Chris Hedges in Edmonton

One could be forgiven for listening to Chris Hedges in Edmonton last night and coming away with an ill feeling for the future of the world; even worse is that it’s not about to get better any time soon.

If you’re not familiar with Chris Hedges, he’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writer, living in the US. He’s been a foreign correspondent for a number of major media organizations, including the New York Times. He’s also an activist and major pain in the ass to corrupt, power hungry politicians and businesspeople, particularly through his association with the Occupy movement.

But the purpose of this is not to write his bio. You can find all that online. Hedges has great experience as a reporter and he’s seen corruption and war around the world.

I hadn’t been familiar with Hedges until I became aware of him as a result of the Occupy movement. I haven’t read his books and I’m not sure if I’ve ever read any of the articles he’d written as a reporter.

chris-hedges-edmontonWhat I have done is to watch a variety of interviews with him. I have been impressed both by what he has to say and also how he says it. He certainly seems to be unflappable, and he’s remarkably consistent in his interviews. I wouldn’t say I agree with everything he says, but I’ve found it interesting how we’ve got fairly similar views on what is happening with government and business around the world. I will say that he has certainly done a lot more research than I have though!

In his speech in Edmonton he covers a variety of items such as Barack Obama and the erosion of civil rights, his lawsuit against Obama and the NDAA and he also does a reading from his latest book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. He covers a lot of ground in the video I took of his speech, and it is worth watching the entire video.

While I was quite impressed with his speech, I was less impressed by the questions afterwards. It seemed that there were people there who thought it was time to do a public service announcement or to expound on their point of view. No, it’s time to ask a question. I get that sometimes questions need a bit of context, but I wish people would get to the point.

Nobody cares about your point of view, whether we might agree with it or not. People were there to listen to the speaker and get his point of view. They didn’t impress anyone and many in the audience were upset with the speakers, as you may hear on the video. Unfortunately those audience statements were little better than the inane comments you find so often on YouTube.

I’m not going to blame the organizers for the disrupted Q & A. If I were to host an event such as this I might consider calling on the audience before the event started to submit questions, and then choose the intelligent ones. Or, if I were the one holding the mike I would tell them to get to the point or take the mike away.

I’d like to hear your thoughts about the video.

(I posted photos of Chris Hedges in Edmonton on Flickr.)

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 Transit Camp #yegtransit

transitcampedmontonOn Saturday I attended Edmonton Transit Camp at the World Trade Centre.

It was a half-day event where attendees could find out all about what the plans are for the Edmonton transit system and contribute their views on what should happen with the Edmonton transit system.

There were about 50 to 60 people attending the event and I thought it was worthwhile attending. It was interesting to be able to share ideas on the future of Edmonton’s transit system. We even had a few visitors come up from Calgary to join the discussion.

What will Edmonton LRT look like in the future?

...forecasting for a 100 year transit plan that fuel prices will double to $1.66 per litre

There have been a few stories in the news about what Edmonton’s LRT system will look like so we have a basic idea of what’s being proposed. There are also a few online resources.

What worried me early on in Transit Camp was a presentation from an Edmonton Transit official. I’ve forgotten her name but I thought her presentation was interesting.

So, here are my thoughts in general on Edmonton Transit Camp as well as the Edmonton transit and LRT system in general and what I would like to see in it. So it’s a combination critique and wish list.

I was worried because of the underlying assumptions ETS has used to decide on how Edmonton LRT will expand. At the end of her presentation we had a chance to quiz her on a few things. She had talked about one of the assumptions being that world oil prices would double. Hmm. Ok. Double from what price?

A little more probing and we discover that the assumption is actually from 2006 and it’s based on a doubling of the then gas price of 83 cents per litre. So, they’re forecasting for a 100 year transit plan that fuel prices will double to $1.66 per litre! Granted, I have not seen the plan, so I don’t know how that works into the plan or if they’ve assumed that we’ll be floating around Edmonton like the Jetsons at some point.

$1.66 per litre. Really? We nearly reached that last summer and I’m not sure when this 100 year plan is supposed to start. $1.66 a litre doesn’t seem too pessimistic to me! In fact, if gas is going to top out at $1.66 a litre for the next 100 years, why would anyone even use transit, aside from the population of the area being projected to grow to 3 million over that time (and the requisite parking problems).

I don’t know if the consultants on this project or the people at Edmonton city hall have taken peak oil into account on this. It is a reality. It’s going to make travelling by automobile a very difficult, if not impossible thing at some point in the future. Will Edmonton’s transit and LRT system be prepared for the huge influx of transit users? I’m worried it won’t be.

Star shaped LRT system, or grid?

Checked out Edmonton Transit’s showcase platinum bus

Another issue I had with the Edmonton transit plan was the star shaped LRT network. The way they’re planning the LRT routes is to have all the LRT routes funnel through downtown. So, if you were wanting to take LRT from St. Albert to West Edmonton Mall, there wouldn’t be a route other than going all the way downtown, and then west to WEM.

Doesn’t seem to make much sense. Oh, and that’s assuming there will be LRT from St. Albert anyway. Outlying communities will have to get on the LRT at some sort of interchange between municipalities.

I believe that a loose grid network with branches out to communities outside Edmonton makes the most sense. I know the cost issue is a sensitive one, but a way should be found to connect the transit systems of all Edmonton area communities.

A loose grid system would allow travel throughout Edmonton without necessarily having to travel through downtown Edmonton. It’s one thing to project where transit demand will come from, but I know that when transit stations are built in an area, those areas grow. It’s an “if you build it, they will come” approach. Transit oriented design, I believe they call it.

Are there areas which would support growth away from downtown Edmonton? I think the current municipal airport is one. Not knowing the Edmonton region as intimately as some, I’m sure there are many others.

A loose grid works well in other locations and the value is where those lines cross, allowing transit users to access many areas quickly and easily via LRT. Toronto and Montreal have excellent systems with many cross-links. I know the bus and subway system in Montreal is very well integrated and it just makes sense to use it. I have, and I know from experience you can go virtually everywhere in the city quite easily.

Having lived in Vancouver, I have used Skytrain a fair bit. It was always a pain because it was one line. That’s it. It would have been far more valuable with good cross-linking transit lines. That’s the direction they’re finally going.

A star-shaped LRT system in Edmonton funnels everything through the bottleneck of downtown. And with the low step street level LRT they’re proposing (similar to Calgary), it’s going to be slow going, meaning inconvenient.

Time & budget considerations

Scooters & motorcycles should have free parking in Edmonton. More of these on the road would be good.

Edmonton is a big, thinly populated city, right now. They’re projecting a tripling of the population over the next 100 years though, so it’s going to fill in, increasing population density.

With transit now, it takes forever to travel across the city via transit, and I’m worried that won’t change with the proposed expansion of the LRT. I live in Northeast Edmonton, and am lucky enough to be within a single 10 minute bus ride of the LRT line. Still, if I want to travel south, perhaps to Ikea, I’m looking at anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours one way on transit. The end result? I’m not using transit.

The marginal cost of taking my family there with a vehicle is maybe a couple dollars of gas. Transit? If there are four of us, it’s $20 round trip. Transit is out and I’m clogging the roadway. There are many many areas of Edmonton where this calculation works more in favour of using cars over transit. I have used transit for many meetings in downtown Edmonton because the parking is so ridiculous, and if I don’t have other meetings elsewhere following it.

There were some good suggestions about group rates for events. I live close to Northlands and if my family wanted to go to a home show, it would make more sense to drive and park for $10 than to pay $20 round trip for transit. The cost of gas for the trip is virtually nothing. We have walked too, weather permitting.

My wife works out in Sherwood Park and transit isn’t even an option for her. Add another car to the congestion.

I bought a scooter last year, which is far more fuel efficient, but Edmonton’s parking system just views me as another car. There are few good options and certainly no financial benefits from a parking perspective for having it. You can park half a dozen motorcycles in the space of one car. There should be cheaper or free parking for motorcycles and scooters.

An efficient LRT and transit network might tip us into being regular users of transit. I’m not confident the proposed system will do that either.

Connecting with Edmonton airports?

And what about Edmonton International Airport? Apparently that is not in this plan. And what’s happening with the municipal airport? Well, nobody knows that yet, but you can bet it will be gone, given the ideas flowing from city council.

Here are some of the criteria used to decide on the LRT routes. Apparently the plan is being presented to city council as I write this. Not like I’ve got time to spend the morning there listening, but I wouldn’t have minded!

I’m not sure how a 100 year transit plan can be discussed, let alone implemented, without making solid decisions on what is happening with the airports. The presenter I’d mentioned earlier said people on the LRT would be looking out the window at people on the freeway doing 100 km/h towards the airport. Sure, whatever, but those people also have to park, and it’s not cheap there! LRT would be fine to go to the airport.


I have serious concerns about this plan according to what I heard Saturday. I’m concerned that the assumptions this report is based on won’t lead to the kind of transit system Edmonton needs in the future. Once I’ve seen the plan I’ll be able to comment more on it.

There are so many issues that I could go into and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. Even with the issues I’ve raised, I feel like I could write a book on them.

This isn’t the kind of issue that we can just hand over to consultants and run with it. We need to have a serious discussion about the future of Edmonton and the very important role that transit will play here in the next 100 years. It may seem costly, but I think it’s going to be more costly to build a system that doesn’t work well for Edmonton and surrounding communities.