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.
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.
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.