short list of civic redevelopment projects currently in vogue would include things like an arena, convention center, entertainment district with restaurants/shops/condos/hotels, usually in some combination. Yet, successful cities think about creative, and less conventional ways of how to become more vibrant. A popular project like New York City’s High Line is a good example. It took years to overcome resistance, opened to huge acclaim, and will no doubt be replicated by cities across the continent in coming years. As I previously wrote, Edmonton has done so on several occasions, and conversely it has struggled when it’s chased the latest trends. Today it’s an arena, tomorrow a convention center or casino (as Toronto and Ottawa are dealing with right now.)

It will take years to determine if this project is successful or not. What citizens should be focusing on is the decision-making process behind it. If any city – not just decision-makers but its citizenry as a whole – focuses too narrowly on just one, or two, or three, possibilities, it’s closing itself off to what might be the best – if unconventional – outcome.

Baseball Cities 2013: Where Major Leaguers Come From

Bautista
Jose Bautista, from the baseball factory of Santo Domingo.

In March, the Dominican Republic won the 3rd ever World Baseball Classic, becoming the first club to go through the tournament undefeated. That they have become a baseball powerhouse is not news, but the small, 10 million person island’s prowess becomes evident when you look at the hometowns of more than 800 Major League Baseball players on opening day rosters in 2013.

A couple of thousand miles to the north, an equally rabid fan base has enjoyed success. Red Sox Nation has celebrated two World Series titles in the past decade, and has grown to be a business empire to rival its long-time rival the New York Yankees. Yet, for all the club’s success, it has precious little opportunity to cheer for home-grown players. The Boston metro area, 10th largest in the nation at 4.6 million strong, produced a mere 2 players on opening day rosters. The entire 14.5 million population of Red Sox Nation/New England – including the disputed (with the Yankees) territory of Connecticut – produced 21 players.

The tiny Dominican, in contrast, produced 83 players; the capital, Santo Domingo, 26 – 2nd most of any metro anywhere. Contrast that with the New York City metro, twice the Dominican’s population, but home to just 15 players – less than 1/5 the tally of that country. Cities of just a few hundred thousand produce more ballplayers than some of North America’s biggest baseball cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto.

This is just one illustration of the shift southwards, beyond the U.S. border and into Central and South America, of where big league ballplayers are coming from today. The big states along the southern U.S. border – California, Texas, and Florida – produce the bulk of major leaguers, with the odd pocket throughout the north. The Dominican Republic and Venezuela punch above their weight in delivering players to the majors.

P1100755
Boston (and New England) is home to a passionate fan base, but sends relatively few of its own to the majors.

In the United States, Southern California rules. Los Angeles produced more than twice the number of any other metro, and San Diego (2nd per capita behind Santo Domingo) and the Inland Empire also show well.

Looking at metro areas of more than 1,000,000 residents, here are the top 10 overall:

Baseball Metros Overall

And the top 10 per capita:

Baseball Metros Per Capita

The overall rankings see the northern metros of New York and Chicago – 1st and 3rd largest in the U.S. – crack the Top 10, but no place further north than Northern California or Virginia shows up in the per capita rankings.

Here are how the 26 metro areas with Major League clubs rank. 7 of 8 Sun Belt markets are in the top 11, and cold weather places dominate the bottom half:

Baseball MLB Markets

That warmer weather cities dominate shouldn’t be a surprise. It makes sense that kids growing up in cities with warmer weather, more conducive to outdoor ball, would be at an advantage in terms of development. However, just how weighted the player pool at the top level is towards those cities was a shocking to me.

A city like Boston or Philadelphia may yet see a World Series before any of the baseball factories on these lists, but the odds heavily favour the fact that their players will come from California, Florida, or Latin America, not from their backyards.

2012 in Review (and 2013 in Preview): A List of My Favourite Things

With 2012 coming to an end, it’s a good time to reflect. While I usually spend time over the holidays planning for the new year, I also like to think about some of the things I’ve enjoyed and valued. Last year, I posted a list of some of my favourite things and some things I’m looking forward to, and I want to continue and do that again for 2012/13.

Cities

Petco Park and the East Village in San Diego.

Petco Park and the East Village in San Diego.

San Diego – I visited for the first time, and ended up making two trips. one for the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in February, and again as part of a Southern California baseball trip, where I also ran the San Diego Rock and Roll Half Marathon. I enjoyed the distinctiveness of the different neighbourhoods, the natural landscape, and many of the attractions (Petco Park is great, and the artists’ village at Balboa Park has great work for sale).
Philadelphia – I think this city gets overlooked due to its proximity to NYC and Washington, both prominent and attractions in their own way. I’ve visited family there three years in a row, getting to see and appreciate many places. The Art Museum is top notch, as are many of the historical sites. There’s an excellent food scene too beyond the cheesesteak.
Montreal – This has been my favourite city for most of my life. I used to visit pretty much every year as a kid, and spending time exploring the old city was one of the major influences in forming my interest in urbanism. I went back for the first time in 6 years this November, and was happy to see it was vibrant and enjoyable as ever. I need to go back again, soon and often.

For 2013 – Few firm plans yet, but will be back in Portland in March, and I hope to return to Chicago and actually be in form to run the Marathon this year. Also looking to continue my trend of netting one new city and one new major league ballpark by visiting the Bay Area.

Politics/Ideas/Issues
Canada – I’ve started to think more about my concept of the country, and what I value about it. Much of this, admittedly, has been prompted by a decline in many of the things I value. Bilingualism and the role of French (Canadians) in institutions feels less central than in the past (and some institutions – such as the Parti Quebecois), are contributing to a polarization, environmental regulations are being rolled back, and it feels like there is a growing disconnect between regions. We have a pretty amazing country, and it would be tragic to lose some of the things – bilingualism/multiculturalism, pristine nature, and a common sense of purpose – that make Canada great.

Ending Homelessness – a worthwhile goal that I’m privileged to be a part of, and one that hopefully won’t be lost as more governments and institutions turn towards austerity.

Tactical Urbanism – I love this concept for small-scale actions (as opposed to mega-projects) that can make a city better.

For 2013 – hoping that #IdleNoMore leads to meaningful action that improves the lives of Indigenous Canadians; hoping to see more cities (including my own!) avoid the lure of mega projects and invest in small-scale projects that make a big difference. More meaningful action from government, civic institutions, and citizens to ameliorate poverty and inequality. Doing my best to contribute to all of the above.

Sports

Nationals Park on a sunny July evening.

Nationals Park on a sunny July evening.

#Natitude – I’ve had something of an affinity for the Nats, being an Expos fan as a kid, and really bought into them at the start of the year by adding a few of their players to my fantasy team. They were a ton of fun to watch, especially Bryce Harper once he got called up, and exceeded almost everyone’s (including my) expectations. The Game 5 NLDS loss to St. Louis was an all-time heartbreaker, but they should be a World Series contender for the next few years at least.
Vin Scully – the best announcer in the game. Any game. I ended up watching a lot of Dodgers on MLB.TV, and listening to him call a ballgame is the main reason why.
The Pistol Offense – I’ve enjoyed the NFL less and less in recent years, finding the product less enjoyable to watch than the college game (often, the players are almost too technically good, resulting in a boring product). The emergence of spread offenses, and the pistol formation, has made the game much more enjoyable to watch again. I highly recommend reading this longform piece on the pistol offense’s evolution and move to the pro game.

For 2013 – Natitude, redux; the launch of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Music/Pop Culture/Entertainment Recommendations

Bruce Springsteen performing at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Bruce Springsteen performing at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Bruce Springsteen (Music) – The Boss has been one of my favourite artists since I was a teenager. This year, not only did he release Wrecking Ball, a terrific, important album (how many artists do this 40 years into their career?), but I finally got to see him in concert with the E Street Band. My dad and I caught his Toronto show in August, where he kept 40,000 fans on their feet through an electric 3h40m set. As for other music, I also liked the Japandroids and Alabama Shakes albums. CBC Music’s online player is fantastic, and my usual soundtrack at the office.
Veep (TV) – Most of the TV I watched was HBO shows through Air Canada’s On-Board TV. I got through all 8 episodes of Veep, which is a fun political comedy. I’m also through 7 episodes of The Newsroom. I enjoy it for the first part, but feel like there’s something missing. This might be high expectations around any Aaron Sorking show, though. Episode 7, about Bin Laden’s killing, is oustanding.
Sports Documentaries (TV) – I’ve really enjoyed the episodes of TSN’s Engraved on a Nation that I’ve been able to watch. Playing a Dangerous Game and Western Swagger capture the geo-political relationship between sports and society at large. Ghosts of Ole Miss is the only of the new 30 for 30 episodes I’ve seen, but it’s up there with the best of them.

Movies – I don’t watch many, but Lincoln and The Dark Knight Rises are both excellent.

Good Books I Read – Two biographies of Robert Baldwin: John Ralston Saul’s book on LaFontaine and Baldwin, and Michael Cross’ The Morning-Star of Memory. Laura Vanderkam‘s 168 Hours and What Successful People Do Before Breakfast are both good works on how to more effectively use your time. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is the best fiction book (non-Chabon division) I’ve read in years. Someplace Like America is a must read on the growing problem of poverty and the decline of the working class.

For 2013 – Catching up on the current seasons of 30 Rock and Parks and Rec (TV). Reading Richard Gwyn’s 2-part bio on Sir John A. Macdonald, Tim Cook’s books on Canada in World War I, Ken Greenberg’s Walking Home – and many other books on my overflowing shelves.

Websites
Cartoon Machine – Mike Winters is getting well-earned recognition for his Wonderdick comics, a brilliant satire of overly self-serious urbanists, but every one of his strips is worth a look.
Grantland – Bill Barnwell, Katie Baker, Jonah Keri, and Rany Jazayerli are all amongst my favourite writers on any sports site.
Quartz – The Atlantic’s new business website has excellent coverage, and a different perspective from many outlets. For that matter, the Atlantic main site and Atlantic Cities (which I plugged last year) should be regular visits too.
Next City – I’ve been a reader of Next American City for many years, and in 2012 they undertook many changes. It began by discontinuing the print magazine in favour of weekly long-form writing on the web, and ended by launching the new brand – and name – of Next City.

For 2013 – writing more blog posts of my own.

Lifestyle/Other
Foot Traffic – This Portland-based retailer organizes the Holiday Half Marathon and the Flat Marathon/Half Marathon (4th of July race). I ran the Holiday Half for the second consecutive year, and had a blast once again. They know how to throw a good race (and party), and the downtown location at least has a solid selection of running gear. I rarely leave empty-handed.
Simons – I’ve long been a fan, visiting regularly since I was a kid whenever I’ve been in Quebec. They launched their first location outside the province in West Edmonton Mall, which is excellent, excellent news.
Vegetarian Food – I’ve cut down my meat intake substantially over the past year or two. This isn’t a principled or ethical decision. Rather, I’ve found that I feel much better physically when I do so. I cook at home a lot (being celiac encourages this), and have come to embrace a vegetarian-heavy diet while doing so. Meat is still delicious, but for me best enjoyed in small doses.

For 2013 – getting into cross-country skiing, Foot Traffic’s new Easter race and other runs, using my many cookbooks that are presently collecting dust on my bookshelf.

How Cities Can Help Take Back the Stanley Cup

Three months into a lockout, NHL labour talks appear to have hit another impasse this week. I think the differences are exaggerated – more negotiating tactics than anything – and we’ll have labour peace by the new year. That said, on the chance that this is a serious blow, it’s time to revisit the idea of awarding the Stanley Cup to a non-NHL club.

Colby first raised this in an excellent column this summer. Stop, read it, then come back to this. He provides justification, both legally and morally, for the Cup to be contested, and a roadmap to secure it as a public asset should the Cup’s trustees not comply.

I strongly support this idea, and here is my idea for what a Cup competition, sans NHL, could look like.

The Cup Before the NHL
It’s likely not well appreciated that the Stanley Cup precedes the NHL (or organized professional hockey, for that matter). In the early years, amateur or semi-pro clubs contested the Cup through a Challenge series, or were awarded it for winning their league.

In fact, 3 organizations who played for The Cup in the Challenge era still exist – unsuccessful challengers Queen’s University and the Winnipeg Rowing Club, as well as Club Sportif MAA (Montreal Amateur Athletic Association), parent organization of the 5-time champion Montreal Hockey Club.

The Stanley Cup Challenge
Running a parallel league is impractical, and would deter both NHL players from participating, and owners/supporters from jumping on board due to a large commitment. What I suggest instead is a one-time challenge tournament, with the winner being awarded the Stanley Cup.

Between 8 and 16 teams (or 24, on the high end), would compete in either a round-robin or a group stage, followed by a 4-8 team knockout round. Think of the format used in soccer tournaments like the World Cup or the UEFA Champions’ League.

This could span 2-3 months, depending on format, and at the very most a team would play 25-30 games in that period of time.

The old Montreal Hockey Club. Is it time they reform and challenge for another Stanley Cup?

The old Montreal Hockey Club. Is it time they reform and challenge for another Stanley Cup?

The City Connection
Now, this would face many challenges in getting off the ground. Chief among them are buy-in from the players, and resources. The former could be won over by communicating the opportunity to play for the Cup against serious competition, and the money they stand to gain through being granted the vast majority of the revenue (which would be drawn from ticket and merchandise sales, and PPV or other TV rights to games).

The resources side is where municipalities come in. Not just civic governments, but civic institutions, and their well-heeled members/supporters, would be crucial for organizing start-up funds, and providing logistical support. In many cases, municipalities would be key for negotiating access to arenas.

More importantly, they would provide legitimacy to any effort to reclaim the Stanley Cup. Legitimate governments and civic institutions would be standing behind the effort to hold a Cup competition.

To further the local connection, teams could be organized around players suiting up for their hometowns (either birth or established residency prior to their junior or college career). Similar to how the CFL allows a certain number of imports, teams could also be allowed to carry a handful of players who do not qualify, but also do not have a hometown club of their own. This would ensure opportunity for those players to participate, while retaining the local character of clubs. Few cities would be able to ice a full 20 of established NHLers, so minor leaguers, other professionals, or juniors would round out the rosters.

Who Would Compete?
Using this map of 2011-12 NHLers by city of birth, we find 18 metro areas in Canada with at least 6 NHL players.

15+: Toronto (62), Montreal (35), Vancouver (27), Edmonton (26), Ottawa (22), Calgary (17), Winnipeg (16)
10-14: London (14), Regina (11), Niagra (10), Saskatoon (10),
6-9: Windsor (9), Kitchener-Waterloo (8), Oshawa (8), Kingston (7), Quebec City (7), Thunder Bay (7), Belleville (6)

Toronto could conceivably field multiple teams; Montreal, Vancouver, and Edmonton too.

If you invite American cities to compete, you’d add another 10 possibilities in Minneapolis-St. Paul (29), Detroit (22), Boston (15), Chicago (10), New York City (9), Pittsburgh (9), Anchorage (7), Buffalo (7), Madison (6), and St. Louis (6).

All of a sudden, we’re looking at a potential pool of 20-35 teams, depending on if American cities are included. Out of these, surely 8-16 could get their act together.

How Would Teams Get Organized?
The start-up cost, compared to buying a franchise, would be low, so private investors would be key, though not the only possibility. Thinking back to the Challenge era gives some other suggestions. It would be unlikely that universities like Queen’s would enter a professional team, but private athletic clubs such as the Winnipeg Rowing Club and Club Sportif MAA would have the infrastructure and well-heeled membership to bring resources together, and provide logistical support. These types of organizations exist in every city.

Some cities also have community-owned sports franchises, like the Edmonton Eskimos Football Club. They could resurrect a hockey cousin, which existed in the previous incarnation of the Esks early in the 20th century and played for the Stanley Cup three times between 1908 and 1923.

Civic leadership in government could support these organizations, or step in where no one else can. In return, a share of the revenue could return to charitable initiatives in the city (say, supporting youth hockey for kids in need).

Arena access would be the most difficult thing to achieve. Many cities only have one pro-caliber arena, and it’s either owned by or fully leased to the NHL club (Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal). About half of the NHL cities listed above have a second arena in the metro or nearby, while the Junior Hockey cities would all have (smaller) arenas. Vancouver has the Pacific Coliseum, Toronto could use the Ricoh Coliseum or the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. Ottawa has the Civic Centre. There may even be potential to play a few outdoor games early in the tournament. Add in ~15K seat arenas in Saskatoon and Quebec City, and while not perfect, you have an infrastructure that could easily support this format.

South of the border things look much better. Detroit has The Palace of Auburn Hills, St. Paul has the Target Center, Boston has the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Chicago has the Allstate Arena, and New York City has the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

How It Would Play Out
The group stage would see teams split into groups of 4, playing 2 games against each opponent (6 in total). This stage could be compressed (2-3 games per week) or spread out to allow players to keep up a minor or junior league schedule too. The top 2 finishers in each group would advance to a 4-team (out of 8) or 8-team (out of 16) best of 5 or 7 elimination rounds. Games could either be neutral site, or arranged so that teams have a designated “home ice” in a nearby city, if one isn’t available in their own. My ideal schedule would see designated match days, like the Champions’ League, where every team plays Tuesday/Wednesday and Saturday for three weeks.

Following this, 4-5 weeks of the playoffs would ensue. With the Cup removed from the throes of the NHL, a former All-American college hockey player would award the Cup to a deserving champion. This would be the culmination of a 2-3 month period where the Cup challenge captivates the country Tournaments like the Canada Cup have done this for a shorter period. I think that enthusiasm can be replicated on a scale to support this tournament.

Imagine some of the following, all of which would be possible in this scenario:

- Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter convince NHL teammates like Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick to sign up with for their London club so they play for a second consecutive Cup together.
- Jarome Iginla finally lifts the Stanley Cup, as captain of an Edmonton team.
- A Regina team, lead by Ryan Getzlaf and Jordan Eberle, challenges bigger markets in front of a rabid home crowd that resembles a Riders game.
- Montreal HC is resurrected, and goes for a 6th Stanley Cup, which would tie them with the contemporary Montreal rival, the Boston Bruins.
- Torontonians team up to create a super-team, like the Miami Heat in the NBA, assuming the role of villain throughout the tournament. Nash, Stamkos, Cammalleri, Spezza, Tavares, Skinner, Seguin, and Subban are just a few of the names that would be eligible.

The Cup challenge would serve players well by providing a revenue source, and allowing them to compete for the sport’s greatest prize. It would serve fans well by providing a competitive tournament with some of the world’s best players. It would serve communities well by creating clubs that they could identify with and rally around. A Cup Challenge would reclaim the Stanley Cup as the domain not of private interests, but that of public good. Government, cities and civic institutions can help make that happen.

The Problem with “Best of” Cities Lists

Over the past week, my hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, has been abuzz about the Quality of Life rankings released by Numbeo, which put Edmonton 3rd in the world, and provincial counterpart Calgary 5th. In a city where civic boosterism runs high, and a share of civic leadership (if not the general population) craves external recognition and ‘world-class’ status, this is like crack. There are level-headed exceptions, but if you’re plugged into the local social media scene, it’s been inescapable, despite the fact that nobody in Edmonton had probably heard of Numbeo two weeks ago (the Huffington Post story had been liked over 8,000 times as of posting this).

Downtown Edmonton Skyline
The 3rd best place in the world to live?

The problem with this, of course, is that these quality of life rankings are in a sense meaningless. Sharon Lerner wrote a good piece on this for Good last year, titled Why “Best Place to Live” Lists are Kind of the Worst. Key passage:

But the problem, or one of them, is that taste varies wildly. Another is that, because they attempt to incorporate an entire nation’s desires, these one-size-fits-all features tend to showcase a version of life as we’d like it to be, a version that glosses over the things that truly make a difference to most people: community, services, and policies that ease their daily life. Idealizing places means being ignorant of their inevitable flaws. Graduation rates and crime stats, on which many of these lists are based, are important to consider. But allowing them to define a place is like falling in love with someone’s online profile.

Now, before I’m accused of being critical of my hometown, I should note that I do believe Edmonton, in general, offers a high quality of life. So, however, does nearly every Canadian city. Yet, that doesn’t mean you can generalize and compare cities as apples to apples. To Lerner’s points, I’d add a few general problems:

Quality of Life Indicators Can Vary Throughout a City
Indicators such as pollution and crime often come up on lists (as they do on Numbeo’s). They are also, however, rarely uniform. Pollution may be a bigger problem closer to any industry or major traffic points. On crime, any city has both problem and safe areas.

Traffic Times Are Deceiving
Really, so is every metric that takes an average. Traffic is a relative non-factor if you work at home, or if you have the means and ability to live within walking distance of work and major amenities. Further, different modes mean a longer commute isn’t the worst thing. Access to effective public transit can also make longer commute times more attractive than spending a few less minutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

People Have Different Interests and Circumstances
Many of the measurable aspects don’t apply equally to everyone. If you don’t have kids, you’re probably less concerned about the quality of schools. If you don’t run/bike/walk, access to trails probably isn’t a consideration. Depending on hobbies, you may either love or hate a long winter, such as that in Edmonton, where snow can cover the ground for 5-6 months. If you like sailing, a landlocked city is not for you.

Someone’s experience of a place will depend on availability of jobs in their field, relevant volunteer/recreational activities, and proximity of family and friends. A University of Alberta grad who is an avid skier and has family roots in Alberta might feel right at home in Edmonton. A person born and raised in the Lower Mainland who enjoys watersports and mild weather might not so much.

On What Makes a City “Best”
Lists can be useful for measuring many things about cities, but quality of life varies too much from individual to individual to sum up as a generalization. Cities are good and bad for different people. A person would be best served to find a good fit, and work on making it better, no matter what any list says.

Stalemate: On the By-Elections

Last night’s three by-elections produced…the status quo. The Conservatives held their two seats, and the NDP held their one.

Nonetheless, there’s good and bad news for every party in the results:

Conservatives
Good News: They held their 2 seats, winning convincingly in Durham, and still pulling 37% in Calgary-Centre with a controversial candidate.
Bad News: Their vote share dropped substantially in Calgary-Centre, supporting the idea that it could become competitive. They lost a significant share of votes in Victoria, as well, dropping to a distant third.

NDP
Good News: They held on to Victoria, and held their second place standing in Durham, gaining vote share to put further distance between them and the third place Liberals.
Bad News: Their vote share was down 13% in Victoria and they nearly lost what should have been a safe seat. They lost 11% in Calgary-Centre, finishing a distant fourth with less than 4% of the vote. Even though they were a clear second in Durham, they’re still nowhere near competing to win.

Liberals
Good News: They finished a strong second in Calgary-Centre, up 15% in vote share from 2011. The comments from David McGuinty and Justin Trudeau may have stalled their momentum, if they had any significant impact at all, but they didn’t cause the vote to crater. Harvey Locke finished on the high end of where the three polls conducted had him placed. Vote share-wise, they at least stopped their bleeding in Durham and Victoria.
Bad News: They got fewer votes cumulatively in the three ridings than the Greens, and were not a factor in either Durham or Victoria (where they finished third and fourth, respectively). There’s an argument to be made, as Colby did, that they simply turned out the loyal base in Calgary-Centre.

Greens
Good News: They finished a strong second in Victoria, nearly tripling their vote share from 2011, and a strong third in Calgary-Centre, where they more than doubled their share.
Bad News: Not much, actually. Both Donald Galloway (Victoria) and Chris Turner (Calgary-Centre) are strong candidates with local profile, so it would remain to be seen if they could hold their gains without these candidates running again in 2015.

3 Things We Might Have Learned
By-Elections Can Rarely Be Extrapolated for Broader Trends
It’s tempting to look for trends (A Green Wave in Western Canada? Stalled NDP growth? Liberals hit their ceiling? Conservatives drop votes?)

There may be local trends to watch, though. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that the Greens could be growing a beachhead on Vancouver Island (Liz May’s riding is next door), in Calgary, the Liberals still have life, and Chris Turner has local appeal, and Durham is rock solid Tory country.

The Political Climate is Still Unsettled
2011 may yet prove to be a realignment election, but further movement to solidify that was absent from last night’s result. The Liberals held their share in two ridings, and nearly doubled it in another. The Green Party saw the major growth last night, not the ascendant NDP. As mentioned, they themselves nearly lost an incumbent seat, and barely factored in another.

What I take this to mean is that we’re in an unsettled period, and while a two-party CPC-NDP system may be the end result, it’s still too fluid to call.

The Vote-Splitting and Unite-the-Left Arguments Miss the Point
In Calgary-Centre particularly, vote splitting was named as the cause of the Conservative Party victory. Let me be unequivocally clear: no party lost because of vote splitting. They lost because of a failure to appeal to and/or turn out enough voters. No party of the left will win unless they understand this.

As the Conservative Party experiment teaches us, 1+1 does not = 2. I put together a table of votes by party from 1984-2011, combining the ‘right’ and ‘left’ vote. For the latter, there’s a column for it with and without the Green Party. As you can see, it took three elections for the CPC to reach the combined vote of the PCs and Canadian Alliance from 2000. The party has never reached the vote share earned by the PCs in 1988. 1993, in fact, saw a major shift from the NDP to the Reform across Western Canada, which would seem incomprehensible if voters made decisions strictly on ideological grounds. This piece makes a good argument that last night, the Greens gained, more than anyone else, from Conservative losses. Rather than being seen as a third pillar of the progressive/left, the Greens, like the Bloc, probably pull from all across the spectrum, or at worst, being a safe place to park a protest vote.

There is some merit to the argument when examined another way. Rather than looking at votes in raw numbers, we need to examine voting coalitions. Our system, for better or worse, rewards brokerage parties – those that appeal to a broad spectrum of interests. When I have argued in previous posts that no progressive/left-centre party can form a majority government, it’s based on the fact that none of them have a broad enough coalition. Merger may bring this about, but it’s likely that voters from one or both previous parties would park their votes elsewhere, or stay home. The same would happen with attrition. Strategic voting, or dividing ridings won’t accomplish this, but brokerage will.

The way to a progressive government in this country is for one of the three current options to find a way to appeal to enough citizens and interests groups to form a coalition that can appeal to 40-45% of voters on a regular basis. The big lesson for me from last night is that the window for either the NDP, Liberals, or Greens to accomplish this is still wide open.

The Left’s Calgary-Centre Challenge

Tomorrow, three by-elections occur across Canada. In two – the Conservative stronghold of Durham, and Victoria, where the NDP have won comfortably the past three elctions – the incumbent party is expected to win by a large margin. The third, Calgary-Centre, has unexpectedly turned into a hotly contested race.

Calgary, as a city, last elected a non-conservative MP (PC/Reform/Alliance/CPC) in 1968. The closest thing to a disruption occured in this riding in 2000, when the non-Canadian Alliance vote coalesced around Progressive Conservative Party leader Joe Clark, boosting him to victory.

Now, the riding appears to be close. The Conservatives opened the door to a challenge by nominating a controversial candidate in Joan Crockett, and exacerbated it by shielding her from most public forums. All three opposition parties nominated strong candidates in their own right – the Liberals with notable conservationist Harvey Locke, the NDP with Dan Meades, the Director of Vibrant Communities Calgary, and the Greens with notable author Chris Turner. (Personal disclosure: I have some acquaintance with Harvey Locke, and serve on a board with his wife).

Two polls from Forum Research show a potential three-way race with Crockett ahead, Locke just behind, and Turner as the stalking horse in third. A poll from Return on Insight shows Crockett just ahead of Locke, with Turner comfortably in third, but far behind.

While I would love to see Harvey Locke (or Chris Turner) win this seat, safe money is still on Crockett. While by-elections do often produce abnormal results, one has to figure the floor for a Conservative candidate in this riding is in the mid-30s even with a weaker candidate. If you have the third and fourth place candidates pulling in around 30% of the vote (in ROI) or higher (in Forum), that leaves about 30-35% of the vote, if the Conservatives hit their floor. In other words, not a lot of space for another candidate to pull ahead.

This is a problem that will continue to repeat itself, until the three left of centre parties sort themselves out. I expect this to happen over the next two election cycles through attrition or merger. If three survive as viable entities, it will be because at least one retreats to becoming a largely regional entity.

Win or lose tomorrow, the Calgary-Centre by-election points to some key challenges centre-left parties, no matter which ones survive or emerge, need to overcome to be a true threat to government.

Calgary Tower
Calgary-Centre is a bellwether for progressive hopes in the west.

The Need to Stop Beating Up Your Own
The most biting attack of this campaign was a Chris Turner mailer where…he attacked Harvey Locke. Echoing the Conservative “he didn’t come back for you!” attack on Michael Ignatieff, Turner chastises Locke for spending many years away from Calgary. These are far harsher words than he has for Crockett at any point. Reminiscent of the PC/Reform battles in Ontario through the ’90s, the centre-left is likely to continue beating itself up in order to try to become the alternative. In the meantime, the Conservatives will be able to largely coast into office until this is sorted out.

Someone suggested to me that Locke and Turner are drawing strengths from two different constituencies (more established liberals vs. young civic activists), and while this may be true, the broader point is that it is unlikely that any non-Conservative candidate can win regularly without the support of both.

The Need to Be Competitive Across the Country
To their credit, Liberal Party leadership candidates have grasped the need to reach out to the west, and Alberta in particular. The NDP have made inroads in Edmonton, winning one riding in 2008 and holding it in 2011. The province is not only influential because of its role in the economy, but because of its fast growing population. It will gain another 6 seats prior to the 2015 election.

It is still possible for a party to win a majority based on strength elsewhere in the country (Ontario, Quebec, and BC remain seat-rich), but it’s hard to see any party but the Conservatives winning a majority without at least some seats from the prairie provinces, Alberta in particular.

Another consideration is this – the need to simply make this area of the country more competitive. At the moment, the Conservatives can effectively bank at least 24 of 28 seats in Alberta prior to the writ drop (that’s being generous by including Calgary-Centre, along with NDP-held Edmonton-Strathcona, and once Liberal/NDP-held Edmonton Centre and Edmonton East). That means that the party can redirect advertising dollars and human resources elsewhere, both organizers and its leader (and leading cabinet ministers). While other parties need to defend their home turf, so to speak, the Conservatives can focus on swing ridings and areas of growth. Simply making at least Edmonton and Calgary more competitive would help centre-left parties across the country in that respect.

As an aside, it’s striking how few centre-left MPs of significance Alberta has produced in the past 80 years (if not longer), aside from Anne McLellan. While many prominent Liberals or CCF/NDPs have carved out notable careers at the provincial level or as Mayor of Calgary or Edmonton, none have made a successful breakthrough to the federal level. While the province gets labeled as a bastion of conservatism, that list of prominent centre-left politicians would include Laurence Decore, Grant Notley, Grant MacEwan, Nick Taylor, Ivor Dent, Jan Reimer, Al Duerr, and Dave Bronconnier, to name a few. Every other province can point to both prominent progressive and conservative politicians it has produced, even if it reliably supports one party (or ideology) over others.

The Need to Win Across the Country
Having said all that, Calgary-Centre is precisely the type of riding that a centre-left party will need to win in order to compete for and win government on a regular basis. It’s demographics largely resemble areas that support centre-left parties across the country, and provincially, it includes parts or all of ridings that have elected Liberals in recent elections, such as Calgary-Buffalo and Calgary-Currie.

Without a major realignment, it’s hard to see any centre-left party winning government except, as I said earlier this year, in case of a charismatic leader who disrupts voting patters or when scandal and voter fatigue catch up to government.

In figuring the road to a majority government for the NDP, Liberal Party, Green Party, or some combination thereof, it’s hard to see how that happens without winning 3-6 seats in each of the prairie provinces.

Some pundits are predicting a historic upset, and I do hope to see it change hands. However, what I think is more likely is that Calgary-Centre can the launching pad for progressive inroads in the west. In this respect, Edmonton-Strathcona is a model. While most remember “Liberals for Linda”, and how the progressive vote coalesced around her as she squeaked out a win in 2008, fewer seem to remember that she effectively kept campaigning from the 2006 election onward. The NDP also targeted that riding with regular mailings and appearances. If the Liberals, Greens, or NDP are serious about winning Calgary-Centre, they can’t give up after tomorrow night, should they be unsuccessful. If they do, it will start inching back towards the status quo. Tomorrow’s by-election should be the start of a consistent, steady campaign to build inroads and support so that it’s a true race come 2015, and if it doesn’t change hands then, that it’s poised to soon afterwards. Making the necessary inroads to win support in Western Canada is going to be a long process. Done right, tomorrow night can be a catalyst for that.

Baseball’s Best Month: 2012 Edition

Under the Lights

The baseball playoffs are underway, with the first ever Wild Card games going today, before the League Division Series commence the first proper round tomorrow afternoon. The wild card play-in is an innovation I quite enjoy. Not only does it add two more games, but it adds an incentive to winning your division. Do that, and you’re guaranteed entry into the best-of-five division series. Come up short, and instead be forced to go through a single-game elimination, where anything can happen.

I love playoff baseball (as I do with nearly every form of baseball). Rarely does a year pass by without at least one or two signature, memorable moments. Last year gave us the Chris Carpenter-Roy Halladay duel in Game 5 of the NLDS, the unforgettable Game 6 of the World Series (with David Freese’s heroics), and other great moments. We don’t know what this year holds, but there are many exciting players and teams involved. Here’s what I’ll be watching for in October.

Before that, a word about the teams that just missed the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Dodgers accomplished two things that I appreciate. First, they took a bunch of bad contracts off the Red Sox’s books. Second, they rehabilitated Hanley Ramirez’s fantasy value after acquiring him at mid-season. Yet, I’m glad they missed the playoffs. With an ownership group that’s willing to spend a ton of money, they’ll likely be a regular playoff team for the foreseeable future. So, it’s nice to see some different faces, as we’ll soon get tired of seeing the Dodgers every October.

Across Orange County, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are another perennial playoff team, so seeing them miss out isn’t too disheartening. Yet, after what must be the greatest rookie year of all-time, I would have loved to see Mike Trout get a chance to continue that effort in October. Trout was also a part of one of my personal favorite moments at a ballgame.

At a Rangels-Angels game in Anaheim at the start of June, Trout managed to steal the show. He hit a triple that keyed the Angels’ comeback win, and when taking his spot in center field the next inning, our section in right-center gave him a standing ovation. Love little moments like that that won’t show up on the TV broadcast.

I do, however, feel bad for the Tampa Bay Rays. Despite finishing 2nd in the AL in run differential (and 3rd in MLB), they finished 3 games out of a playoff spot, behind the Orioles, whose run differential was 113 runs worse. There’s talk they’ll lose James Shields from the rotation, and while they’ll still have key players like Evan Longoria and David Price, their window to win on a small budget narrows every year they miss out.

Now, for the playoff teams:

Wild Card
As a child of the ’90s, it’s nice to see the Atlanta Braves back in the playoffs, and the Ted rocking at playoff home games. Closer Craig Kimbrel has had an outstanding year, after he looked burned out by Manager Fredi Gonzales’ poor handling of the bullpen down the stretch last year. It’s also Chipper Jones’ last season, and I’ll take as many bonus Chipper games as I can get. He’s been one of the best players I’ve seen, and one of the first I’ve been able to follow for his entire career. Seriously, I even had his Score rookie card as a draft pick in 1990 draft (I remember also having Mike Lieberthal, Steve Karsay, and Todd Van Poppel ones that summer in 1991). Suffice to say, he was on my radar even before he cracked the big league club. I’d love to see him go out on a high note.

On the other hand, I’ll be happy with St. Louis, one of the game’s great franchises, moving on as well. It’s nice to see them thrive after letting Albert Pujols go, only finishing 2 games of their 2011 pace.

In the American League, it was great to see the big spending Texas Rangers pushed into the wild card playoff after getting swept by Oakland in the season’s final series. I hope we see lots of shots of a frustrated Nolan Ryan in tonight’s playoff game.

Baltimore, with a +7 run differential, has to be one of the luckiest playoff teams ever. As an underdog, they’re hard not to like. Any vitriol I had against them for eliminating the Red Sox last year has since been redirected towards loathing the Sox themselves. That said, putting a finesse pitcher like Joe Saunders against a right-handed heavy, mashing Texas Rangers lineup is asking for trouble. I’d love to see an upset (tonight, then against the Yankees), but I’m not counting on it.

Jeter

Division Winners
The New York Yankees never seem to go away. If they win, I’ll be happy for Ichiro, and that’s it.

The Detroit Tigers are star-heavy, with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and ace Justin Verlander leading the way. Cabrera’s triple crown is a remarkable feat. It hasn’t happened in 45 years, and a batting triple crown is roughly twice as rare as a pitching one, which speaks to its difficulty to achieve.

It’s hard not to cheer for the Oakland A’s. They’re in the playoffs for the first time in 6 years, with their first true post-Moneyball playoff club. Still strapped with a small budget, they no longer have an underappreciated statistic to exploit (as far as we know). Instead, Billy Beane is exploiting the oldest market inefficiency in the game, general manager decision-making ability. He got Yoenis Cespedes for $9M/year, accumulated loads of young pitching talent in return for the old core of his rotation, and poached 30-homer Josh Reddick from the Red Sox for closer Andrew Bailey. While Reddick broke out, Bailey’s highlight (as far as Sox fans go) was his extended stay on the DL. Seriously. He posted a negative WAR in his brief appearance post-DL.

On another note, your heart has to go out to this A’s club. Brandon McCarthy was in life-threatening condition after taking a line drive in the head just over a month ago. Then, on the day the A’s clinched the division, he tweeted this photo and note about his dad’s terminal illness, which will probably make you cry at least a little bit. Then, that night, horrible news that Pat Neshek and his wife lost their son less than 24 hours after he was born.

In the National League, the San Francisco Giants are back two years after winning the World Series with a very similar team. They have a strong starting rotation, and Buster Posey, a successful rookie in 2010, is now a bona fide star. His recovery after a leg injury has been remarkable.

The Cincinnati Reds have finally cracked the playoffs, behind young stars like Joey Votta and Jay Bruce, and their pitching staff led by Johnny Cueto’s breakout year, and lights-out Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen. I’m happy to see them doing well after so many tough years. Mat Latos has been an excellent addition to their rotation, and it’s nice to see that his trade worked out for both sides exactly as it should. He has helped them to the playoffs, while the Padres are building around the young talent they got in return, such as Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal.

However, I’m rooting for the Washington Nationals. I have an affinity for them as the zombie Expos, and I got to see perhaps their most exciting game of the year in person (like Trout, Harper hit a key triple that was absolutely thrilling to see in person). They have an exciting young team, and are building a following in what has been a tough market for baseball (they lost the Senators twice, and had few bright spots when they did have a team). Bryce Harper has started to break out in the past month (too late to save my fantasy team!), and even with Strasburg shelved, their rotation can compete with anyone. A World Series run from this team would be exciting for the sport as a whole, in my biased opinion.

Whoever wins, though, I think we’re in for an exciting month of baseball. It will be a great finale, then the wait for the first day of spring training will begin.

Orioles and Game Theory

Camden Yards

Derek Thompson of The Atlantic makes a great point:

Should Orioles throw tonite’s game? Tying Yanks to force a rotation-busting 163rd game will hurt them going forward, no matter what.

They’re using Chris Tillman (the de facto ace) tonight in a game where they don’t control their own destiny, in hopes of being thrown into the randomness of a one-game playoff at home against New York that would win them their division, thus avoiding the wild card game and getting home field in the playoffs. They would then play the wild card winner in round one (New York or today’s Oakland/Texas loser).

However, if they lose, or if both Baltimore and NYY win tonight, Baltimore gets today’s Oakland/Texas loser on Friday in the randomness of a one-game playoff (at home if Baltimore wins today, on the road if they don’t). If they win that, they’ll play New York/Texas/Oakland without home field. MLB.com breaks it down.

Based on their rotation, if Tillman goes tonight, they’d start Tommy Hunter and his 1.40 WHIP tomorrow against New York (if necessary). Hunter or Joe Saunders are the likely starters Friday if they don’t win tomorrow’s hypothetical game.

Sportsmanship aside, it strikes me as a fascinating bit of game theory. Would they be better off using a spot-starter tonight and saving Tillman for a hypothetical one-game playoff tomorrow, or a certain one Friday? Either way, they’re playing the Yankees, A’s, or Rangers in round one or the Wild Card/round one if they win, and playing at least one one-game playoff to get there. So, in a sense, their strategy is built around how you put your odds of both you and the Red Sox winning tonight, then how much you value playing on your home field in the playoffs.

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