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New Partners for Smart Growth: Day Three

The third and final day of the conference featured two plenary sessions (the first and last ones during the day) and two breakouts. The themes of the sessions I attended focused on diversity, social, and economic inclusion.

The Great Reset: Reshaping Our Economic and Physical Landscape to Meet New Needs
This session, featuring senior civic leaders, discussed the changing landscape, and the urgency to develop communities that meet the demands of consumers.

Kim Walesh, Director of Economic Development for San Jose, spoke to the demographic changes, and how this affects the market. She noted that development has targeted the 35-54 age group, but demographics are shifting to seniors, as Baby Boomers enter that demographic in large numbers, and young professionals, as Millennials come of age. They both want a more urban environment. Baby boomers want to be able to walk to restaurants/shops and medical appointments. Millennials have what she described as a “live first/work second” outlook, meaning they’ll choose a community/city where they’ll want to live first, then look for work second. She also noted that this group is 33% more likely than other demographics to want to live within 3 miles of a Central Business District.

Speaking anecdotally as a Millennial (and child of baby boomers), Walesh’s argument resonates with everything I see and hear amongst both my and my parents’ respective cohorts.

On the inclusion theme, Walesh made a powerful argument for the value of immigration, pointing out that 50% of CEOs of Silicon Valley tech companies are foreign-born, and 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or second-generation Americans.

Additionally, Mayor Mark Mallory of Cincinnati, who I’ve been a fan of since first hearing him speak at the Urban 2.0 conference, spoke about building on his city’s concentration of Fortune 500 companies and head offices, and the appeal of the old streetcar they’ve reintroduced. Officials from Portland and Seattle spoke as well about their respective initiatives. I was impressed with Seattle’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050, and how they view green initiatives and goals as a key part of their economic strategy. They’re also building a more inclusive city by including the city’s thriving music scene in its economic development initiatives, and by increasing the diversity of housing types available for young people (such as 300 square foot “pods” that have shared amenities). As the speaker noted, for many young people, “home is not necessarily the place they want to stay”.

Slimpickins
Seattle sees its music scene as part of its city’s economic development and appeal. Pictured here: Slimpickins, busking at Pike Place Market.

Advancing Equity in Minneapolis/St. Paul: Action, Research, Advocacy, and Place-Making
This session put forward four perspectives on greater inclusion and equity in the Twin Cities.

ISAIAH, a community organization, organized the Healthy Corridor for All initiative, around the Central Corridor Light Rail Development. This development affected many low-income and minority communities, and the community wanted to ensure that the health of residents and communities was not adversely affected. The speaker also stressed the point that silos between public health officials, advocates, and planners need to be broken down. The link and impact planning has (for better or worse) on public health has been a recurring theme throughout the conference.

Louis King, founder of HIRE Minnesota, spoke powerfully to the need for economic equality. He began by stating that “the best social service program in the world is a job”, and noting that African-Americans were more than 3 times more likely to be unemployed than Caucasians in Minnesota. HIRE is an accredited educational institution, both advocating for equality, and providing training and skills development for individuals. He spoke to several principles that would foster greater economic inclusion.

Laura Zabel of Springboard for the Arts presented their Irrigate project, partnering local artists with businesses and community organization to create place-making. I was impressed with a number of things with this initiative, in particular the way it engages artists who are already in the community, pushes an understanding that the arts are a key part of – not extraneous – to the economy, and the way it expands the conventional notion of who, or what, is an artist.

I am incredibly impressed with the work Justin Kii Huenemann and the Native American Community Development Institute are doing. They are focusing on building equity and community along Franklin Avenue, where the greatest concentration of Native Americans in the Twin Cities is found. They’ve helped foster local ownership, from institutions such as a bank to arts initiatives such as a gallery and a festival. NACDI has put forward a powerful vision of Franklin Avenue as an American Indian Cultural Corridor, and are putting resources behind it to make it a reality, transforming from an economy of social service to one of entrepreneurship and growth. Living in Edmonton, which by the end of the decade will have the largest urban Aboriginal population in Canada, I see great value and opportunity to foster inclusion through initiatives like this in both my community.

Huenemann also spoke to the need for responsibility from the communities affected and involved. He passed on an old saying from an Elder, that when you’re pointing one finger at someone else, you’re pointing three back at yourself – meaning, you need to think about what you’re doing, rather than blaming others.

Restoring the American City: Augusta, GA and Laney Walker/Bethlehem

Laney Walker and Bethlehem are traditionally African-American communities adjacent to downtown Augusta. Vibrant communities from the 1920s to 1970s, they’ve experienced significant decline over the past 40 years. In Laney Walker, 33% of housing was in poor condition or dilapidated; the number in Bethlehem was 70%. The areas had hollowed out; while 1000 acres in size, and home to 3500 parcels of land, it was home ot only 4700 people.

Beginning in 2007, revitalization efforts sought to build on its character and proud history as an African-American community. As Chester Wheeler, one of the leaders of this initiative noted, “Government could not come in and plan for the people. It would never work”. Government did, however, need to mitigate the risk of private developers to encourage investment. The project has been sensitive to existing residents, including them in the consultation and planning from the site, and ensuring any tenants that are displaced are successfully relocated to a home in their existing community. Impressively, they have yet to acquire a single property through eminent domain, respecting local ownership of each property. The project has focused on preservation and reuse (where the former is no longer possible). As one resident said, “it’s important to keep these buildings so they can continue to tell their story”

This effort receives a public investment through a hotel/motel surcharge, and is using it to leverage private investment at a 5:1 ratio. It builds on the area’s history by creating a Heritage Trail, which identifies 150 sites of significant recognition of African-American people and places throughout the city. This speaks to one of the best strategies I see for urban development, building on your own city’s character and making them strengths, rather than copying the trend of the day.

Community Design and Urban Innovation for a Knowledge Economy
Michael Freedman, Principal at Freedman Tung Sasaki in San Francisco, closed out the conference.

He covered the evolution of the smart growth movement over the years, noting that we now know what the problems and solutions to them are. The key challenge he identified is to create “a broader consensus for the coming prosperity”. It’s a well-found point, that the coalition of smart growth/new urbanist advocates needs to grow. I’m reminded of a speaker yesterday who asked, “how can you create an environment where people see a reflection of themselves in your work?” I see this as important to any successful movement, that people can relate, and see a place for themselves as part of it.

He also noted that, “when the nature of work changes, the city is entirely transformed”. He followed by pointing out that transportation changes follow changes to work, rather than influencing the change itself as many assume.

Freedman covered the evolution of cities since the industrial revolution, noting where we have arrived at today, a place where creativity and innovation are the primary wealth-generators of the new economy. He tied this back to cities, focusing on the need to develop cities (physically and otherwise) that foster innovation and creativity, and talked about what the city of the future might look like (hint: the business park is dead).

This is the challenge for smart growth and new urbanist advocates like myself. To articulate a vision and a road map to create cities that respond to the economic, social, and environmental needs of the 21st century. With the work being done by people like Freedman, and many of the speakers and attendees I’ve met in the past three days, I feel like this future is closer than many of us might think.

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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.

4 Days at Safeco

Safeco Field, view from the Left Field entrance.

Safeco Field, view from the Left Field entrance.

As part of my trip to Seattle, I visited Safeco Field to catch some baseball. The New York Yankees were in town to play the host Seattle Mariners from Thursday to Sunday, and I caught all four games between the two teams.

If a picture is worth 1000 words, then my photo gallery from the games tells the full story in 315,000 words. I recommend you check it out. What follows here is a much-abridged summary.

The Games
In case you’re curious, the Yankees won the first one in a blowout, earned hard-fought wins in the second and third, then the Mariners stormed back to win the final game of the series. The roof was closed for the first one (it had rained heavily earlier that day), but we had great weather for the rest of the series, so the roof was open. The games (and the city as a whole) were flooded with Yankees fans for the whole weekend. You couldn’t go anywhere inside the park, or outside of it without seeing Yankees apparel.

The Area
Safeco Field is located near the central district of Seattle. It’s situated south of the King Street Amtrak station and Pioneer Square, and just to the west of the International District. Qwest Field, home to the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders FC, is directly north of Safeco. The surrounding freeways and railway lines isolate the park somewhat from the surrounding areas, making it tough to tell what, if any, impact it has had on redevelopment in the area. There is the Silver Cloud Hotel across the street, and up the street parallel to Qwest Field and the parking lot between Qwest and the Amtrak station there are refurbished warehouses and infill developments.

The Park
For better and worse, Safeco Field has most of the trappings of the post-Camden Yards ballparks.

First, the good. The brick exterior adds a nice retro touch (it’s designed to mirror Ebbets Field), and also meshes with the character of the surrounding area. Like most of the new parks, the sightlines are excellent, and most seats offer an unobstructed view of the field. There are a ton of food options, everything from hotdogs to sushi. I’m partial to the garlic fries from Grounders’. Also, there is one beer stand that offers imports/microbrews at a reasonable price. I indulged in Bard’s gluten-free beer, which was a pleasant surprise to find.

Mariano Rivera of the Yankees pitches to the Mariners.

Mariano Rivera of the Yankees pitches to the Mariners.

Leaving aside the constant gimmickry with attempts to rally fans on the video screen and through music, my main criticism of Safeco is that it feels like I could be watching a game….well, anywhere. There are a couple of nice touches that distinguish the park. First, from the first base side you get a nice view of the downtown Seattle skyline. Second, the adjacent railroad lines mean you hear a constant (and I mean constant – about every 5 minutes) honking of horns from railway engines as they arrive at or depart from the King Street station. But beyond that, the park itself feels like it could be anywhere. The other post-Camden park I’ve visited is Citizens’ Bank Ballpark, in Philadelphia. It’s also a great place to watch a game, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what distinguishes the two once you’re inside and watching a game. Safeco has a retractable roof, while Citizens’ Bank is open air. I guess that would be it.

Final Thoughts
For all my criticisms in the last paragraph, on the whole the experience was really enjoyable. As a huge baseball fan, I’d probably enjoy watching a game anywhere – I even have fond memories of the Big O. Nonetheless, Safeco is a very nice park, and offers a good atmosphere for watching baseball.

Pete Yorn in Seattle

For most of the past couple of weeks, I’ve been on vacation, hence the lack of blogging. For 8 of those days, I visited Seattle and Portland. That trip, and observations/thoughts stemming from it, will be the subject of a few upcoming blog posts.

Officially, I had three objectives when planning a summer vacation. First, it had to be relatively cheap. Second, it had to be somewhere I’d never visited before. Third, it had to involve watching major league baseball in person.

Seattle met all three criteria. The Portland side-trip came later once I realized it cost about $60 round-trip to travel on Amtrak between the two cities. Also, once I’d investigated Seattle, and narrowed down a date range, a fourth objective was added to the list: I had to get tickets to one of Pete Yorn’s concerts at The Showbox in Seattle. I ended up attending his show this past Wednesday.

Pete Yorn performs "Black" at the Showbox in Seattle. August 19, 2009.For those of you who have never listened to Yorn, do yourself a favour and get your hands on his albums as soon as possible. I will even lend you my copies if you’re too broke or too cheap to spend $15-20/disc, or too lazy to torrent them. Yorn is one of my absolute favourite artists, and I had never seen him perform live before.

I discovered his music early in 2002, not long after his debut album ‘Musicforthemorningafter’ was released. I heard his first single, “Life on a Chain”, on a compilation/mix CD whose origins I have since forgotten. Hearing that inspired me to track down the full album. Upon acquiring it, it quickly became a favourite.

His follow-up album, ‘Day I Forgot’, is solid, with a few stellar tracks – “Crystal Village”, “Long Way Down”, and “All at Once”. He followed a couple of years later in 2006 with ‘Nightcrawler’. I was initially unimpressed, and didn’t listen to it much for the first couple of years after it was released. In general, I listened to Yorn less during this period than I had for the previous few years.

This spring, I got word that he was releasing a follow-up album, titled ‘Back & Fourth’, and listened to the first single, ‘Don’t Wanna Cry’, which was available online. I enjoyed it, and between it and conversing with fellow Yorn fan Andy Grabia, I started to listen to his music again more and more. I even gave ‘Nightcrawler’ another chance, and it grew on me. In particular, “Alive” and “Ice Age” are strong tracks.

Pete Yorn in Seattle. August 19, 2009.

Pete Yorn in Seattle. August 19, 2009.

‘Back & Fourth’ was released in June, and really impressed me. Many of the songs have a rich sound, and it comes closest to recapturing the earnestness and energy that make ‘Musicforthemorningafter’ such a strong record.

Now, having missed him open for Crowded House in Edmonton a couple of years back, there was no way I was going to miss him if I had a chance while in Seattle.

The Show
The concert was held at the Showbox at the Market, a small Seattle club. Amazingly, Wednesday night’s all-ages show I attended wasn’t full, and there were signs that Thursday’s 21+ show was doing worse. Given that the Showbox is a small venue, and ticket prices were reasonable (I paid $22 plus service charges), there is no reason Pete shouldn’t have filled the place at least one of the nights. The crowd at the all-ages show was pretty mixed, especially age-wise. I was initially worried that the grown-ups would go to the Thursday show, and Wednesday night would be a crowd consisting of me and a bunch of 16 year old emo kids. That was far from the case; the bulk of the crowd looked to be in their mid-late 20s; there were even a couple of grey-haired guys standing near the stage. I ended up about 10 feet away, dead centre from the stage. Best spot I’ve had for a show in a long time, maybe ever.

Opening Acts
JD King was the first opener. Along with his band, The Coachmen, he played a traditional rock style, with a heavy country influence. I’m fairly ambivalent about his music. I would describe it as “okay”. It doesn’t really inspire feelings, positive or negative, in me.

Next up was singer/songwriter Zee Avi. Avi, from Malaysia, plays guitar and ukelele, accompanied by a bass player, drummer, and keyboard player. Avi plays an upbeat, pop-folk style, not unlike artists such as Feist or Sarah Harmer. Her music is very catchy; I wouldn’t be shocked to see her pop up in an iPod commercial or Starbucks promotion sometime soon. If you like the aforementioned two artists, make sure you check out her music. She played for about 30 minutes, going through songs off her new album such as “Honeybee” (which she noted is her favourite song), and “Bitter Heart”, the first single from the album, before ending her set with a great ukelele-driven cover of “I Fought the Law”.

Pete Yorn Set

Pete Yorn performs in Seattle.

Pete Yorn performs in Seattle.

Pete came out accompanied by a five-piece band (guitarist, bass player, drummer, keyboards, mandolin/assorted). Pete himself played guitar, along with harmonica on a few songs.

Pete Yorn plays harmonica at his show on August 19, 2009 in Seattle.

Pete Yorn plays harmonica at his show on August 19, 2009 in Seattle.

He opened with “Black” off of ‘Musicforthemorningafter’, my pick for his best song. Following that, he went right into “Shotgun”, off of his latest album. Pete then switched to an acoustic guitar, and introduced “Life on a Chain”. He was very good at interacting with the crowd, providing a context and backstory to many of the songs. Following this number, he played “Paradise Cove”, “Murray”, and “Burrito”, the last one with just himself on acoustic guitar accompanied by piano. The rest of the set was as follows: “The Man”, “Crystal Village”, “For Us”, “Social Development Dance”, “Closet”, “Bizarre Love Triangle” (New Order cover), “Don’t Wanna Cry”, and “Strange Condition”. A short break ensued, then Pete and his band came out for a three-song encore: “Last Summer”, “On Your Side”, and “For Nancy (‘Cos it Already Is)”, a song which, in his own words, has saved his life many times.

If you’ve read this far into the post, you won’t be surprised to read me say that I enjoyed it immensely. This was definitely one of my favourite concerts I’ve been to.

Some things I enjoyed:
– The aforementioned crowd interaction. I always like to learn more about the background of songs
– The ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ cover. I like hearing things at a concert that I can’t on an album.
– The exhaustive merchandise stand. Lots to choose from in terms of T-shirt designs, and he had all his albums available on CD, and at least ‘Back and Fourth’ on vinyl. I picked up a t-shirt which you’ll probably see me wearing around sometime soon.
– He played songs from all of his albums. Some artists tend to predominantly play their most recent stuff, which I feel is an attempt to get you to buy their latest CD. The best strategy, in my opinion, is to play your best stuff. If people enjoy your set, they’ll buy your music and merch.
– Further to that point, here is the count of songs from each album he played: ‘Musicforthemorningafter’ – 7; ‘Day I Forgot’ – 2; ‘Nightcrawler’ – 2; ‘Back & Fourth’ – 5, plus the New Order cover.

Pete Yorn in Seattle

Pete Yorn in Seattle

This show lived up to my expectations, and then some. I’m looking forward to the next time I can catch Pete Yorn in concert. It was worth the trip.