October 3, 2014

Re-Imagining the Shaw Conference Centre

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On September 22, Edmonton experienced a near-perfect day. The city’s trees were somewhere between green and yellow, and the winds had yet to blow the leaves from their branches. The sun’s arc over the south of the city shot temperatures into the high 20s, and experienced Edmontonians knew it might be the last summer-like day of 2014.

Yet over 100 of Edmonton’s business and community leaders found something worth staying indoors for: Reimagining the Shaw Conference Centre. Through an Open Space event, we asked these bright citizens to gather for a day and share their thoughts and ideas around the question “If we were to imagine the Shaw Conference Centre as the hub of community and business engagement in Edmonton, we would have to talk about…?”

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The question generated dozens of answers—everything from “how we can create an ambassador program for the youth” to “how we can bring more beauty into the space.” For every topic discussed, participants were tasked with capturing the ideas they shared and posting them for all to see. At the end of the day, participants faced a wall full of ideas and, armed with 10 small stickers, they marked the topics they believed were most worthwhile.

At the end of the day, we explained to the group the usual breakdown of ideas for events such as these:

  • One-third of the ideas would be obvious low-hanging fruit that the Shaw would be foolish not to act on.
  • One-third of the ideas would require careful consideration and might need operational, budgetary, or organizational decisions.
  • One-third of the ideas would be so outlandish that they wouldn’t be possible, but might trigger other ideas that could potentially change the course of the Shaw’s future.

While we’ve committed to supplying a full report to the community by the end of October 2014, outlining all the ideas discussed during the Open Space, here we’ll share three ideas that attracted more stickers than any other.

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1)   How we can better connect with the river valley

Why is it important?

The river valley is a vital part of Edmonton, but accessibility for visitors and Edmontonians is lacking. Currently its use is limited because of mobility issues, lack of knowledge, and few interesting aspects.

What were the key messages of the conversation?

  • The Shaw Conference Centre is the “gateway to the river valley.”
  • It could serve as a means for the Edmonton public to learn about the history of the city.
  • Marketing is needed to create better wayfinding and communication to both locals and visitors.
  • There needs to be a mixture of public and commercial development to bring more people through the Shaw and into the river valley.

What has to happen next?

There needs to be a conversation between public and private interests to funnel more people into the river valley.

2)   How we can use the public concourse (parkade, walkway, main entrance) more efficiently

Why is it important?

First impressions mean a lot, and creating an activated, engaging space could do a lot for the way the Shaw is thought of and used.

What were the key messages of the conversation?

  • The public perception is that the Shaw Conference Centre is closed unless you’re there for an event.
  • The front of the Shaw should be more impressive, more akin to a Hollywood sign.
  • We should create engaging environments within the public space of the Shaw to encourage citizens to come inside.
  • Consider including a bistro like Kids in the Hall.
  • Create a business centre or pod-type environment where people can work.
  • Consider including interactive media displays that are functional and engaging to pedestrian traffic.

What needs to happen next?

Create more safe access to all public spaces, including the terraces and patio.

3)   How we can unite with the indigenous community

Why is this important?

We have a responsibility to integrate and embrace our growing Aboriginal population.

What were the key messages of this conversation?

  • Interests of indigenous communities need to come forward and be integrated into ongoing processes and discussions.
  • Build a monument and time capsule with focus on community; perhaps include a timeline for the last centuries.
  • Create an Aboriginal history museum with a focus on contemporary art.
  • Rename salons to showcase indigenous history.
  • Initiate weekly meetings for the indigenous community in the Shaw Conference Centre.

What needs to happen next?

Define and involve the indigenous community and then bring more people into the conversation.

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These three topics are just a taste of the ideas we saw at last week’s event. And it’s important to note that this flurry of conceptual thinking was not done with the intent of making hard and fast decisions as to what should happen at the Shaw. Instead, it was an opportunity for engaged citizens to offer their perspective and grow the river of possibilities available to our facilities.

Over the course of the day, attendees experienced an inspired poem written and performed by Rayanne Doucet, executive director of the Edmonton Poetry Festival, to summarize the spirit of the event. At the end of the session, each participant was asked to check out with just one word. We’ll leave you with their sentiments here.

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This Place

The veins of this place run through
my body like rivers.
In connection, it ebbs and flows like
the river tide;
A wave that flows
through the limbs of our city.

The voice of this place pounds through
my head like a drumbeat.
It asks me to march in tune
with a time forgotten –
or not thought of yet.
It is the voice of a people,
of a future, of a history, of a celebration.

This place has stripped
its bones bare and tested us –
“Find a way to bring me back.”
Edmonton it says, “show me what inspires you.”
Our answer is whole and full;

Look to earth, wind, water and fire.
Show us your sweet blue rivers.
Connect us to your lovers.
Challenge us!
Dare us to stand up and respect you.
Close your eyes, breathe deep and jump.

This place is not brick, stone, mortar.
It is a fabric, weaved
by countless fingers.
This place is family.

It is the graduate glittering in her gown,
the politician striding with briefcase in hand,
the visionary challenging the status quo
the writer cradling her pen like a lifeline.

It is the artist looking for her brushstroke,
the mother kissing her son on his wedding day,
the community leader engaging in a drum circle.
It is the smell of sweet grass.

This place is our four seasons,
our gateway, our reflection.
We ask it to know our narrative,
to pay tribute to our ancestors,
to lead the way to new beginnings.

We ask you to show us the sun,
to welcome the land.
We ask you to hear footsteps
in your hall, to invite laughter
in to your rooms.

We ask you to remember.
You are more than a place.
You are a connection – Now come,

Tell our stories.

Rayanne Doucet

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