An alternative for Edmonton lottery homes

full house edmonton lottery home
It would be nice to win something like this, but the houses are just way too big for two people.

For years lottery homes have been a common way for certain charitable organizations to raise a large amount of funds.

My wife and I enjoy checking out these lottery homes, seeing the different designs, construction techniques, materials and debating what we like/dislike about a particular home. We often buy tickets on them.

In the past couple of years, as our children are grown, we’ve still checked out these homes, but have realized that they really aren’t suited for us at all. The homes are usually huge, occasionally ostentatious and just not suitable for two people. Our conversations about these homes now typically center around selling the home obviously unsuited to our needs, and what we would actually build.

We’ve talked more and more about getting out of the city into a tiny home; something more manageable, less costly and more suitable to our goals now. Living in a condo is not particularly appealing either.

Having a look at the lottery homes for Edmonton in 2014, we have a choice of five organizations offering them: Full House, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Caritas Foundation, Cash and Cars, and STARS. Don’t get me wrong, all of these organizations have produced great homes that we would love to own, but they’re just not right for us.

My wife commented to an employee setting up displays at one of the Full House lottery homes that instead of building three giant homes, they should instead build a subdivision of tiny homes. Full House’s current offering of three Edmonton lottery homes offers a prize value of $5,064,073 ($1.5 million, $1.98 million, $1.5 million).

I wonder how popular the draw would be if they gave away 33 tiny homes on small lots with each averaging around $150,000? I think the land cost would be the majority of the value! A small home under 500 square feet does not take much time to build and it doesn’t cost that much!

The City of Edmonton seems to be quite interested in increasing the density of building and environmental friendliness, so why not something like this? I am willing to bet that this concept would actually sell pretty well. The houses and lots are small, manageable, less costly, environmentally friendly and there would be 11 times as many winners. Really, with micro-sized lots you should be able to build even more homes than that.

Perhaps one day we’ll see the city promoting this sort of development. Considering the sorts of property development I see in Edmonton now though, I’m not sure developers will be leading the charge either. Perhaps if we win one of these homes we’ll sell it and be the lead investors in a tiny home community!

Housing costs in Canada have become ridiculous (which I won’t delve into), with the average home price in Canada around $389,000. I know, the big cities really skew the average, but even if you put it at just over $300,000, home ownership really is out of reach of many Canadians, especially younger ones, who don’t really seem to be that interested in them anyway.

Housing affordability is a serious issue in Canada today, and tiny home developments might be one way to make housing more affordable (and, heaven forbid, even incorporate many off-grid elements). Will it ever happen? Hard to say. It’s not as if there’s a clamour for this sort of development, although if you look at websites like Tiny House Swoon, Tumbleweed or the Tiny House Blog, you’ll see there’s a growing movement towards simplicity, downsizing, flexibility and lower cost housing.

I’d be curious to know if you’d be interested in living in a tiny home in Edmonton.

Pints & Politics: Debating name changes in Alberta

The other night I went out to Pints and Politics at Brewster’s Pub in Edmonton, a gathering of people interested in talking about politics.

It was pretty good. I had the opportunity to meet a few MLAs (Dave Taylor – Alberta Party, Kent Hehr – Liberal Party, and Jonathan Denis – Conservative Party) and chat with people from those parties as well. I was surprised I didn’t meet anyone from the Wild Rose Party, but I didn’t meet everyone there either.

What I so often discover from casual, in-person discussions about politics is that our differences usually aren’t that far apart.

I prefer these types of discussions to online political discussions. The trolls usually don’t come out to these events, preferring the perceived anonymity they possess behind their computer screens and pseudonyms.

What’s in a name?

I had fun prodding a few of the Alberta Liberals in the room. We got onto the topic of changing the name of the provincial Liberal party, which apparently has little connection to the federal party.

I still find it odd that the Alberta Liberal party is so stuck on keeping the name, when it’s so obvious that it’s the biggest impediment to their political success in this province right now (leaving aside the issues of ineffective leadership).

The provincial Conservatives love to bring up the 1980s National Energy Program, signed by Conservative premier Peter Lougheed. When the NEP is mentioned, there’s a collective knee-jerk around the province, and it’s never good for the Liberals, despite the fact the provincial Liberals probably had absolutely nothing to do with it. The truth has nothing to do with the issue.

The rationale I heard was that the Alberta Liberals are worried their stream of donations would dry up if they were to change their name. I countered that it would likely increase as they tapped new sources of donations.

I have to respect the Alberta Liberals for manning the helm of their swamped ship to the bitter end, but a touch of Machiavellian sensibility wouldn’t hurt. Would a name change mean a complete abandonment of their principles? Absolutely not. Why would it?

I heard something interesting too, that nobody has ever presented a motion at a party convention to change the party name. About time it happened, but it won’t be me doing it. So, what should the name be?

The Prairie Party

I thought this would make sense, because the Alberta Liberals, according to what I heard, are a truly provincial party with few ties federally. It’s the same in B.C., where the B.C. Liberals are really Conservatives and have few real ties to the federal party.

Albertans, and here I’m stereotyping a little, tend to be quite patriotic about their province, and a name like the Prairie Party could be appreciate by many in the province, particularly rural voters. I have never seen a province where its residents feel so strongly about their home.

My thought is that if you’re truly convinced your principles are worth fighting for and should be adopted here, why would something like a name change be so problematic? It is puzzling. In fact, it’s truly odd, considering so many political parties would be willing to force their mothers to work in a Chinese sweat shop if it meant they could get into power.

In some ways you have to respect that kind of conviction, but in other ways, it’s sort of dumb. Apparently Einstein was quoted as saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I also came up with a cute slogan that captures why the name change should happen: change the name and you change the game.

Looking at it practically, a good portion of the voters in the province have grey hair, like it or not. Voter turnout here is pathetically low, but you can count on seniors to get out and do their civic duty. They don’t tend to be swing voters either. They’re loyal and often conservative. They also remember the NEP, rightly or wrongly, so if the Liberals (with that name) expect to form government here, it’s likely not going to be until the baby boomers are dead and gone.

The Saskatchewan Party

I used these guys as a good example for the Alberta Liberals to follow. They formed in 1997 and 10 years later they were in power. There’s so much wrapped up in a name and such a name has broad, subconscious appeal to Saskatchewan residents, obviously.

This is why the Alberta Party has a positive future ahead of it, no matter what their policies, no matter what they do, no matter who the leader is. The party has the right name. It’s all about the brand. That’s not knocking the positive things the Alberta Party is up to, but having the right name gives them a leg up on their competition. Right out of the gate they have an advantage.

There’s been some public bickering about parties merging, but the Alberta Party would be crazy to do it, if it meant adopting the Liberal Party name. If anything, the Liberals should merge with the Alberta Party and adopt their name.

The one thing the Liberals could do to counter the Alberta Party brand is to come up with one which symbolizes Alberta, and that’s the Prairie Party. I’m not going to launch into some poetic description of how the name represents the province, it just does.

The real question is, how long are the Liberals going to sit on the sidelines of Alberta politics as other parties pass them by? My prediction is that the Alberta Party will form the official opposition not after this election, but the election after that (sorry Wild Rose Party). Perhaps when the Alberta Liberals are down to their last member in the Legislature, they’ll consider a name change, but by then it will be too late.

Pondering photography

Lately I’ve been getting back to writing more often and getting out and taking photos, both things I love to do.

Admittedly, it’s partially due to my participation in Empire Avenue, a kind of social media stock investing community/game. The more active you are, the higher your stock value will get.

There’s nothing wrong with having a little motivation. Sometimes we forget about things that are important to us and in recent years I’ve gotten away from writing and photography, at least on a personal basis. I still write professionally, but it’s not always the same. You certainly don’t have quite the same freedom.

I’ve been documenting some major family events recently, such as my uncle’s memorial service in Spokane, my daughter’s graduation in Williams Lake and my son’s grade 9 farewell from a Catholic junior high.

I’ve been putting as many photos as I can up on Flickr. As I say in my profile, my Flickr account isn’t so much a gallery of what I’d consider my best work, but more online storage of photos I have taken. I weed out the truly bad ones.

I know I’ve got lots of good photos in there, but I really don’t take the time to tinker with them in Photoshop as I see many people doing. My Flickr account certainly doesn’t function as a resume of my best work in hopes someone will randomly wander by and offer me a job as a professional photographer. I’m a little ways off from that.

I think my Flickr account is more of a documentary of my life and those around me, for better or worse. I also have been trying to get other family members to connect to my account if they’d like to download any of the full size photos so they can print them themselves. That’s been more of a chore, which is a shame because I think that Flickr functions pretty well as a hub for family and friends to share photos.

Colour accuracy

One of the issues I’ve always had with digital cameras is colour accuracy. It can be so tough to accurately capture the colours you’re seeing. I shot a set yesterday that I wasn’t too happy with, looking at the camera. I was pleasantly surprised when I loaded them onto my computer.

The colours of the flowers in my photos are very close to what I was seeing. That makes me really happy! If you look at my photostream in Flickr, you’ll see a lot of flowers. I’m a bit obsessed by them, but I prefer wildflowers and it’s better when they’re in their natural setting. I do have a few DVDs worth that I still have to upload too.

Sunsets and sunrises are another of my favourite photography subjects. It can be tough to get the colours just right there too. I don’t like to have to Photoshop them to get the colour correct. I prefer it to come out of the camera looking as it should.

I’ve been using my digital camera for four years now and I would say I’m reasonably accomplished, but I still have a lot to learn. I just bought a flash a few weeks back and that’s a whole other area I’ve got to learn.

I would like to try doing portraits with studio lighting eventually. I don’t want to be a pro, but I want to give it a try.

New camera equipment

As for equipment, one of my favourite kinds of photography is macro photography, so some type of macro lens is in my future. I would like a good quality wide-angle zoom, like a Canon 28-70mm f/2.8, but a Canon 24-105mm f/4 is another one I’m considering.

I have a 70-200mm f/4 already, and the 28-70 would be nice to cover the range. I thought a 24-105 might be nice for the overlap.

Eventually I’d like to get a full frame sensor body like a Canon 5D MkII. Then I’d be able to do some video also. Once I’ve done that, I’ll invest in a good wide angle lens.

I don’t plan on doing any of these things any time soon. Still undecided and I’ll invest in more lenses before I buy a new body.

Any suggestions on what lenses might be better or other lenses I hadn’t considered?

Art Gallery of Alberta grand opening – sneak peek

art-gallery-of-alberta-edmontonI was one of a group of lucky Edmonton bloggers to get a sneak peek at the new Art Gallery of Alberta building in downtown Edmonton. The new AGA building is set to officially open on January 31, 2010.

I’ve heard that some people aren’t so fond of the design of the place, from the outside, but I actually don’t mind it. It’s certainly not the style of building I’m used to seeing in Edmonton, not that it’s a bad thing. I think it’ll be something that grows on people as well. You certainly won’t forget it!

Personally, I think it’s a fine addition to Edmonton’s downtown. The new art gallery is adjacent to Churchill Square  and has already attracted a great deal of attention downtown. I’m sure they’ll see a lot of walk-in traffic to the gallery during Edmonton’s many festivals held in Churchill Square.

I would like to thank Gilles Hébert, Executive Director, and Sarah Hoyles, Media Relations and Communications Coordinator, for taking time out to talk to the large group of Edmonton bloggers assembled there. I can imagine that January has been an extremely busy month for them as they work towards their grand opening in less than a week.

Quick facts: AGA Edmonton:

  • Grand opening day: January 31, 2010
  • 85,000 square feet
  • 30,000 square feet of exhibit space
  • Permanent art collection of more than 6,000 pieces
  • Designed by Los Angeles architect Randall Stout
  • AGA was founded in 1924
  • Cost – $88 million

I hadn’t been sure of what to expect of the gallery tour, but I love art so I was curious to have a look at what’s going on. I’m not an art snob either, so I wasn’t too worked up about not seeing the displays or galleries yet. There will be time for that later.

Art Gallery of Alberta – Edmonton – Q&A session from Alain Saffel on Vimeo.

Check out more of my Art Gallery of Alberta photos on Flickr.

I also wasn’t too worried, as apparently a couple in our group were, that our two guides didn’t have every answer during the question and answer period. One question in particular, about whether the theatre could show Super 8 movies, was controversial (not that you’d know if from the video). (The Super 8 exchange starts at 1:45 in my Vimeo video.) Sarah and Gilles weren’t sure and I don’t think that’s a big deal. Ask most younger people today and they’d probably wonder why you were talking about movies from a motel. As any good reporter knows, you can always follow up and get that information.

Yousuf-Karsh-displayOutside of that tempest in a teapot, I enjoyed the tour and the photo opportunities. I was actually quite caught up in taking photos, which I really hadn’t expected this day. With the facility not being complete, I’ll get a fuller look around once the galleries are open to the public. I think the intent of this tour was to get a little word of mouth happening in social media, and I applaud them for that.

Edmonton has been lucky to get some major art exhibitions in the past, and this new, expanded gallery should further assist in that effort.

Upcoming AGA exhibitions

  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Edgar Degas: Figures in Motion
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Franciso Goya: The Disasters of War and Los Caprichos
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Yousuf Karsh: Image Maker
  • Jan 31–May 09, 2010 – The Murder of Crows by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – Building Art: Photographs of the Building of the AGAby Edward Burtynsky
  • Jan 31–May 30, 2010 – BMO World of Creativity: Play on Architecture!

art-gallery-of-alberta-interiorI don’t know what the daily admission will be, but I noticed that an AGA family membership is only $85 and gives your family free admission for a year. Talk about cheap! Worth the investment I think. The individual and student rates are also quite low. The art gallery is also working on corporate sponsorship to be able to offer free days for public visitors.

If you’re a fan of architecture or art, looking for something different to do, or just trying to occupy the kids for an afternoon, the new Art Gallery of Alberta is definitely worth a visit.

Edmonton snow clearing & budget rant

edmonton-snow-clearing-end-of-seasonEdmonton had its first major dump of snow. Winter is upon us! And, of course, many are complaining about the state of the roads. You know what? They have good reason to complain.

Yes, I know, Edmonton is a big city and it’s a big job. Tell me something I didn’t know. What I do know is that I grew up in a place that got a hell of a lot more snow than Edmonton and it was dealt with just fine. Obviously when you get hit with a big dump of snow, the roads will suck for a while.

How the City of Prince George, B.C. deals with the roads now, I don’t know, but I know they actually did a pretty good job when I was growing up. They’d have graders and loaders out clearing main roads and residential streets and make pretty quick work of them. The graders even had drop gates to clear the front of your driveway so you didn’t have a three foot tall mountain of ice to clear.

Before I moved to Edmonton I had been here in the winter before, including during April 2005 when it snowed about a foot in one day. What a gong show! It seems better now, but marginally.

Now we have a house here and pay taxes here. So, we have a right to complain. Period. If the city isn’t doing a good job of spending the tax dollars of Edmonton residents and is proposing to raise taxes by eight to 10 per cent, we have a right to complain. Period. It would also help if we suggested ways of improving how they go about spending our money.

In that vein, I will throw a few suggestions out there and make a few observations.

In this sprawling city (whose fault is that?) there are a lot of streets to clear and the major routes should be the priority. I do find it puzzling that when I was sitting in a restaurant at 137 Ave and 97 St. on Friday night I saw nine snow plows in a row heading north on 97 Ave. Spread out a bit guys.

I was out driving the next day on 137 Ave and it was a mess, and that was down towards 66 St. They can’t even cut the snow back to the curb. I would think three plows should be able to clear the entire two lanes to the curb. Done.

And get the windrows as close to the curb as possible. I know it can be tough. God knows driving in Edmonton can be brutal when you’ve got people chit-chatting on the old cell phone, even in snow. I saw that yesterday too. Seriously.

I do wonder about how efficiently those resources are allocated out on the streets when this kind of dump of snow happens. I understand they won’t get to my street for a while, if ever, but at least do the major routes properly! They really aren’t.

I was also puzzled last year when I watched out my window after a snowfall, as at least three or four graders cleared snow on my street one day. I swear they must have made three or four passes each, and it’s a two lane street.

WTF? I’ve never driven a grader, but I’m convinced I could clear my damn street in fewer passes. I might even move a few neighbours’ cars off the street in the process. (Snow route anyone?)

End of season snow clearing

I have talked about the city’s end of season snow clearing a few times, perhaps even ranted. I’m prone to that, but I’m justified. (Usually)

Why, particularly on a residential street, do I need the snow cleared from the side of the roads at the end of the season? I took a bunch of pictures of the City of Edmonton snow clearing efforts in the early spring of 2009. There were:

  • Three graders
  • One large snow blower
  • One flag person
  • Someone in a City of Edmonton pickup following the snow blower
  • A fleet of semi-trailer trucks hauling away the snow

I understand the city likes to recycle the gravel it spreads on the roads. Recycling is a shrewd and lofty goal. Sand and gravel are expensive, and recycling it makes sense. Here’s an idea though: let the snow melt. Novel, I know, but you’re going to send the street sweepers around anyway.

One sweeper with a couple of trucks (smaller and cheaper ones, I might add) to haul the gravel away is far more efficient than a whole fleet of people hauling away snow that will melt.

I would love to see the accounting analysis on this. Considering all the machines processing and hauling away that snow, I just can’t see them hauling enough loads of gravel per hour to make the activity pay.

How much does the city pay per load of sand? What’s the total cost per hour to do this snow clearing to recover the sand?

So, why not let it melt and let the sweepers pick it up? Yes, there will be more loads of sand, but it will be concentrated. You’ll need fewer, smaller trucks and they’ll only be hauling sand, not larger, more expensive trucks hauling a fraction of the amount of sand. That should save some money in the budget.

Street sweeping obsession

I have also noticed that Edmonton seems to have a bit of a street sweeping obsession. It’s not a bad thing that we like clean streets here, but I think there are limits. I swear I saw a sweeper on my street at least three times this summer, well after the spring sand and gravel had been picked up and well before my street had been repaved.

I would watch as they drove by, sweeping up virtually nothing! I was a little puzzled at that. Why not only sweep areas that actually need it? Don’t just sweep for the sake of sweeping. More money saved in the city budget.

Police directing traffic

edmonton-city-police-directing-traffic-epsAs if the preceding cases weren’t insane enough, I have repeatedly seen Edmonton city police out directing traffic. At first, I thought there was an accident. Drug bust? Murder? Umm, parade? Nope.

Construction! Yes, our police, who apparently cost around $100,000 per officer, are out directing traffic through construction areas. Are you kidding me? I don’t care if they’re part of traffic services. They should be out stopping the speeders, red light runners, drunk drivers, texting drivers and others who make this city such a danger to drive in.

Instead the City of Edmonton installs green light cameras, like that’s going to solve the problem. It’s certainly going to chip away at the $20 million extra the Edmonton Police Service was hoping to get this year.

Why do they need $20 million more this year? I guess the City of Edmonton is going to be doing a hell of a lot more construction next year!

Why not get the EPS out stopping drivers causing problems and not directing traffic? Are we to believe there are no flagging companies who would like to bid on a city contract to control traffic in Edmonton construction zones? Are there not enough unemployed people in this city to fill the inevitable positions that would come out of this?

I know flag people don’t each cost $100,000 per year. More money saved in the budget and hopefully some dangerous drivers off the road.

Citizen auditor: Alain Saffel volunteers

Maybe our city needs to start ripping apart a few departments at a time and make sure they’re doing things properly. I have cited only a few examples here that just don’t make sense. Maybe an outsider perspective is needed? I’d be happy to help out. I’ll be a citizen auditor. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the city who would also like that opportunity.

For those who are telling people to leave the city if they can’t handle a bit of winter, you’re missing the point. It’s about efficient allocation of resources, and there are legitimate questions about how the City of Edmonton allocates its resources. I would prefer that the City does not waste a single tax dollar, especially when they want to raise taxes again. Every citizen in this city has the right to hold our city councillors and the accompanying bureaucracy accountable for its actions.

I’m sure we can find plenty of money to save in these tough times, with a sharp pencil, creativity and a critical eye. Can I just ask for one teensie weensie little favour please?  Could we spend some of those savings on taking care of the sewer smell that seems to be so pervasive in this city?

Should Edmonton close the Edmonton City Centre Airport?

edmonton-city-centre-airportShould Edmonton city council close the Edmonton City Centre Airport? This is the questions facing council today, after much debate.

I’ve only been in Edmonton since early 2008 and I’ve sat on the sidelines of this debate listening to both sides. I really haven’t had an opinion on it until recently because I wanted to get both sides before deciding.

I’ve listened to the each case and I believe that Edmonton city council should make the decision to close Edmonton City Centre Airport (ECCA).

I understand the argument for having scheduled service available right inside the city limits, but it seems that was decided in the 90s to consolidate scheduled passenger service at Edmonton International Airport (YEG). Makes sense because there’s absolutely no room to grow at ECCA, nor would it make sense to split scheduled passenger service between Edmonton’s airports. Making connections to different airlines would be a nightmare.

Mack Male has been blogging about the issue quite a lot lately and started the website NotMyAirport.ca. Check out this video with him debating about closing ECCA.

So, who does the ECCA serve now? It seems that it’s private pilots, charters, medevac flights and flight schools. Of course there are a number of businesses related to the operation of ECCA that rely on it, including a number of hotels.

It’s never easy to make a big decision to close this type of facility and not one to take lightly. While I am in favour of closing the airport, despite the negative impacts it may have on the businesses related to it, I believe that it will be a positive thing for Edmonton in the long term.

Benefits to closing ECCA

  • NAIT will have room to expand
  • Taller buildings in downtown Edmonton – Edmonton’s had height restrictions on its buildings due to safety issues related to the airport. Taller buildings around Edmonton will allow for greater density of development. The benefit? Perhaps this will alleviate some of the sprawl Edmonton is notorious for.
  • Development – imagine the amount of economic activity that would be generated by developing an area larger than Edmonton’s downtown. Alberta’s still got one of the strongest economies in North America and it would have one of the hottest development areas in the world too. Vancouver experienced a huge boom in development with the Expo lands redevelopment. There will also be economic activity created by the businesses moving from their locations at the ECCA.
  • Certainty – by finally putting the issue to rest, the city can focus on what is going to happen with the ECCA land. While it will cause consternation among users of the airport and those who rely on it economically, it will also (I think) excite the rest of the city about the possibilities the land could be used for.

Caveats

edmonton-mapWhile I am in favour of ECCA’s closure, I wonder if the current Edmonton city council is the right council to lead the charge to redevelop the Edmonton City Centre Airport lands.

Redeveloping Edmonton’s City Centre Airport lands would be a huge job and I would hope that council would get a lot of community input on it. I would also hope that they would take the windfall from selling off and developing those lands and maybe do something like, oh, I don’t know, build an LRT extension to the airport?

Looking at a map, the area of the ECCA is larger than Edmonton’s downtown. This is a rare opportunity to create something great, so we need to make sure it’s done right. That opportunity we’ll never see again.

We need people on council with vision. Do we have that now? I can’t comment with any authority there. What do you think? I look at the state of Edmonton now and wonder, who do we blame for the absolutely stupid sprawl, ridiculously limited LRT, etc?

I hope council makes the right decision and closes the airport completely. The spineless route would be the phased route. I understand the rationale is to give businesses time to adjust and relocate, but if the lands are going to be redeveloped, then just do it.

Edmonton moves forward by closing ECCA

There is some speculation that the decision won’t be made today, and I think that’s fair. It’s a big decision and better that it be an informed one than not. Ultimately though, the decision needs to be made to close the airport entirely, not in phases. Edmonton needs to move ahead.

(Related post: Summer 2010 – With the city moving ahead with its decision to close ECCA – Edmonton Centre Airport & Envision Edmonton calling for a plebiscite, there’s a debate on again about what should happen to ECCA.)