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Winter City Dreaming

Last week, Edmonton held a kickoff event for its Winter City Strategy. This has been in the works for a couple of years, with representatives conducting research, and visiting Scandinavian cities, amongst other activities.

I’m not a big fan of cold weather (-15 is my threshold – which may beg the question of why I live here, but I digress). However, to build a great city, you need to take advantage of your strengths. And Edmonton’s winter can be a strength, and a selling point to many people (residents and visitors alike). With that in mind, here are some preliminary thoughts on winter, Edmonton, and what a successful winter strategy might include. Some of these thoughts are my own, and some stem from conversations with fellow Edmontonians in recent days:

Running
Winter doesn’t slow some Edmontonians down.

Recognize and Celebrate That There’s a Lot Going on Already.

Edmonton is hardly wanting for winter/outdoor activities. Festivals such as Deep Freeze, Ice on Whyte, and Silver Skate all have following, and in some cases, established histories. The Birkebeiner is a popular event in the Cross-Country Skiing community. I’m sure I’m missing other established, popular events.

In addition to that, the River Valley hosts miles of cross-country ski trails, and most communities have amenities such as tobogganing hills and outdoor skating rinks (you can also skate at public places like the Legislature, City Hall, and Hawrelak Park).

What may be true is that Edmonton is missing a big, signature, universal winter event. Whether that’s desirable or not is debatable. Maybe we should celebrate that our winter schedule offers a number of events that, while individually may each have a niche, cumulatively offer a lot to different people.

Winter Light: Build it as a Unifier and Hub for Winter Events
Launched in 2009, Winter Light coordinates a series of existing winter activities, and served to launch a handful more to flesh out Edmonton’s schedule from January to March. One of the promising things I see in Winter Light is the ability to be the hub for winter activities, perhaps even an umbrella group for the festivals and activities that happen through the winter month. Instead of a new, big, universal event, maybe the Winter Light banner (and all the activities that happen from January to March) can serve that purpose.

Metropolis: Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater
Just launched this year, Metropolis provides programming in heated tents found in Churchill Square over 6 weekends in January and February. It’s come under scrutiny, some of which is to be expected as a new event works out the kinks, and some of it well-founded. While there are ways to improve it, a (perceived) unsuccessful event may spur wholesale changes, or a cancellation of the event entirely.

I see a lot of potential, but would suggest the following changes based on my visits, and feedback from others:

1. Improve on-site signage and branding. There aren’t any banners (unless they’ve gone up in the last week or so) in Churchill Square explaining what event is happening, or what it is. The mere presence of white tents isn’t going to entice people to stop by.
2. Scale back the number of tents, and increase the outdoor activities. I see an opportunity to have outdoor features and activities connecting the space between tents. Like much of our downtown, the Metropolis activities seem to be inward-facing.
3. Focus on a couple of things, perhaps just the community tent and a beer garden/restaurant. To increase return visits, perhaps invite a different chef/restaurant to run the restaurant each weekend, like how a different group programs the community tent every time.

Avoid the Temptation of the Magic Bullet
Edmonton has often been susceptible to thinking that a single, major project can turn everything around (the latest being a downtown hockey arena). Certainly, someone will suggest a major event or activity (which will no doubt cost a ton of money) as the answer to Edmonton’s winter blues. When this happens, it’s probably best to run like hell.

Ask Ourselves, ‘What’s Missing?’
Honest question: when thinking about what programming/activities may be missing as we develop a winter strategy, the first and simplest question should be “what would I like to be able to do in Edmonton during winter that I can’t right now?” Everything else should follow from that.

Be Creative with What are Current ‘Dead Spaces’ in Winter

In particular, I’m thinking of park space and athletic fields. A couple of examples I’ve seen recently – Cleveland is finding ways to program its ballpark in the winter months; Harvard constructs a bubble dome over its football field, allowing many of its varsity sports teams to practice year-round. If that’s feasible for a handful of Edmonton fields, I (and many others, I suspect) would pay fistfuls of money to play soccer on a proper pitch year-round.

Encourage Design that Better Reflects our Reality as a Winter City
This is true for both exterior and interior building design. In his book Reflections of a Siamese Twin, John Ralston Saul describes Canada’s refusal to build for and accomodate winter as “a curious form of self-denial”. He compares public facilities (such as theatres) in Scandinavia, where you find massive coat and boot storage spaces, to those in our country, which are largely non-existent. Small touches like this will better accomodate people’s needs during the winter months.


Embrace the Idea of ‘A More Livable Winter’

A strategy should consider initiatives that encourage a better quality of life throughout the winter months. Better care of sidewalks and trails, heaters in public locations, and other amenities that will encourage more outdoor activity on cold days are better (and much cheaper) bets than investing a lot in 1-2 major projects. We should focus first and foremost on ensuring the day-to-day aspects of experiencing winter are as enjoyable as possible.

Support a Change in Mindset
You can’t legislate or program your way into being a great city. Instead of rejecting or fighting against winter, citizens (myself included) need to embrace the best aspects of winter, and celebrate it.

Market, Market, Market
As I noted at the beginning, there’s a lot going on already. Perhaps the focus needs to be first on selling what’s already here, and doing it aggressively. There’s no reason Edmonton can’t become one of Canada’s premier destinations for winter-inclined tourists in a hurry. It’s just a matter of enhancing, and selling what we’ve already got.

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Jasper Ave Blues: The Pedway Trap

You take the skyway, high above the busy little one-way
In my stupid hat and gloves, at night I lie awake
Wonderin’ if I’ll sleep
Wonderin’ if we’ll meet out in the street

Skyway, by The Replacements

The other night, I saw a story about the skyways in the winter city of Minneapolis, once hailed as a saviour for downtown, and now posing problems as the city attempts to create more street-level activity in the area. This seems to mirror the on-going debate in Edmonton, where it’s many pedways, connecting buildings through above or below ground indoor tunnels, are a god-send on -30 days like last week, but also serve to divert pedestrian traffic indoors.

I’m far from the first person to flag this. Scott McKeen, when he was a columnist at the Edmonton Journal, wrote a handful of columns arguing that they have a detrimental effect on downtown activity.

View from Pedestrian Overpass
Photo by mjb84, using a CC BY 2.0 license.

Scott’s points, and those of the critics in the article, are well found. Pedways/skyways/plus 15s (for Calgary readers) turn downtowns inward, keeping activity inside, away from the streets. Sometimes, you’re thankful for this (on -30 days, I love being able to use the pedways), but the ultimate cost to downtown activity has to be weighed against the days when using the pedways is more than just a simple convenience. The number of days it’s uncomfortably cold (even in Edmonton) are small, and designing an urban environment around extenuating circumstances can yield poor results (think of how parking minimums are designed for peak periods of use, which happen very rarely throughout the year).

Ultimately, one of the advantages of a downtown is the way it brings people together, in formal and informal ways. There’s a serendipity that happens when people conglomerate in dense, highly used spaces. Connections are made and nurtured, leading to greater intellectual, social, and business activity. Life is centred around activity, particularly on the street. Anything that competes with that makes it harder for a downtown to realize its potential.

Coming back to Skyway, how does the song end? With a paean to a missed connection, and the segmentation caused by the pedway/skyway system:

Oh, then one day, I saw you walkin’ down that little one-way
Where, the place I’d catch my ride most everyday
There wasn’t a damn thing I could do or say
Up in the skyway

What It Takes to Win: Management Lessons from the NFL’s Final Four

While I enjoy watching sports for the competitions themselves, I also believe there lessons we can learn from them. In particular, as I’ve progressed in my career, and have had the opportunity to take leadership roles in various initiatives, I’ve paid more and more attention to how successful teams and individuals operate off the field. There are some excellent books that cover the management styles of teams or individuals (I recommend starting with Moneyball, The Extra 2%, The Education of a Coach, and the Soccernomics chapter on Olympique Lyon’s approach to the transfer market).

Like many people, I’m looking forward to the NFL’s Championship Sunday tomorrow. There are four strong, interesting teams competing for spots in the Super Bowl. They’ve all taken different roads to success, but they all have things they can teach us. Here are some of the key lessons I think we can take away from each team:

New England Patriots
Strong, Stable Leadership is Key
Head Coach Bill Belichick joined the club in 1999, and Quarterback Tom Brady took over as the starter midway through 2001. Since then, neither has relinquished his spot, and their stability has led the Patriots to 3 Super Bowls, another appearance in the final. In that time, they’ve only missed the playoffs twice (one of those years, Brady was knocked out for the season in the first game).

The Belichick-Brady partnership has transcended turnover on and off the field, and allowed the team to persevere through some bad drafts in the middle of the 2000s, and loss of other key personnel. For any organization, strong leadership is key to success in an ever-changing environment.

It’s Important to Adapt
In the early 2000s, New England built their teams around defense, focusing on ball control (running, short passes) while on offense. Later, as Brady matured, they shifted to a more aggressive passing style – still throwing short but adding a greater focus on the deep ball. Whatever the impetus, the Patriots were not content to assume what had worked in the past would work again in the future. Lots of organizations, after periods of success, are content to rest on their laurels, and that’s where they usually fall behind.

(Football-specific digression: because they won 3 Super Bowls from 2001-04, and have won none – and only appeared in one since – it’s easy to write off the past several years as a less successful approach. This is where luck and the law of averages come in. The Patriots won those 3 Super Bowls by 3 points each, 2 of them on the last play of the game. They made the first one by getting a controversial – albeit correct – call on the famous Tuck Rule play to go their way. Since then, the Super Bowl they lost was by 3 points in a game that could have gone either way. No Helmet Catch (which I refuse to look up and link to because of the bad memories), or if Brady’s bomb to Moss a few plays after NYG went ahead is a few inches closer to his target, and they might win). Also, they lost a close AFC Championship game to Indianapolis – after holding a huge halftime lead – the previous season, and had they moved on, would have been heavily favoured to beat Chicago. Point is, they probably should have about 3 Super Bowl wins in this era, but a few breaks or lucky/unlucky bounces is the reason they all came early on, not later).

Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Chance on Talented People with Problems…
Through the years, Belichick has taken on talented players with off-field issues. Some, like Rodney Harrison and Corey Dillon, contributed to championship teams. Others, like Randy Moss, had good runs of success before becoming headaches. And some, like OchoCinco and Albert Haynesworth, haven’t contributed much.

…But Have a Short Leash, and Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Ties
While Harrison enjoyed a long tenure, Moss had a great first year, but less than 2 years later, the Pats cut ties in the middle of a season once he became a distraction. And OchoCinco and Haynesworth rarely played this past season. It’s one thing to take a chance, but it’s critical to know when to let go, and to not feel compelled to keep giving them more chances.

Baltimore Ravens
Create an Identity, and Keep it Strong
Gang Tackle

The talent on offense has come and gone, but the D has been the Ravens’ identity for 15 years. Think of the team, and you think of charismatic, ferocious leader Ray Lewis, hard-hitting, ball-hawk free safety Ed Reed, or any number of big, bruising lineman and linebackers that have suited up in purple over the years.

The Ravens play defense, they hit, and they’ll make you hurt. Can you sum up your organization (and it’s identity) that succinctly?

Also, does your organization have a leader who dances to ‘Hot in Herre’ by Nelly to finish the pre-game intros?

Always Recruit New Talent, and Don’t Be Afraid to Let People Go
Every team in the NFL, due to the salary cap, sees a lot of turnover, the key is how they respond. Baltimore has turned over its roster several times (except for their core leaders), and rarely misses a beat due to the excellent work they do uncovering talent in the draft. This is particularly relevant for non-profits or small organizations on fixed budgets (like salary cap-limited NFL teams), who will likely lose talent to higher-paying competitors. Strong work identifying young, up and coming replacements can ensure continued success.

San Francisco Giants 49ers
Talent Needs an Environment Where it Can Succeed
After being drafted first overall, Alex Smith has struggled for much of his career. Many, including myself, wrote him off. But can you place the blame entirely on a quarterback who went through 3 head coaches, and 7 offensive coordinators in his first 7 seasons? Young talent needs to be nurtured, and under head coach (and former QB) Jim Harbaugh, San Fran is finally starting to see the fruits of Smith’s potential.

A Leadership Change Can Bring Quick Results
The aforementioned Harbaugh took over as head coach this season, and with few major moves, doubled the team’s win total from 2010. A successful leader like Harbaugh can rally people and get a lot more out of them with few other changes.

New York Giants
Build On Your Strengths
For the past number of years, the Giants’ strong point has been their ferocious pass rush, and they keep building on it. Justin Tuck was drafted when Osi Umenyora and Michael Strahan were well-entrenched as the starting defensive ends. When Strahan retired, Jason Pierre-Paul and Chris Canty were brought in not long afterwards, despite the line not appearing to be a major need. This talented, deep group of pass rush continues to fuel much of the team’s success, giving it a competitive advantage in almost every game.

If You Want Talent, Go the Extra Mile to Get It
Drafting 4th overall in 2004, the Giants had no chance at consensus first overall choice Eli Manning. But when he expressed refusal to play in San Diego (who drafted him), the Giants swooped in, trading that pick, an additional one, and next year’s first rounder to get Eli. A steep price, considering they took a QB for San Diego (Phillip Rivers) in that spot (also, Ben Roethlisberger went 7 picks later), but the Giants targeted Eli, and did what they had to in order to acquire him.

Don’t Panic in Times of Trouble
The Giants are one of the most mercurial teams I’ve ever followed, in any sport. In any given week, it looks like they could either quit on their coach, Tom Coughlin, or beat any team they face. Despite this, management has stuck with the coach despite conflicts, and some collapses on the field. With one Super Bowl win to his record, and a team playing like a favourite to win a second this year, it appears to be the right choice.

A Model City? Why My City (and Yours) Might Find Inspiration in Pittsburgh

In my hometown of Edmonton, one of the biggest issues of debate over the past few years has been that of whether to build (and how to fund) a new hockey arena on the north edge of downtown. Proponents have held up a few examples of what they consider successful arena districts, but in particular have focused on Columbus, Ohio.

With the announcement this week that a builder and (probably) an architect have been chosen, the project continues to move closer to reality (all that’s missing is $100 million in funds).

Though I’ve been critical of whether an arena is the best way to increase activity in the area – and I think the promised economic benefits are overblown – if it’s going ahead, I want to see it happen in the best way possible. Again, the Columbus model was cited as one Edmonton should follow. I have two questions, or reservations, about this:

1. An arena (district) is just one part of a downtown, never mind a city, so looking at that area in isolation is limiting.
2. A ‘Made in Edmonton’ (or insert name of your city) solution is cliche, but behind it is a truth that you can only draw ideas and inspiration from other cities, you can’t replicate and expect the same result.

6th Street Bridge

Cited as another possible model for the arena itself is the new Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, which got me thinking – I’ve never been to Columbus, but I have been to Pittsburgh. If I know anyone who’s been to Columbus, they have certainly never felt the need to tell me about it. Meanwhile, the handful of people I know who have been to Pittsburgh all left impressed. And it’s getting plenty of accolades from academics, advocacy groups, and major newspapers, to name three places. On Sunday, I called it a seriously underrated city, which experts with more knowledge than I have concur with.

And finally, it tops multiple different lists for most livable cities in America.

Next week, I’ll be introducing a concept around how I see cities becoming successful, particularly in respect to other, potentially competing, cities. A lot of it has to do with the size of a city. Comparing major metropolises to medium-sized cities is comparing apples and oranges. For Edmonton, with a metro population of over 1 million people, I’d pick Seattle (at 3.5 million) as the starting point, population-wise, for a city Edmonton might start to have legitimate comparisons with. Of American metro areas, I’d say the 15th (Seattle) to 51st (Rochester) – all anywhere from 3.5 to 1 million residents, could be considered in some way analogous.

The purpose of this, though, is to put forward the idea that when looking for inspiration, we need to look at a more macro level. Columbus’ arena district might work for that city, but there are different macro-level considerations for mine and yours. But while we don’t need to replicate everything Pittsburgh did, every medium-sized city can draw lessons and inspirations from some of the many things it has done well. If we’re going to take best practices from other cities, that’s the way to do it best.

Jasper Ave Blues: Bright Lights on 4th

For all the talk about the challenges facing downtown Edmonton, few would dispute that there are success stories. 104th St – being rechristened 4th Street Promenade – is my pick for the biggest one. With two announcements about new tenants in the past two days, things keep looking up.

Scaffold
Workers take a break from renovating the Jaffer Building on Jasper and 104th that will soon house a 7-11 and whiskey bar.

First, it was announced yesterday that the historic Mercer Building will be renovated. Reopening this spring, it will house a tavern, coffee bar, and high-end furniture rental company. A day later, the owners of an under renovation building announced that a 7-11 and to be announced whiskey bar will be moving in.

3 blocks apart, they bookend the revitalized stretch of 104th St (further to the south, the McKay School district feels like a separate entity). The Mercer Building is across the street from MacEwan University, and the proposed future home of Edmonton’s new hockey arena). The Square 104 apartments across the street, and the new Quest condo tower one block to the west should help provide a local consumer base. The Jasper Ave project promises to add another high-end bar to the blossoming pub/restaurant scene in the area.

Astute readers will note that both developers cite the downtown arena as a reason for going ahead. While I remain skeptical about the value proposition from a public investment perspective, and think it could yield more return on investment in other ways, I am thrilled that it’s prospect appears to be boosting investor confidence in downtown.

Oddly, though, I’m most encouraged by the 7-11. One of the risks inherent in revitalization is a theme park-ization of the urban core. That is to say, the development of attractions that draw visitors, but don’t build a permanent base of residents. Arenas, concert halls, restaurants, and bars can all contribute when done well, but if everyone leaves after the encore or last call, you’re not building a neighbourhood so much as a destination – and successful downtown have to be both.

Mundane as it sounds, I see a new 7-11 as a sign that there’s a permanent population that justifies its creation (many new residences have been created on or around 104th). We want our neighbourhoods to have fancy bars and restaurants, but if they’re to be truly livable, they also need convenience stores and dry cleaners.

This week’s announcements make me think that, at least along this stretch of downtown, we’re making progress on both fronts.

A Fracking Concern

They’re going to be making steel in Youngstown again. Taken in isolation, this is great news, pointing to progress in an area that has struggled economically for the past 3-4 decades, and – as the story linked above – points out, lost half its population since 1950.

The steel mill, however, will be producing parts to use in hydraulic fracturing, fracking for short. This process is gaining support in the midwest as a means of economic recovery, through extracting natural gas found in the Marcellus Shale Formation.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube
The old Youngstown Sheet and Tube factory.Photo by bobengland, using a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical 2.0 License.

Much of my interest in writing about this subject comes from a desire to know more about it. Instinctively, I question whether investing in non-renewable energy is the best long-term strategy for any region. There are renewable energy opportunities in Ohio and the Midwest, and places like Austin, Texas are investing in clean energy manufacturing, which might put them even further ahead in the long run.

Lending more support to the clean energy apporach is the increasing number of signs that solar energy will be price competitive soonthis map says in about 12 years for the major Ohio cities, and sooner for much of the rest of the United States. Cities and regions that are investing now are likely to have a leg up going forward.

Leaving the economy aside for a moment, there are serious environmental concerns about the process (Wikipedia has a well-sourced list, and the pros-cons are well-debated here), most of which would have their effect felt close to home. The public health and safety concerns of residents shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated.

Deindustrialization of Youngstown is well-document, and I can’t begin to understand the affect this has had on the region. Coming from a region with a resource-heavy economy that has experienced booms and busts in my lifetime, I can empathize. The immediate economic returns of resources – in particular energy – are hard to resist. Given the history of the past few decades, and in light of the recession of the past few years, I don’t fault any citizen or city in that region for jumping at a possibility for economic growth.

But resources and their boom/bust cycles cause instability, and I think most citizens want predictable, reliable economic growth. Would clean/green industry, or other paths to economic development be a better investment in the long run? There are lots of possibilities for the Midwest, and many urban enthusiasts – including myself and the author of this excellent post – have been pleasantly surprised by what we found when visiting cities like Cleveland. Fracking might be the option right now, but I’m thinking a bright future for former industrial centers may come from other sources.

Jasper Ave Blues: A Preamble

P1150262

Over the next…indeterminate period of time, I’ll be undertaking a series of posts about Downtown Edmonton. Readers will have surely noticed my interest in cities and urban environments. The urban core – in particular its downtown – is at the heart of any successful city/region.

I spend most of my time right now downtown and nearby. I work downtown, and live three blocks west of its technical boundary. When I’m home, I’m downtown at least 6 days of the week – every work day, plus at least one day on the weekend, whether it’s working out at the Y, going to a concert at Starlite or the Winspear, having dinner or drinks with friends, or of course, the market on Saturday mornings in the summer.

On the bright side, interest in downtown’s future and well-being is the highest in the decade I’ve closely followed Edmonton civic affairs. On the media front, CBC AM is in the middle of a series called Downtown at a Crossroads, and several Edmonton Journal writers (particularly David Staples) have focused heavily on downtown. City Council, the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, and the Chamber of Commerce are all active champions. The Downtown Community League is doing excellent work, and I see a real pride among many citizens in what’s happening. On the downside, interest doesn’t automatically lead to progress. Done poorly, it could end up having an adverse effect, and there’s also a danger that boosterism and the desire to see something – anything – happen, may override due process and judgement on what is truly beneficial. This series will be my contribution to the discussion, analyzing downtown’s current state, proposals for new ideas that come forward, and putting forward my own ideas about what can make our downtown even better. I hope others will respond, engage, and contribute.

The title of this series might imply a strictly negative view of downtown in its current state. Nothing could be further from the truth (I just liked the title, thought it was catchy, and don’t have any better ideas right now). While our downtown isn’t the best, or maybe even in the top 10 downtowns I’ve visited in the past few years (to be fair to Edmonton, I’ve been to a lot of cities in that time), there are a lot of positive things happening. Edmonton’s downtown has made tremendous strides in the 15 years or so that my memory extends back. New residences are popping up, ranging from the higher-end Icon Towers to the Mayfair Village affordable housing development. 104th Street has exploded, boasting a roster of coffee shops, wine bars, restaurants, and shops that rivals High Street or Whyte Ave – in quality if not in quantity. Nothing beats spending a Saturday morning during the summer at the outdoor market on 104th. A couple of years ago, none of Moriarty’s, Tres Carnales, Corso32, or Pampa existed. Now, we have a strong restaurant scene downtown. Our downtown would be virtually unrecognizable (in a good way) to someone who left two decades ago and had yet to come back.

Anecdotally, the strongest point for downtown I can say is this. When I moved back to Edmonton 6 years ago and for a while afterwards, I couldn’t imagine I would choose to live downtown over other areas in the city. When I last moved just under 2 years ago, the downtown area was by far my preferred area to end up. That’s somewhat due to having worked downtown for the past 5 1/2 years, and having gotten to know the area better. But mostly it’s because of the improvement I’ve seen in that time. But our downtown can still be so much more. This series is one way I’m aiming to help make that a reality.

2011 and 2012 in Review and Preview: A List of My Favourite Things

The new year started two days ago, but for many people (myself included), today is the first day back at work in 2012, so it feels like the official beginning of the new year.

I like to make lists. They are more often than not incredibly ambitious, meaning my ability to make lists far exceeds my ability to complete all the tasks on them in a timely manner. On my to-do list (resolutions, if you will) for 2012 is to write more frequently, and regularly. Ideally 2-3 times per week, but given my pace over the past two years, once a week would be making huge strides. I also had an ambitious to-do list over the holidays, which included writing a long, narrative, year in review. That never got completed, my time instead going towards more pressing, if mundane tasks such as cleaning my home, along with more enjoyable things like spending time with family and friends, and lazy mornings lying on my couch, drinking copious amounts of coffee while watching English Premier League soccer.

Anyway, I want to post some retrospective, so inspired by Andy’s post, here are a few of my favourite things from 2011. I’m not going to do a ranked list, nor am I going to limit them to things that occurred in the past 12 months. I’m also going to list things I’m looking forward to in 2012.

Finally, there’s a crowdsourcing element. Based on this list, I’m hoping readers can recommend things they think I – or anyone interested in what’s on this list – would also enjoy.

Without further ado, the best of 2011-12.

Cities
Favourite cities I visited:
Boston, MA – one of my favourite cities, if not my favourite, since the first time I visited. I could spend days lounging on Boylston and Newbury Street and be perfectly happy. I also stayed in the redeveloping South Waterfront district for the first time. I was holed up at the Westin and Convention Centre for most of it, but enjoyed the little bit I saw.

Lyon, France – admittedly, I’m consciously being somewhat of a contrarian putting this on the list instead of Paris. I loved both. But I found Paris’ major attractions to be overrated (except Musee d’Orsay). I love walking around both cities, admiring the architecture, streetscapes, and enjoying quiet afternoons at cafes and brasseries. But in Lyon you can do that with fewer hordes of tourists and less aggressive servers.

Chicago, IL – visited twice, first time since I was a kid. Will definitely go back at least once this year. The architecture is amazing (I cannot recommend the Chicago Architecture Foundation boat tour enough), Wrigley Field is a gem, and the Lakefront Trail is one of my favourite places to run. Also, Millennium Park. Everything about it is amazing. And the Loop has a more than sufficient concentration of Dunkin’ Donuts to keep me happy.

Looking west from the Wabash Avenue bridge

Portland, OR – third straight year I visited, and cannot say enough good things. In the 55 or so hours I spent there, squeezed in a lengthy visit at the Market, went to an art show/auction, ran a half marathon, had a few amazing meals, caught a free concert, and also managed to more than catch up on sleep too.

Favorite website about cities:
The Atlantic Cities – launched in September, the site has a great roster of writers, and interesting content every day.

Upcoming in 2012 – I’m interested in focusing more on urban economic development. I’ve always been more interested in the planning side, but got connected to this through the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City’s Urban 2.0 conference in October.

Ideas (and News/Current Events)
Occupy Wall Street – Which I wrote about here.
Ending Homelessness – there are some amazing initiatives happening locally and abroad towards this end, and I feel privileged to contribute towards it through my day job.
The Canadian General Election – the quiet Conservative march to a majority, the Jack Layton-driven surge that boosted the NDP (followed by his tragic death mere months later), and the collapse of the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois made for probably the most fascinating federal election since at least 1993.

Upcoming in 2012: The Alberta General Election. Politics in my home province might just get interested. Or not. But I’m curious to see what happens this spring. Learning more about poverty (and how to end it).

Sports
The Last Day of the MLB Regular Season and Entire Playoffs – The last day of the season was devastating as a Red Sox fan, but everything that night and aftewards was thrilling as a fan. Chris Carpenter’s Game 5 CG SO win over Philly in the NLDS, and the epic comeback in Game 6 of the World Series stand out.

Women’s Soccer – I seriously enjoyed the Women’s World Cup this summer. It offered a high quality level of play, without any of the defensive grind or diving that often sully the men’s international game. The top american league, Women’s Professional Soccer, offers a pretty good concentration of talent on 6 teams (now 5) as well. The Western New York Flash throwing out a front line of Marta, Christine Sinclair, and Alex Morgan is the women’s soccer equivalent of the concentration of “galacticos” that you find on Real Madrid, AC Milan, or Barcelona. Speaking of…

FC Barcelona – one of the most enjoyable squads I’ve ever watched in any sport. The sheer talent, and precision skill and passing is just an absolute joy to watch every time they’re on the pitch.

Fantasy Baseball – I finally won my league (in the 6th season), claiming not only the regular season crown, but also the scoring title (only done twice) as well as surviving the randomness of the playoff round to win that as well (first one to win all three). I have decided to enjoy this moment and become insufferable, declaring myself the first “Triple Crown Champion”, much to the annoyance of the rest of my league, I’m sure. Of course, karma is already rearing its ugly head, as I’ve lost Ryan Braun for a 1/3 of next season to suspension. But who cares? Flags (or in this case, league champion bobbleheads) fly forever.

For 2012: Euro 2012, Yu Darvish in MLB (I hope), a Red Sox club that doesn’t implode (I really hope)

Music
The Head and the Heart – if I had to pick a favourite album of the year, this would be it. Beautiful, melodic songs that will never get old.
My Morning Jacket – loved the new album, and caught them in concert at the Roosevelt Auditorium in Chicago.
Jazz – I’ve really started getting into the genre, anything from Miles Davis or Steve Coleman, to contemporary artists like Avishai Cohen.
Wilco – always. But the new album is enjoyable too.
Brian Fallon – The lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem also delivered an album with his side project, Horrible Crowes. A nice deviation from Gaslight’s sound.

For 2012 – Finally checking out the new Roots and Black Keys albums. Jessica Lea Mayfield, who I just discovered through Austin City Limits. Further exploring the jazz genre.

Television
Parks and Rec – this is literally the best show on television.
How I Met Your Mother – after a shaky couple of years, this season has delivered in spades so far.
Austin City Limits – The Decemberists/Gillian Welch and Americana Music Festival episodes in particular were great.
The Wire – started in 2010, finished this year. Just an incredible 60 hours or so of television. I don’t know what else to say about it.

For 2012 – 30 Rock, which returns next week. This Old House, I have the entire Bedford season to catch up on. The remaining new episodes of Austin City Limits look great.

Movies
Moneyball – I don’t watch many movies, but I greatly enjoyed this one. Different enough from the book that I didn’t have to compare apples to apples, but well written and executed as a story.

For 2012 – The Dark Knight Rises, On the Road, The Great Gatsby

Books
Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough – great narrative about the effort to overcome the challenges created by poverty and give kids in Harlem a shot at a better future.
The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri – how the small-market Tampa Bay Rays are able to compete with (and beat) the big money Yankees and Red Sox.
The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith – interesting look at good uses of social media.
For 2012 – The Art of Fielding, which I started on New Year’s Day. So far, it’s fantastic. Re-reading On the Road and The Great Gatsby in anticipation of the movie versions being released. Michael Chabon’s new book Telegraph Avenue.

Magazines/Websites
The Atlantic – a long-time favourite, it delivered some great long-form essays in the magazine, and regular interesting content on the website.
Chamber of Comics – Mike Winters’ comics are brilliant. That is all.

For 2012 – suggestions welcome.

Other Things
The Holiday Half and 5K – fun race, complete with Christmas carrollers along the course, excellent swag, and ample post-race food and drinks. I would have enjoyed this more had I not been running with an injury (which forced me to jog the last 5 miles), but that’s not any fault of the race. Will definitely do this again in 2012.
(Farmers’) Markets – I go to the 104th Street Market in Edmonton every Saturday I’m here. Greatly enjoyed the Portland Saturday Market a few weeks ago as well.
Libraries – I probably get more ROI on my $12 Edmonton Public Library membership than I do on anything else all year.
Torres Wine – discovered them this year, fantastic reds (especially the blends) and whites at affordable prices.
Restaurants – brunch at Cafe Nell in Portland, the Rib Crib in Philadelphia, pretty much everywhere I ate in France.
Airlines – Thoroughly enjoyed flying United several times, as well as Horizon/Alaska Air on my Portland trip in December.

For 2012 – Chicago Marathon (and other races TBD), Oregon and Washington wineries. Finally eating at The Girl and the Goat in Chicago.