2012 in Review (and 2013 in Preview): A List of My Favourite Things

With 2012 coming to an end, it’s a good time to reflect. While I usually spend time over the holidays planning for the new year, I also like to think about some of the things I’ve enjoyed and valued. Last year, I posted a list of some of my favourite things and some things I’m looking forward to, and I want to continue and do that again for 2012/13.

Cities

Petco Park and the East Village in San Diego.

Petco Park and the East Village in San Diego.

San Diego – I visited for the first time, and ended up making two trips. one for the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in February, and again as part of a Southern California baseball trip, where I also ran the San Diego Rock and Roll Half Marathon. I enjoyed the distinctiveness of the different neighbourhoods, the natural landscape, and many of the attractions (Petco Park is great, and the artists’ village at Balboa Park has great work for sale).
Philadelphia – I think this city gets overlooked due to its proximity to NYC and Washington, both prominent and attractions in their own way. I’ve visited family there three years in a row, getting to see and appreciate many places. The Art Museum is top notch, as are many of the historical sites. There’s an excellent food scene too beyond the cheesesteak.
Montreal – This has been my favourite city for most of my life. I used to visit pretty much every year as a kid, and spending time exploring the old city was one of the major influences in forming my interest in urbanism. I went back for the first time in 6 years this November, and was happy to see it was vibrant and enjoyable as ever. I need to go back again, soon and often.

For 2013 – Few firm plans yet, but will be back in Portland in March, and I hope to return to Chicago and actually be in form to run the Marathon this year. Also looking to continue my trend of netting one new city and one new major league ballpark by visiting the Bay Area.

Politics/Ideas/Issues
Canada – I’ve started to think more about my concept of the country, and what I value about it. Much of this, admittedly, has been prompted by a decline in many of the things I value. Bilingualism and the role of French (Canadians) in institutions feels less central than in the past (and some institutions – such as the Parti Quebecois), are contributing to a polarization, environmental regulations are being rolled back, and it feels like there is a growing disconnect between regions. We have a pretty amazing country, and it would be tragic to lose some of the things – bilingualism/multiculturalism, pristine nature, and a common sense of purpose – that make Canada great.

Ending Homelessness – a worthwhile goal that I’m privileged to be a part of, and one that hopefully won’t be lost as more governments and institutions turn towards austerity.

Tactical Urbanism – I love this concept for small-scale actions (as opposed to mega-projects) that can make a city better.

For 2013 – hoping that #IdleNoMore leads to meaningful action that improves the lives of Indigenous Canadians; hoping to see more cities (including my own!) avoid the lure of mega projects and invest in small-scale projects that make a big difference. More meaningful action from government, civic institutions, and citizens to ameliorate poverty and inequality. Doing my best to contribute to all of the above.

Sports

Nationals Park on a sunny July evening.

Nationals Park on a sunny July evening.

#Natitude – I’ve had something of an affinity for the Nats, being an Expos fan as a kid, and really bought into them at the start of the year by adding a few of their players to my fantasy team. They were a ton of fun to watch, especially Bryce Harper once he got called up, and exceeded almost everyone’s (including my) expectations. The Game 5 NLDS loss to St. Louis was an all-time heartbreaker, but they should be a World Series contender for the next few years at least.
Vin Scully – the best announcer in the game. Any game. I ended up watching a lot of Dodgers on MLB.TV, and listening to him call a ballgame is the main reason why.
The Pistol Offense – I’ve enjoyed the NFL less and less in recent years, finding the product less enjoyable to watch than the college game (often, the players are almost too technically good, resulting in a boring product). The emergence of spread offenses, and the pistol formation, has made the game much more enjoyable to watch again. I highly recommend reading this longform piece on the pistol offense’s evolution and move to the pro game.

For 2013 – Natitude, redux; the launch of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Music/Pop Culture/Entertainment Recommendations

Bruce Springsteen performing at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Bruce Springsteen performing at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Bruce Springsteen (Music) – The Boss has been one of my favourite artists since I was a teenager. This year, not only did he release Wrecking Ball, a terrific, important album (how many artists do this 40 years into their career?), but I finally got to see him in concert with the E Street Band. My dad and I caught his Toronto show in August, where he kept 40,000 fans on their feet through an electric 3h40m set. As for other music, I also liked the Japandroids and Alabama Shakes albums. CBC Music’s online player is fantastic, and my usual soundtrack at the office.
Veep (TV) – Most of the TV I watched was HBO shows through Air Canada’s On-Board TV. I got through all 8 episodes of Veep, which is a fun political comedy. I’m also through 7 episodes of The Newsroom. I enjoy it for the first part, but feel like there’s something missing. This might be high expectations around any Aaron Sorking show, though. Episode 7, about Bin Laden’s killing, is oustanding.
Sports Documentaries (TV) – I’ve really enjoyed the episodes of TSN’s Engraved on a Nation that I’ve been able to watch. Playing a Dangerous Game and Western Swagger capture the geo-political relationship between sports and society at large. Ghosts of Ole Miss is the only of the new 30 for 30 episodes I’ve seen, but it’s up there with the best of them.

Movies – I don’t watch many, but Lincoln and The Dark Knight Rises are both excellent.

Good Books I Read – Two biographies of Robert Baldwin: John Ralston Saul’s book on LaFontaine and Baldwin, and Michael Cross’ The Morning-Star of Memory. Laura Vanderkam‘s 168 Hours and What Successful People Do Before Breakfast are both good works on how to more effectively use your time. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is the best fiction book (non-Chabon division) I’ve read in years. Someplace Like America is a must read on the growing problem of poverty and the decline of the working class.

For 2013 – Catching up on the current seasons of 30 Rock and Parks and Rec (TV). Reading Richard Gwyn’s 2-part bio on Sir John A. Macdonald, Tim Cook’s books on Canada in World War I, Ken Greenberg’s Walking Home – and many other books on my overflowing shelves.

Websites
Cartoon Machine – Mike Winters is getting well-earned recognition for his Wonderdick comics, a brilliant satire of overly self-serious urbanists, but every one of his strips is worth a look.
Grantland – Bill Barnwell, Katie Baker, Jonah Keri, and Rany Jazayerli are all amongst my favourite writers on any sports site.
Quartz – The Atlantic’s new business website has excellent coverage, and a different perspective from many outlets. For that matter, the Atlantic main site and Atlantic Cities (which I plugged last year) should be regular visits too.
Next City – I’ve been a reader of Next American City for many years, and in 2012 they undertook many changes. It began by discontinuing the print magazine in favour of weekly long-form writing on the web, and ended by launching the new brand – and name – of Next City.

For 2013 – writing more blog posts of my own.

Lifestyle/Other
Foot Traffic – This Portland-based retailer organizes the Holiday Half Marathon and the Flat Marathon/Half Marathon (4th of July race). I ran the Holiday Half for the second consecutive year, and had a blast once again. They know how to throw a good race (and party), and the downtown location at least has a solid selection of running gear. I rarely leave empty-handed.
Simons – I’ve long been a fan, visiting regularly since I was a kid whenever I’ve been in Quebec. They launched their first location outside the province in West Edmonton Mall, which is excellent, excellent news.
Vegetarian Food – I’ve cut down my meat intake substantially over the past year or two. This isn’t a principled or ethical decision. Rather, I’ve found that I feel much better physically when I do so. I cook at home a lot (being celiac encourages this), and have come to embrace a vegetarian-heavy diet while doing so. Meat is still delicious, but for me best enjoyed in small doses.

For 2013 – getting into cross-country skiing, Foot Traffic’s new Easter race and other runs, using my many cookbooks that are presently collecting dust on my bookshelf.

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2011 and 2012 in Review and Preview: A List of My Favourite Things

The new year started two days ago, but for many people (myself included), today is the first day back at work in 2012, so it feels like the official beginning of the new year.

I like to make lists. They are more often than not incredibly ambitious, meaning my ability to make lists far exceeds my ability to complete all the tasks on them in a timely manner. On my to-do list (resolutions, if you will) for 2012 is to write more frequently, and regularly. Ideally 2-3 times per week, but given my pace over the past two years, once a week would be making huge strides. I also had an ambitious to-do list over the holidays, which included writing a long, narrative, year in review. That never got completed, my time instead going towards more pressing, if mundane tasks such as cleaning my home, along with more enjoyable things like spending time with family and friends, and lazy mornings lying on my couch, drinking copious amounts of coffee while watching English Premier League soccer.

Anyway, I want to post some retrospective, so inspired by Andy’s post, here are a few of my favourite things from 2011. I’m not going to do a ranked list, nor am I going to limit them to things that occurred in the past 12 months. I’m also going to list things I’m looking forward to in 2012.

Finally, there’s a crowdsourcing element. Based on this list, I’m hoping readers can recommend things they think I – or anyone interested in what’s on this list – would also enjoy.

Without further ado, the best of 2011-12.

Cities
Favourite cities I visited:
Boston, MA – one of my favourite cities, if not my favourite, since the first time I visited. I could spend days lounging on Boylston and Newbury Street and be perfectly happy. I also stayed in the redeveloping South Waterfront district for the first time. I was holed up at the Westin and Convention Centre for most of it, but enjoyed the little bit I saw.

Lyon, France – admittedly, I’m consciously being somewhat of a contrarian putting this on the list instead of Paris. I loved both. But I found Paris’ major attractions to be overrated (except Musee d’Orsay). I love walking around both cities, admiring the architecture, streetscapes, and enjoying quiet afternoons at cafes and brasseries. But in Lyon you can do that with fewer hordes of tourists and less aggressive servers.

Chicago, IL – visited twice, first time since I was a kid. Will definitely go back at least once this year. The architecture is amazing (I cannot recommend the Chicago Architecture Foundation boat tour enough), Wrigley Field is a gem, and the Lakefront Trail is one of my favourite places to run. Also, Millennium Park. Everything about it is amazing. And the Loop has a more than sufficient concentration of Dunkin’ Donuts to keep me happy.

Looking west from the Wabash Avenue bridge

Portland, OR – third straight year I visited, and cannot say enough good things. In the 55 or so hours I spent there, squeezed in a lengthy visit at the Market, went to an art show/auction, ran a half marathon, had a few amazing meals, caught a free concert, and also managed to more than catch up on sleep too.

Favorite website about cities:
The Atlantic Cities – launched in September, the site has a great roster of writers, and interesting content every day.

Upcoming in 2012 – I’m interested in focusing more on urban economic development. I’ve always been more interested in the planning side, but got connected to this through the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City’s Urban 2.0 conference in October.

Ideas (and News/Current Events)
Occupy Wall Street – Which I wrote about here.
Ending Homelessness – there are some amazing initiatives happening locally and abroad towards this end, and I feel privileged to contribute towards it through my day job.
The Canadian General Election – the quiet Conservative march to a majority, the Jack Layton-driven surge that boosted the NDP (followed by his tragic death mere months later), and the collapse of the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois made for probably the most fascinating federal election since at least 1993.

Upcoming in 2012: The Alberta General Election. Politics in my home province might just get interested. Or not. But I’m curious to see what happens this spring. Learning more about poverty (and how to end it).

Sports
The Last Day of the MLB Regular Season and Entire Playoffs – The last day of the season was devastating as a Red Sox fan, but everything that night and aftewards was thrilling as a fan. Chris Carpenter’s Game 5 CG SO win over Philly in the NLDS, and the epic comeback in Game 6 of the World Series stand out.

Women’s Soccer – I seriously enjoyed the Women’s World Cup this summer. It offered a high quality level of play, without any of the defensive grind or diving that often sully the men’s international game. The top american league, Women’s Professional Soccer, offers a pretty good concentration of talent on 6 teams (now 5) as well. The Western New York Flash throwing out a front line of Marta, Christine Sinclair, and Alex Morgan is the women’s soccer equivalent of the concentration of “galacticos” that you find on Real Madrid, AC Milan, or Barcelona. Speaking of…

FC Barcelona – one of the most enjoyable squads I’ve ever watched in any sport. The sheer talent, and precision skill and passing is just an absolute joy to watch every time they’re on the pitch.

Fantasy Baseball – I finally won my league (in the 6th season), claiming not only the regular season crown, but also the scoring title (only done twice) as well as surviving the randomness of the playoff round to win that as well (first one to win all three). I have decided to enjoy this moment and become insufferable, declaring myself the first “Triple Crown Champion”, much to the annoyance of the rest of my league, I’m sure. Of course, karma is already rearing its ugly head, as I’ve lost Ryan Braun for a 1/3 of next season to suspension. But who cares? Flags (or in this case, league champion bobbleheads) fly forever.

For 2012: Euro 2012, Yu Darvish in MLB (I hope), a Red Sox club that doesn’t implode (I really hope)

Music
The Head and the Heart – if I had to pick a favourite album of the year, this would be it. Beautiful, melodic songs that will never get old.
My Morning Jacket – loved the new album, and caught them in concert at the Roosevelt Auditorium in Chicago.
Jazz – I’ve really started getting into the genre, anything from Miles Davis or Steve Coleman, to contemporary artists like Avishai Cohen.
Wilco – always. But the new album is enjoyable too.
Brian Fallon – The lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem also delivered an album with his side project, Horrible Crowes. A nice deviation from Gaslight’s sound.

For 2012 – Finally checking out the new Roots and Black Keys albums. Jessica Lea Mayfield, who I just discovered through Austin City Limits. Further exploring the jazz genre.

Television
Parks and Rec – this is literally the best show on television.
How I Met Your Mother – after a shaky couple of years, this season has delivered in spades so far.
Austin City Limits – The Decemberists/Gillian Welch and Americana Music Festival episodes in particular were great.
The Wire – started in 2010, finished this year. Just an incredible 60 hours or so of television. I don’t know what else to say about it.

For 2012 – 30 Rock, which returns next week. This Old House, I have the entire Bedford season to catch up on. The remaining new episodes of Austin City Limits look great.

Movies
Moneyball – I don’t watch many movies, but I greatly enjoyed this one. Different enough from the book that I didn’t have to compare apples to apples, but well written and executed as a story.

For 2012 – The Dark Knight Rises, On the Road, The Great Gatsby

Books
Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough – great narrative about the effort to overcome the challenges created by poverty and give kids in Harlem a shot at a better future.
The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri – how the small-market Tampa Bay Rays are able to compete with (and beat) the big money Yankees and Red Sox.
The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith – interesting look at good uses of social media.
For 2012 – The Art of Fielding, which I started on New Year’s Day. So far, it’s fantastic. Re-reading On the Road and The Great Gatsby in anticipation of the movie versions being released. Michael Chabon’s new book Telegraph Avenue.

Magazines/Websites
The Atlantic – a long-time favourite, it delivered some great long-form essays in the magazine, and regular interesting content on the website.
Chamber of Comics – Mike Winters’ comics are brilliant. That is all.

For 2012 – suggestions welcome.

Other Things
The Holiday Half and 5K – fun race, complete with Christmas carrollers along the course, excellent swag, and ample post-race food and drinks. I would have enjoyed this more had I not been running with an injury (which forced me to jog the last 5 miles), but that’s not any fault of the race. Will definitely do this again in 2012.
(Farmers’) Markets – I go to the 104th Street Market in Edmonton every Saturday I’m here. Greatly enjoyed the Portland Saturday Market a few weeks ago as well.
Libraries – I probably get more ROI on my $12 Edmonton Public Library membership than I do on anything else all year.
Torres Wine – discovered them this year, fantastic reds (especially the blends) and whites at affordable prices.
Restaurants – brunch at Cafe Nell in Portland, the Rib Crib in Philadelphia, pretty much everywhere I ate in France.
Airlines – Thoroughly enjoyed flying United several times, as well as Horizon/Alaska Air on my Portland trip in December.

For 2012 – Chicago Marathon (and other races TBD), Oregon and Washington wineries. Finally eating at The Girl and the Goat in Chicago.