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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.

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Photo Essay: My Year in Cities, 2009

Earlier today, Jonah Keri, one of my favourite writers, posted his “year in cities” list. It’s a concept borrowed from Jason Kottke. You post a list of cities where you spent a night during the year (this excludes cities you visited but didn’t stay overnight in, such as Fort McMurray/Wood Buffalo in my case).

I really like this idea, and decided to add on to it. I’ve included an accompanying photo for most of my destinations from 2009 (for two of them I have none at my disposal). Here we go, in roughly chronological order:

Cantley, QC
Farm
I stayed at the EcoNiche resort for a conference in late May. It’s located in Cantley, Quebec, a beautiful area full of farmland and scenery. Here is a picture of a farm located down the road from where I stayed.

Ottawa, ON
Canada Geese
My Uncle and I went for a walk along the Ottawa River Parkway; it was full of Canada Geese that day.

Calgary, AB
The Decemberists "Hazards of Love"
The Decemberists performing at Calgary Folk Fest.

Jasper National Park, AB

Rafting
A group of whitewater rafters on the Athabasca River near Jasper. I’d gone rafting earlier in the day, but was obviously unable to photograph that trip. This group came by in the evening.

Seattle, WA
Fremont Troll
The famous Fremont Troll in the Fremont neighbourhood, aka The Center of the Universe.

Portland, OR

Chicken BLT
A gluten-free Chicken BLT, accompanied by a gluten-free beer at Deschutes Brewery. I was in heaven.

Hinton, AB
Molly
Molly, my friend Nathan‘s family dog.

Victoria, BC
The Leg at Night
The British Columbia Legislature lights up at night. It was well worth the walk through a torrential downpour to catch this sight.

Pittsburgh, PA
6th Street Bridge
The 6th Street Bridge, also known as the Roberto Clemente Bridge, connects PNC Park to downtown Pittsburgh (seen in the background).

Cleveland, OH
Quinn to Furrey
Monday Night Football in Cleveland: the Browns hosting the Baltimore Ravens. Brady Quinn completes a pass to Mike Furrey, one of the few positive plays for the Browns in a game they lost 23-0.

Hamilton, ON
(no photo available)

Red Deer, AB
(no photo available)

Edmonton, AB
Churchill Square
I spend most of my nights in Edmonton; the waterfall in Churchill Square is one of my favourite daytime sights during the summertime.

My summary: 13 places, 2 countries, 4 provinces, 4 states in 2009. Where, dear readers, did you spend 2009? Post your list in the comments section, or if you blog, make sure to post a link.