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    June 2012
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What’s in a Name?

Redevelopment of Edmonton’s City Centre Airport lands is moving ahead. First was news about the last regularly scheduled flight, which will take place June 30. Now, a survey has been released, asking for input on six potential names for the new community. The names are quickly generating a lot of discussion, and rightfully so. They elicit reactions ranging from ‘meh’ to ‘huh?’, and by and large don’t have any link to the actual site.

Airport Lands
Today: the Edmonton City Centre Airport. Tomorrow: Sol’Town?

Let’s look at the proposed names:

Avia Park – my first guess was that the term ‘Avia’ had some link to aviation and the history of this site. I was sort of right. Avia is a Czech company that manufactured military aircrafts. I don’t see an Edmonton link, though. Most of the information about Avia and aviation I could find had to do with how their aircrafts were favoured by the German Luftwaffe in World War II. I hope I’m missing something, because that’s not the link I imagined.

Wingfield; The Landing – these sound like names created to retain the link to the aviation history. Perfectly inoffensive and uninspiring.

Crossroads – this must be a reference to the central location of the site, though perhaps they’re trying to establish it as the new nexus point of Edmonton’s historically divided north and south sides. Hijinks will surely ensue when the cast of Northsiders visits.

Central Park – parroting a name of a famous site to make your own sound appealing. Wonderful. I like this strategy so much that we should adopt it city-wide and rename everywhere in Edmonton after a famous location elsewhere. Let’s name the big hill planned for the north end of the site ‘Mont Royal’, and the adjacent area ‘Le Plateau’. Kingsway Ave can be renamed the Champs-Élysées, and Kingsway Mall can become the Mall of Americas – because having two West Edmonton Malls in one city would be too confusing. The possibilities are truly endless.

Sol’Town – now I’m just confused.

I do, however, enjoy the landing page for the survey. Fancy. Makes me want to hit up Sol’Town for some $23 martinis.

Seriously, though, the survey and process does provide insight into how many Edmontonians think about our city. It’s a reflection some image of a city we’d like to see Edmonton as, not the city we are. Two notable airport to residential community conversions – Stapleton in Denver and Mueller in Austin – preserved their names, and I doubt anyone feels that cheapened them. In fact, the link to the history is more likely to enhance the community. Its current state is an evolution, another step in the site’s history.

Many citizens – and as the Journal story points out, the Naming Committee and architects as well, preferred the name Blatchford. As Mayor in the 1920s, Kenneth Blatchford purchased the farm that would become Edmonton’s first airport (on the City Centre Airport land). His son was a flying ace, and became a distinguished pilot in World War II – in which the City Centre Airport played a crucial role.

This is just one example. There would surely be other appropriate names that respect and celebrate the site’s history and who we are as a city. The Blatchford name, in this instance, would recognize two citizens who made a great contribution, and reestablish a link to a proud part of Edmonton’s history. Why can’t that be enough?

Update! – the genesis of the names are pretty much what you’d expect.

Sande said they picked Avia Park as a riff off aviation and because it sounds avant-garde. Sol’Town is a reference to solar and to being near the soul of the city. Central Park was picked because there will be a large, central park space and because New York’s Central Park gives it instant name recognition.

Crossroads refers to the meeting place between Kingsway and Princess Elizabeth Avenue, and because it sounds catchy, as in, “‘We’ve met at the Crossroads.’ It’s got excellent marketing potential.”

Wingfield and The Landing are again references to the site as a former airport.

We have different definitions of avant garde, but at least he’s honest in admitting Central Park is cribbed. Also, count me as one young person who the name Blatchford resonates with.

On the plus side, as I said on Twitter, I’m looking forward to saying “see you at the crossroads…” in sing-song fashion:


30 Things I’ve Learned

I turned 30 today. While it doesn’t feel any different than being 29, or 28, people assure me it’s a big deal. It has caused me to be more introspective than usual, and I decided to write about.

One of my favourite features over the years has been Esquire‘s What I’ve Learned column (the name is expository). To commemorate my birthday, I’ve decided to share 30 things I’ve learned over the past 30 years.

1. It’s much easier to be against something than to be for something, but far less worthwhile.

2. Learning when to say nothing is a hard, but valuable skill to acquire. Sometimes, nobody gives a fuck what you have to say.

3. Not having any fear or shame helps you accomplish things. I learned this as a 21 year old asking cabinet ministers for millions of extra dollars in education funding.

4. I value experiences far more than I value possessions. I’m not sure I have a most treasured possession, but I have countless experiences and memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.

5. Picking up photography as a hobby is one of the best decisions I’ve made. It’s a great way to preserve and commemorate those experiences and memories.

6. Two people I look up to – FDR and Bobby Kennedy. They both had the courage to speak truth to power, and to use their positions of privilege to help the less fortunate.

7. I read a story about Mackenzie King that said he used to pray before going to bed every night, asking for the strength to be a better man. That strikes me as a sensible goal to approach every day with.

8. If you’re the same person today that you were 5 years ago, you’re doing something wrong. Growing apart from some people is a natural and healthy – if uncomfortable – part of the process.

9. Two of my major interests are politics and soccer. They’re alike in the sense that every moment can feel either life-affirming or soul-crushing.

10. Knowledge isn’t very useful if you just keep it to yourself.

11. If someone reclines their seat on the airplane all the way back, without asking the person behind them, it’s a sure sign they’re an asshole.

12. Distractions are important. You might think my interest in baseball (and fantasy baseball) is silly, but I’m pretty sure it’s diversions like that that keep me sane and highly functioning in activities that actually matter.

13. My oldest memory is of getting a toy bus for my third birthday. In retrospect, I was probably destined to be an urbanist.

14. Physical activity is good for both the body and the mind. I do some of my best thinking when I’m out running.

15. The amount of time we devote to discussing something is often inversely proportional to its importance.

16. You can find lessons to apply to your work and day-to-day activity in anything, if you think about it enough.

17. How I measure my work-life balance – when I start having dreams about work, I know I’m working too hard. When I can’t tell you without hesitation what I accomplished in a day, I’m not working hard enough.

18. Routine is good, but by not trying new things and getting to know new people, you’re limiting yourself.

19. One of my goals is to accomplish something noteworthy enough to get to write a “What I’ve Learned” column in Esquire.

20. Related to that, it freaks me out that Thomas Jefferson was only 3 years older than I am now when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

21. “Do not drink alcohol while taking this medication” is a directive you should always follow (lesson learned in college).

22. I think of myself as a Canadian first and foremost. I grew up in the west, but spent considerable parts of my summers growing up in BC, Ontario, and Quebec. I later lived in Atlantic Canada. This is a pretty incredible country, and it’s worth getting to know.

23. It’s an amazing time to be alive. Every few years, a new technological tool is basically revolutionizing our lives. I can’t wait to see what comes after the smartphone and tablet.

24. New York is overrated, Chicago is underrated, Los Angeles is properly rated.

25. I regret two things – times I didn’t try my hardest, and times I did something when I knew better.

26. Actually, add a third – that I never had any command of the strike zone.

27. If I am a good writer (as many people tell me I am), much of the credit goes to the many talented English teachers I had growing up. They were demanding, and challenged me, and I’m much better for it – though I sometimes hated it at the time. Think about this next time you consider letting a kid off easy.

28. 10 years ago, I spent my birthday (probably) drunk and (definitely) broke. This year, I spent it working at a challenging, rewarding job I enjoy. I also just got back from a vacation in Southern California where I saw four ballgames and finished a half marathon in personal record time. Point being, I’m not relating to people who say life gets worse as you get older.

29. Good advice from The Great Gatsby: “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

30. I have a pretty good life. Recognizing this makes me work harder to keep enjoying it, and to give back to others who aren’t so lucky.

Walkability and Recovery in Canada’s Rust Belt

This story from last month caught my eye today. The title, ‘Walkable Neighbourhoods Key to Creative Industries’, is innocuous enough. However, as the story states, the source is more surprising. The report, Walkability and Economic Development: How Pedestrian and Transit-Oriented Environments Attract Creative Jobs in Hamilton was released by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. Walkable neighborhoods are well-established as coveted residential and commercial space; the Chamber report goes further in clearly stating the case for walkability as an economic consideration, writing on page 18:

More specifically, walkable environments should be viewed as necessary economic infrastructure that attract employment and should be invested in accordingly. That means that just as investments are made in suburban business parks have the required infrastructure to make them the centres of private investment, walkable environments need to be created, enhanced, and maintained in order to attract jobs for other sectors.

The maps show, respectively, the links between creative industry locations in Hamilton and walkability and transit.

This is promising on two fronts. First, that creative industries (especially the performing arts) are growing in areas like Hamilton, long dependent on industries that are declining in employment numbers (such as manufacturing). Second, that they are looking to locate in the urban core, and bring with them the additional economic and social activity.

It’s encouraging to see groups like the Chamber of Commerce embrace the quality of life factors like walkability and sound transit that an increasing number of people are finding desirable. I believe that quality of life considerations and economic activity are becoming increasingly intertwined, and will soon be inseparable. Cheap and/or plentiful land will have its appeal for some, but more and more people and groups will make economic tradeoffs if need be to locate themselves and their organizations in urban environments.

Panorama of Downtown Hamilton, Early Morning
Flickr/Wayne MacPhail

For older cities like Hamilton, this provides an opportunity, as they developed around a time when density was greater in new developments than it has been in recent decades, thus providing in most cases a greater stock of already (or easily convertable) walkable areas. It’s proximity to Toronto (it’s connected by GO Train) and other major centers can serve as an additional competitive asset. The business community in Hamilton has been progressive on many fronts, notably by embracing poverty reduction initiatives. By embracing walkability and sound public transit – for both social and economic benefits – Hamilton is taking steps towards the factors that will go into making a vibrant urban centre in the coming years.

Management Lessons from a Stanley Cup Champion

The Los Angeles Kings haven’t won the Stanley Cup yet, but they almost assuredly will. They’re up 3-0 in the best of seven final, and can clinch on home ice tonight.

The Kings are finishing up an incredible run. While they underachieved earlier in the season, they still entered the playoffs as the 8th seed in the west (their goal differential was 6th, so not far off what they probably merited). They are, so far, 15-2 in the playoffs. As this article notes, only the ’88 Oilers went 16-2; the only other team to lose 2 games in the playoffs was the vaunted ’77 Montreal Canadiens, though the then-shorter playoffs meant they only needed to win 12 games to secure the Cup. If the Kings lose tonight and win in Game 5? They’d equal the ’81 Islanders and ’85 Oilers, who both went 15-3 (when the first round was best-of-5). Their playoff run puts them in the company of the best teams from hockey’s most memorable dynasties of the past 35 years.

While the Kings’ run is certainly in part the benefit of a hot streak at the perfect time, their success is well-earned. There are a few lessons all of us can take from the Kings and apply to our respective organizations.

New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles Kings 2.17.11
Flickr/Matthew D. Britt

Mine for Talent in Unconventional Places
The process of assembling this team has taken years – in particular, many successful drafts, but the 2005 draft would be the single most pivotal event. There, the Kings acquired both leading scorer Anze Kopitar and star netminer Jonathan Quick. Neither fits the profile of a conventional star. Kopitar, the top-ranked European skater, fell to the 11th pick. While he played in Sweden, he is from Slovenia, and was the first player from that country to play in the NHL. Quick came from the American prep school system (and, at 6’1, is slightly undersized for a goalie today), before playing at UMass-Amherst. While that has produced many successful pros, it does not enjoy the reputation of the Canadian leagues, or the higher profile American colleges. Kopitar was chosen 11th and Quick 72nd; both probably fell to where they did in part because of their pedigree, but have outperformed many chosen ahead of them with more conventional backgrounds.

Be Aggressive in Going for Your Goal
The Kings spent years acquiring (primarily young) talent, building one of the best groups of young players , both at the NHL level, and at the minor league and amateur levels. In the past 18 months, they began using some of this talent to build a team that could contend immediately. Key personnel like Dustin Penner, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter were all acquired in exchange for future draft picks, or recent high draft picks (and highly-regarded young players/prospects) like Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Schenn, Colton Teubert, and Jack Johnson. The Kings’ success in acquiring talent put them in a position to add the right pieces to flesh out a Stanley Cup contender. While in other industries you won’t have the benefit of trading talent (imagine if you could draft the best grads out of school!), but you can take to heart the lesson of timing – going above scope, or paying extra, to attract the right talent for the right initiative at the right time.

When Underperforming, Identify a Problem and Act Decisively
The Kings were struggling early in the season, and General Manager Dean Lombardi quickly replaced Head Coach Terry Murray, known for a laid-back style, with the more aggressive Darryl Sutter. Players credit Sutter with changing the environment.

A change in leadership isn’t an automatic benefit to a struggling organization, and can often make things worse. In this instance, the Kings correctly surmised that they had the right players to win, but needed a change in one specific role.

Show Your Personality, and Have Fun
One of the highlights of the Kings’ run has been following their entertaining Twitter account. Their social media activity has garnered many accolades, and with good reason. They’ve injected personality and fun into what is normally a staid, matter of fact activity – the corporate social media account. This has helped get the club attention, and I’d bet convert some fans, over the course of the past two months. People respond to personality, and fun, and the Kings have done a great job engaging and growing their audience.