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.

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.

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.

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.