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History Repeats: An Edmonton Case Study

That history repeats itself is a well-worn truism. Born by both anecdotes and theory, most students of history or society see trends and activities re-emerge and repeat over time.

I’ve been thinking about this as I follow debates on downtown revitalization and other issues in Edmonton. My thinking in recent months has been heavily influenced by Colin Woodward’s book American Nations, which relies heavily on the idea that the founding culture remains constant and dominant over time. That is to say, rather than forcing it to change to their own norms, outsiders tend to conform to the culture instead. Other ideas like Howe and Strauss’ generational theory lend credence to the idea that things stay constant, and tend to repeat themselves in cycles.

I’ve spend some time looking through Google Archive at Edmonton’s old news coverage, and this seems to hold true. Similar themes, ideas, and approaches reoccur. In particular, this comes into play with civic arenas and downtown revitalization. The Omniplex, which dominated Edmonton discourse for close to a decade in the ’60s and ’70s. Last year, Mack wrote a great post that touched on some of the arguments used then that are similar to ones used now.

The Omniplex was touted as a unique project for Edmonton, and its defeat, of course, hurt its chances of landing an NHL team.

Like now, proponents toured what were considered the model sites across North America at the time.

Business and citizen groups treated it as imperative for Edmonton, saying it “would put Edmonton on the map as THE outstanding city in Western Canada” (we have since raised our ambitions to be iconic and world-class, not just best in the west).

Of course, while City Hall touted downtown, the Edmonton Exhibition (Northlands) played coy, noting its support for the project, but constantly reminding people that the Northlands grounds could be a home for it as well.

Eventually, when Omniplex plans fell apart, the Exhibition swept in with a sensible, real plan, which is what will probably happen if the downtown arena doesn’t go ahead this time.

Just like now, pro-arena columnists then were also prone to hyperbole. Of course, Wayne Overland went further, when touting the city’s support for the Commonwealth Games long after the Omniplex defeat, writing:

Naturally in other cities they asked: “How could you good people vote down a good proposal like Omniplex?”

Sound like an argument that would be used against arena critics today?

The similarities continue. People were surprised when the Katz Group requested that the City agree to move into new office space in the arena district before it goes ahead. This, however, is not unprecedented. Construction of the CN Tower went ahead on the condition that the City lease space, and the developers of Eaton Centre made a similar request using this precedent (I don’t believe that tower went ahead). That this happened at the expense of existing buildings (probably the old Civic Block on old Market Square) seemed as inconsequential then as discussion about what would happen to Chancery Hall, Century Place, or whichever building(s) the city would vacate for its new space does now.

Of course, downtown revitalization plans are at least 50 years old. Back then, unique was the operative term, not ‘once in a generation‘:

Given that these stories pick up again in the 1980s, I’m going to assume the planned revitalization didn’t go as planned. Maybe the levy of new development didn’t have its intended effect:

Aside from the arena, recent years saw Edmonton’s civic leaders push for Expo 2017 as a way of boosting the city’s image. This wasn’t the first time either. Nordex 73, a World’s Fair specific to northern cities, was targeted for the early 1970s, and projected 11,000,000 visitors over 6 months. This fair also would have brought untold riches to the local economy:

Civic leaders also saw a way of tying together Omniplex and Expo support from the federal government:

This was far from the only ask. Back then, civic leaders pushed for more funding for rapid transit and infrastructure from other orders of government. 40 years later, the problem still remains unsolved.

One final thing. In August, EEDC and Travel Alberta teamed up to fly The Bachelorette to Edmonton for a weekend. It was justified under the auspices of the incredible value its earned media represents. Original, right?

In the 1980s, enterprising Edmontonians looked to promote the city through game shows (the reality TV shows of the time), using many of the same arguments

These are only a few examples, and of course, this cycle of repetition is not limited to Edmonton, but this does give us a window into the approach and mindset of the city, and what we might expect to come up again in the future.

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Canada’s Indie vs. Chain Store Battle: Who’s Winning Where?

News broke yesterday that Greenwood’s Bookshoppe, one of two major remaining independent bookstores in Edmonton, will be closing in 7-10 days. This will leave the city with only one major independent bookstore.

“We’re going to seduce them with our square footage, and our discounts, and our deep armchairs”
The closure of independent stores, ostensibly because of competition from chain stores offering bigger selection, lower prices, and more amenities, is nothing new (though today, the squeeze is as likely to come iBooks, iTunes, online retailers, and increased online sharing). That quote comes from the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail, where the owner of a major book chain opens a superstore on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Of course, his store puts a second-generation independent book seller out of business, and then they meet over the internet and start dating. The tension between chain stores and locally-owned businesses plays into this romantic comedy which I imagine would feel dated to watch 14 years after its release. But I digress.

Books
Flickr/Ricky Leong
A sign in the window at Pages on Kensington, a popular independent bookstore in Calgary.

The Indie vs. Chain Battle Today
With the Greenwoods closure on my mind, I wanted to see what I could find out about the state of book and music stores in Canada. Using information on trade bookstores from the Canadian Booksellers’ Association, and information on participating stores in Record Store Day, I identified a number of independent (and small chain) stores in each major Census Metropolitan Area. In the end, 12 metros (of the 15 largest) had more than 5 combined.

I also wanted to see what kind of relationship existed between independent stores, and major chains. Attrition has left only one major chain in each industry, so I counted Chapters/Indigo/Coles locations and HMV stores as well.

Metros with the Most Independent Book and Music Stores

Metros with the Most Big Chains

The Relationship Between Indie and Chain Stores
With a few exceptions, most metros don’t have a huge variation between the number of indie and chain stores.

Here is a list of the 12 metros with their number of independent and major chain stores:

The first thing that stands out is how both Edmonton and Calgary have a significantly higher number of chain stores. If you want one reason Greenwood’s went out of business, think about this. Metro Edmonton, with a little under half the population, has the same number of Chapters/Indigo/Coles locations as Metro Vancouver.

The rest of the metros on this list don’t see a significant difference (except indie store hotbeds of Kitchener-Waterloo and London, Ontario). Of course, this doesn’t speak to the stability, or profitability of independent stores. It’s also worth noting that Edmonton independent record store ranking is in the second cluster of cities trailing the big three (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver). Perhaps, as Andy posited, the problem in Edmonton is with the shops, not the market itself.

More to the point, as I alluded to earlier, both independent and chain stores are under threat from a changing industry and consumer habits. I wrote about the changing bookstore, with some ideas for future models, in May. Book (or record) stores will be around in some form, but likely in smaller numbers, at least for the foreseeable future.

Given that, what I do feel confident in saying is that, unless they continue to adapt and evolve, consumers shouldn’t be surprised to see their favorite book or music store – independent or chain – close up shop.

Edmonton’s Arena Will Likely Happen, But Would it be a Bad Thing if it Didn’t?

Edmonton Arena District Open House
Flickr/Mastermaq

The proposed downtown Edmonton hockey arena took a hit today. City Council discussed the matter in private, and its motion ex-camera reveals that Oilers owner Daryl Katz asked for more public funding. It’s unknown at this point whether that would have come in the form of an increase to the $450 million budget, a decrease of his $100 million contribution over 30 years, or both.
David Staples has details on the requested changes.

In any case, this is a setback to getting the project, which has dominated discourse about how to revitalize Edmonton for six years (except for the Expo 2017 diversion), completed. I still think it will go ahead. The money will be found either from the province (likely at the expense of other public works for Edmonton), a reduction in the overall budget (perhaps combined with a commensurate increase in ticket taxes or city contribution), or through some additional surcharge or levy should the proposed City Charter give Edmonton the authority to do so. If nothing else, should Calgary move ahead with plans for a new arena, I can envision enough combined pressure from the two municipalities to forge a deal for provincial support. So, while today’s news is a setback for arena advocates, it remains to be seen whether this affects timelines by six weeks, six months, or six years.

All of the above is irrespective of whether or not the arena would actually be a good move. I’m with the economists, who agree that there’s no net economic benefit. I worry about the inherent risks that The Atlantic and many others have written about. And I’m with Jane Jacobs on the idea that mega projects are not the way to revitalize neighborhoods. If one is to be built, it shouldn’t be done so under the auspices of revitalization.

Future Development
“Future Development” near Nationals Park in Washington, taken four years after the project broke ground.

Anyway, back to the present. Nearly six years after the idea was first raised, it’s never been less than $100 million short in funding, and is an unknown amount more at the moment.

What I will continue to give the arena credit for is boosting investor confidence in downtown, but this could be achieved in many ways. As for the economic claims, the next major boosts to downtown’s employment are likely come either from further growth in the energy sector (which will happen whether the arena is downtown, at Northlands, or in Spruce Grove) or from new companies and emerging industries being incubated at places like Startup Edmonton. Further increases in services and amenities are best supported by getting more people to live in the area, rather than visiting on occasion.

Finally, for all the talk about it being necessary for Edmonton’s quality of life, let’s remember that the initial exploratory phase came out of discussions between the City, the Oilers, and Northlands, not a citizens’ push. If it was essential, one might wonder why it didn’t come up in the early stages of the downtown plan’s development, or that the Next Gen report and initiative, launched in 2006, didn’t flag it as a key concern. While the report isn’t online, my recollection is that the cities it looked at as case studies were college towns like Austin, Texas and Madison, Wisconsin – neither of which has a franchise in the big four sports leagues – as well as Phoenix, Arizona, whose hockey team in suburban Glendale…um…probably isn’t the example arena proponents want to use.

So, if the project got delayed, downtown would see its investor confidence shaken in the short term, but creative organizations and entrepreneurs would find a way to forge ahead. And as I said on Twitter, imagine if key decision-makers devoted even a fraction of their efforts that have gone into this project into supporting small-scale ventures that could yield big results (I put forward some ideas here).

Market
The City Centre Market, small-scale revitalization that works.

Finally, remember these two things. Edmonton has often suffered when it’s chased after the latest trend, and some of the best things Edmonton has to offer came about because of decisions that bucked prevailing trends. A few examples in each.

Where Edmonton Has Failed in Chasing the Latest Trend

– By embracing the trendy shopping power centres of the late 1990s and 2000s (while other cities were moving to more compact developments), the city accelerated it’s decentralization and car-orientation at a period of significant growth. It took years and several iterations of these developments to start to see even some elements of mixed-use incorporated.
– In its zeal to embrace latest trends, much of its built history has been erased. It happened to the Edwardian buildings that first dotted its city centre, and now its happening to post-war Modernist gems, which will probably be fashionable again and missed by the next generation. Just one example of the former. The Greyhound depot on 103 St, slated to be replaced in the arena district development, itself replaced a 1920s 8-storey warehouse 30 years ago. The demolished Marshall Wells building, of which Edmonton lost many contemporaries, is precisely the type of space that is coveted in Edmonton (think a larger Mercer Building), and has contributed to urban revitalization across Canada and the United States.
– No discussion about massive downtown Edmonton redevelopment projects would be complete without this story on the history of the Eaton Centre development.

Where Edmonton has Succeeded by Bucking the trend
– It is a global leader in waste management, having embraced curbside recycling and other measures years – if not decades – ahead of many similar municipalities.
– It’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) system is still advanced compared to many similarly-sized cities, in large part because it had the foresight to embrace the technology in the early 1970s, decades before others. It was the first metro of less than 1,000,000 residents to build a line.
– Finally, and most importantly, let’s remember how close Edmonton came to embracing the rampant freeway trend of the 1950s and ’60s. Had the Metropolitan Edmonton Transportation Study been implemented, it would have paved over much of its treasured River Valley, including MacKinnon and Mill Creek Ravines.

As I said at the outset, I still believe the arena will go ahead. But with the evidence and history at our disposal, are we sure it would be a bad thing if it didn’t?

Football Cities: Where the Stars are Bred

This is the final look at the metro, state, and regional breakdown of the 2012 NFL player class.

Having looked at where all players come from, this one looks at where the best ones are bred. Using Pro Bowl appearances, All-Pro team recognition, and Offensive/Defensive player and rookie of the year awards, I calculated a point total for each of the 254 active players who have earned any (or all) of the above recognitions. Here’s how metro areas perform. In total, 81 metro areas have produced at least one active player with one of the accolades. 10 have produced 4 or more.

Miami, second to Los Angeles in overall players, jumps ahead in both stars and points accumulated. Established players like Steve Hutchinson (OG, Tennessee), Andre Johnson (WR, Houston) and Devin Hester (WR/KR, Chicago) lead the way, while emerging stars like Patrick Peterson (CB/KR, Arizona) and Jason Pierre-Paul (DE, New York Giants) figure to keep the metro’s reputation for success alive. Los Angeles similarly boasts a combination of veteran stars like Tony Gonzales (TE, Atlanta), Troy Polamalu (S, Pittsburgh) and Steve Smith (WR, Carolina) to go along with ones in their prime like Clay Matthews (LB, Green Bay) and DeSean Jackson (WR, Philadelphia).

The New York City metro boasts New Jersey-bred stars like Brian Cushing (LB, Houston) and Ray Rice (RB, Baltimore). Houston has produced young stars like Brian Orakpo (LB, Washington) and Andy Dalton (QB, Cincinnati). It’s also the home of this year’s first overall pick, Andrew Luck, who figures to join the list of stars soon.

New Orleans is home of Peyton (QB, Denver) and Eli (QB, New York Giants) Manning, along with veteran (Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis) and young (Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh) star receivers. Atlanta’s stars figure to dominate this list for a long time, led by Calvin Johnson (WR, Detroit), Cam Newton (QB, Carolina), and Eric Berry (S, Kansas City), and Philly is home to two quarterbacks named Matt (Ryan of Atlanta and Schaub of Houston).

Beyond the top 10, 9 metros produced 3 stars, 19 produced 2, and 42 produced 1 each.

Metro vs. Small Town
75% of all players are from a Metropolitan Statistical Area, and the proportion of stars is slightly higher at 77%.

However, the number drops below that to 71% when we count the share of points earned.

Notable stars from outside metro areas include Ed Reed, Brian Urlacher, Charles Woodson, Julius Peppers, and Champ Bailey.

Yet, the large metros (and a handful of football hotbeds such as New Orleans) are leading the way in both quantity and quality.

Football States and Mega Regions: Where the 2012 NFL Players Come From

On Wednesday, I looked at the metro areas that produced the most NFL players at the start of the 2012 season. This post looks at the states and mega-regions that have done so.

The Top 10 States Overall

Many of the most populous states dominate the top 10, with only one state (Louisiana) ranking below 12th overall in population. California and Florida, home of the top two NFL-producing metros (LA and Miami) finish 1st and 3rd. Both have several other metros that also produce many players. Sandwiched between them is Texas, home of Dallas and Houston – two of the top 5 metros.

New Jersey’s inclusion, while New York state doesn’t show up on the list, is a reflection of the fact that most of the New York City metro area’s players actually come from the New Jersey counties that are part of it.

Top 10 Per Capita

The southern states, like the colleges, dominate this list. 7 of 10 states are from the south and/or sun belt, with only Ohio (the best performing northern state by nearly every metric), midwest powerhouse Nebraska, and the island state of Hawaii cracking the top 10 from outside those areas. The deep south states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina) atop the list are home to only one NFL team (New Orleans Saints, though part of South Carolina is included in the Charlotte MSA – home to the Carolina Panthers); however, many college football powerhouses play in that region.

Mega Regions Overall

Going back to the 11 Mega Regions, the most populous regions, the Great Lakes, is first, followed by the Piedmont and Florida. Southern California does well on the strength of Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

Mega Regions Per Capita

The Piedmont, whose colleges lead the way in producing players, shows up atop this list, edging out Florida. Cascadia, whose colleges do well, is one of the two worst performing regions, a sign that it imports players at that level.

The final post will focus on the metros where star players are bred.

Football Cities: Where the 2012 NFL Players Come From

Pile Up
Miami, Florida, led by Baltimore Ravens defensive stars Ed Reed (pictured) and Ray Lewis, is one of the top producing regions for NFL players.

The National Football league regular season kicks off tonight, with two marquee teams – and markets in Dallas and New York – facing off. Last week, I looked at the states and regions whose colleges produce NFL players. This post looks at which cities and metro areas the 2012 NFL rosters come from, to see which ones produce the most players.

Using data available from this map, as well as player biographies on Wikipedia and their college and NFL team sites, I assembled a database of players along with their hometown and metro region (according to Metropolitan Statistical Area). The list is comprised of 1917 players who were on an NFL roster (active, injured reserve, or practice) as of late August/early September.

Looking at the 51 metro areas of over 1,000,000 residents, here are the top 10, with overall rankings on the left side and per capita on the right.

The Miami area shows best, coming in a close second in both overall and per capita numbers. Los Angeles edges out Miami in overall numbers. Both metros have produced many notable NFLers, in particular local players who went to prominent local colleges (USC and the University of Miami, respectively). Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Andre Johnson are three Miami locals who starred at The U before launching successful NFL careers. The Los Angeles area has seen quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez go from local high schools to USC to the pros, and is also the home of defensive stars like Clay Matthews.

New Orleans, home of the Manning brothers, leads the way per capita. The overall top 10 track fairly closely to overall population. While the Northeast (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington) lacks colleges that produce top players, the region itself is sending many local players from high schools to the pros, with the exception of Boston (and most of New England). Texas and Georgia are known football hotbeds, so it’s no surprise to see their teams show up here. On the per capita side, the south leads the way, with only Cincinnati (on the border) cracking the top 10 from outside the region.

In the overall top 10, Los Angeles is the only metro without an NFL team, while 3 in the top 10 per capita (Birmingham, Oklahoma City, Virginia Beach – Norfolk – Newport News) are without one.

Here is how the 30 metros with NFL teams rank (New York City and San Francisco-Oakland both have two). The top 10 mirrors the overall top 10, with Detroit taking LA’s place.

Pittsburgh and the two Ohio teams show up here, amongst another grouping of predominantly southern and Californian metros.

The midwest, often thought of as a player-rich area, occupies most of the bottom 10 spots, with none boasting notable per capita scores either. Green Bay is an outlier due to its small size, but Milwaukee (the biggest city in Wisconsin) would be 25th if it was included.

We also see many metros without NFL teams producing players. Here they are grouped by metro size:

California shows its might here. In addition to overall leader Los Angeles, the neighboring Inland Empire (Riverside – San Bernardino – Ontario) produces a large number of players, as does the state capitol region of Sacramento in the north. This is another list where the south dominates, with the recognized football hotbeds of Austin, Birmingham, Oklahoma City, Orlando, and the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas of Virginia making the top 10. The only city from the north to crack the top 10 is Columbus, home of the Ohio State University.

Of the metros between 500,000 and 999,000 (below), we see that its once again only Ohio cities – Akron and Dayton – cracking the top 10, in addition to Honolulu, Hawaii.

Finally, the handful of metros below 500,000 produced 5 or more NFLers are again all from the Sun Belt and South.

Conclusions
Football’s Base Has Shifted South and West.
The major metros, both in raw numbers and per capita, are primarily from California, Florida, and the south. A handful of Ohio cities perform well per capita, and the large metros of NYC, Chicago, Philly, and DC produce their share, but if the day existed when the Rust Belt of Ohio and Western Pennsylvania was an NFL pipeline, it’s by and large passed.

Football’s Base is Slightly Less Urban than the Country.
Most calculations list the percentage of Americans living in an urban/metro area as being between 80-85%. Of the 1892 American players on this list, 1412 are from a metro area, which works out to 75%.

The next post will look at the player breakdown by state and mega region.

I plan to do this for the rest of the big four North American leagues (plus the American and Canadian professional soccer pools) to see what trends emerge regarding the metros, states, and regions that produce the most professional players.

(Update: somehow I missed Richard Florida’s post on this topic from April 2012, which used 2010 numbers, and birth place instead of high school location/hometown).