This post is part of The Edmonton Do Gooder Project, a series of profiles on Edmonton folks doing good in creative ways.
1. What is the good result you are hoping to create?
I want Edmonton to be the kind of city I want to live in, and I want to leave it better than I found it. People often think of Edmonton first as a great place to live, then as a great place to visit. I want it to be both.
For me, this means higher density, and great public transit. Vehicle-oriented design impacts our interactions; the way we live. With public transit, people explore in different ways; have a different perspective. It also impacts taxes. The less dense the city is, the more tax money is needed.
2. What is your approach for making this happen?
I have some initiatives of my own (like my blog), I volunteer with a number of groups around town, and participate in some one-off stuff, like organizing one-time and informal events.
Share Edmonton is something I created because I believe that a web platform is an important infrastructure piece for a modern city. It’s intended to bring together things that may useful to Edmontonians, like notices of public consultations, garbage pickup details, etc., all in one place.
I sit on the 104th Street Committee, the Downtown Vibrancy Task force, the EPCOR Community Essentials Council Board, and others.
I look for opportunities for involvement where I have the chance to learn something in the process. I try not to get involved unless there’s something tangible for me to take on – like build a website, or plan an event. It’s very important for me to feel like I’m doing something. If it feels like I’m just sitting on a board to be able to say I am, or so someone else can say I was there, I’ll withdraw. This is an approach developed through trial and error, learning as I go.
3. What makes this issue/area the best fit for you personally?
I was born in Edmonton, and I’ve lived here most of my life. I feel a natural pull to this city. The size of it is such that we have a lot of big city advantages, but it’s still small enough to feel approachable. I feel like it’s ingrained in our culture here to be really well-connected. We basically invented community leagues. The degrees of separation between any two people is smaller than it could be; that gives us a lot of opportunity.
My writing skills come from practice over a long period of time, and they allow me to articulate things effectively, which is very helpful. I’m also able to introduce myself to anyone without fear. I find that speaking and writing like you know what you’re talking about – having that confidence and backing it up by knowing your stuff – makes a big difference.
In terms of the tech skills that help me do the stuff I do, I studied Math Science at the University of Alberta, which consisted mostly of computer science. Most of the knowledge I use today, though, I learned by doing. I’ve been tinkering with computers since my family got our first one, which was very early. I’m lucky that my parents were early adopters, and that I seem to have a natural aptitude. I’ve always had that curiosity, and the willingness to tinker.
I don’t believe it’s about being an expert in anything – it’s about try, try again. Something that helps me get things done is, I think, a combination of skill, statistics knowledge, and enough passion to make the time.
It helps, too, that I’m a white male, and that I have a unique name. It may be unfortunate, but those things are advantages.
4. How will you know if you’re making progress?
Some of the things I’m involved with have metrics involved, like the volunteer work with the Learning Centre, where we can measure literacy rates.
In other cases, the measure of success is whether the activity gets to the point where it can continue without my personal involvement. You could say that I’m interested in bringing about my own obsolescence, always having an exit plan somewhere along the line.
Overall, though, I think impact is a hard thing to measure.
5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?
There are some direct examples of changes that have happened that can be linked to my writing, like the cancellation (for now) of the controversial City Market meeting that I blogged about. I feel like I had some impact on the debate about the municipal airport lands.
What the Truck is an accomplishment – we now have an audience, we get good attendance, the trucks sell out, there’s a good amount of media coverage. We’re seeing some progress on policy around food trucks, too. City administration is now looking at guidelines and policies that could help make them more sustainable.
Something I’d like to do better with is Open Data. It’s about making the info that the City collects available to anyone who could use it. We got it started. Now, we have a catalogue, but it’s not really growing as much as I had hoped. The initial effort was great, but the follow through has been less so. Open Data is not built into the City’s operational processes, so it’s an extra step for people to contribute to it. It’s been hard to get buy-in, and I haven’t figured out yet how to get over that operational hurdle. It’s not a failure, but it’s not what I envisioned. There’s still a lot of potential there.
There’s still a lot of stuff I want to write about, but it can be time consuming in terms of research. For example – I’d like to write more about Edmonton’s brand and image. I’ve got a bit of a backlog there, but I want to make sure the quality is there.
I would really like to do something more with Share Edmonton. The next level would be to have it become the digital platform we need. I’d like it to be the go-to site for the latest in Edmonton issues, events, etc. There’s lots of opportunity there.
Great interview Nadine! Really appreciate the impact of the people you feature.