Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tipping Point

Tomorrow's municipal election could be the catalyst or the turning back point for the city of Edmonton. To steal the title from Malcolm Gladwell's great book, a "Tipping Point" of sorts.

As a born and raised Edmontonian, I sense for the first time in my memory a point whereby Edmonton is ready to grow up. Though born in the 70s, I was too young to remember the drive and passion of a small, maverick city that brought forth an LRT (the first North American city of under one million people to do so), the Edmonton Coliseum and a Commonwealth Games. Unfortunately we have rarely shown that level of chutzpah since - that is until the last 4 or 5 years.

Recent years have demonstrated a desire for balanced and responsible growth. Growth that comes with an eye for design and a desire to bring people together. There has been an increased focus on proper planning, hence the outstanding vision in the downtown plan. There has been a desire to look into the future and dream what we can be rather than get caught up in where we've been or, in some minds, where we should remain.

Visions are hard to clarify or quantify. They're hypothetical, built on dreams and ideals. Regardless, they are important. Dreaming big is crucial and Edmonton is finally heading in that direction. A direction that will encourage young people to remain, and hopefully come, and veteran citizens to engage and be the link to our heritage and the belief that small can still mean influential.

The "Tipping Point" comes tomorrow. This election may well determine where we're heading. Is it on the same path we have tread the last 5 years or on one that puts us more firmly in place as a small outpost, content in the status quo. I guess it's up to us all to decide.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Light

When working to inspire ourselves or others we often talk about that light within us that we need to let burn. It’s that passion that motivates us to leap over buildings, deal with naysayers and develop visions so clear we can describe them in minute detail. I was reminded this evening of how important that drive is.

I attended Pecha Kucha 7 put on by Edmonton’s Next Gen (a committee I proudly sit on). It’s an event where presenters introduce their thoughts on a topic and have 20 slides and 20 seconds to present each slide. It’s a very fast moving, concise way to concretely present ideas. Presenters appear with different styles, levels of experience, nerves, and views. What struck me though was the passion each speaker demonstrated. Even if it was a topic I knew little about, the enthusiasm evident through the words and images made me care and want to listen. They live what they talked about and know they can have a positive impact in that space.

It reinforced to me how crucial it is for all of us to cultivate those diverse passions. Without them we float along marginally moved by things around us. With them you create momentum that results in growth and positive change. For me personally the light at times may flicker but tonight one went on realizing how important that it be there.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


I just returned from my aunt’s 70th birthday party. It was a pretty small gathering of family from great aunts and uncles to grandchildren. Obviously the events themselves were great with pictures and stories of my aunt, my grandparents and her siblings (including my dad). However, the reason I’m writing is more to see how the importance of family has been continual for us. We’ve always been a pretty tight knit family despite many being outside Edmonton. We don’t see each other a ton, say once or twice a year as a group, but it’s always pretty easy to reintegrate as if you see them regularly. This ease has always fascinated me and it was reinforced today that there’s history to how we value family.

My great uncle got up to give a toast to my aunt. He talked about how the nine kids in his family were so excited when my aunt was born seventy years ago as she was the first of her generation. The knowledge of this excitement created a link to all the stories we’ve heard of massive celebrations over the years, Christmas and other, with kids and parents all together. Our generation carried on this value. Growing up we spent lots of time with extended family and those connections were just part of our lives. Our parents had learned that family was valuable and though we thought we were just playing and having fun, really we were carrying on the tradition. This weekend I got to see it continue on again. There is now a generation below mine on my dad’s side with 12 kids six years old and under. Six of them were around and though the two newborns didn’t get in the action quite yet, they all had a great time playing together. It didn’t involve sitting them down to talk about the importance of family but it did involve explanations about old pictures or discussions on where everyone lives. These subtle messages are what brought us together years ago and they’ll accomplish that again with these little guys.

The thing I appreciate the most is that it’s never been forced. It’s never been about achieving some magical level of “family” but it’s been about spending time with relatives who share a common history and are there to support you through the future. I know that sounds incredibly hokey but my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles made it important by simply bringing us together and making the effort to have that happen. I’m lucky to have this in my background and was pretty excited tonight to see that next generation starting to carry on our notion of family.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Luck of the English

As I was walking around Budapest this September it struck me that I had absolutely no need to learn any Hungarian. Now according to friends it is a very difficult language to learn but that wasn’t a worry for me. As an English speaker I could basically travel anywhere in the city, well off the worn tourist areas, and communicate. On the surface I realized this was a great benefit to being an Anglophone but deep down I continue to find this troubling. Part of the charm and excitement of traveling is experiencing a whole culture, of which language plays a huge part. If we take that away, we begin to erode part of what makes each region of the world unique. Yes, it’s easier to buy that train ticket when I don’t have to pull out my English-“fill in language here” dictionary but I miss the challenge of that communication. I remember my first time in Europe in 1992 in the former Czechoslovakia. Other than some key words - pivo (beer), cukrarna (bakery), the always important dekuji (thank you) and dobry den (hello) - I knew very little Czech. In the city of Olomouc though, three years out of communism, that was really my only option, short of attempting Russian. Despite the differences in our languages and the lack of English, I got by fine and it enhanced my experience. My friend knew enough Czech to get us by but there were moments when I had to figure out how to communicate without his help or the security blanket of English. Frankly, I was on their turf and felt it was my obligation to at least know some Czech or to have fun not knowing it like the day we ordered lunch and drinks having no clue what was coming our way. That same feeling came back in Hungary and I felt that I was in their home and should make the effort to learn some Hungarian. Problem was I didn’t have to and thus, I didn’t.