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Each podcast, Troy Pavlek digs into the basket and cracks one open, discussing local politics and other stories around Edmonton

04 Jul, 2016
An Innovative and Creative City That Does 100 Things in One Day
Chris Gusen from Make Something Edmonton and Yvonne Pronovost from CITYLab sit down to talk #100in1day and innovative city-building

Show Notes:

You can follow @chrisgusen, @makeitYEG, @ypronovost, @planedmonton or @troypavlek on Twitter.

Podcast theme song by Jonathan Mann.

Transcript

Troy: Coming up on today's show, we're making stuff and innovating. Joining me are Yvonne Pronovost from CITYLab and Chris Gusen from Make Something Edmonton. We'll be talking 100in1Day, entrepreneurship, all sorts of stuff. All that and more coming up on today's.

Theme Song by Jonathan Mann

Troy: Welcome back to the Basket of YEGS podcast. I'm your host Troy Pavlek. We're at the EPL Makerspace again because we've got two fantastic guests here now. Sitting on my left over here it's ... CITYLab is a small innovative division of city planning that aims to spark discussions about how a city evolves and generally interests people in new and innovative ways to develop a city. She's Yvonne Pronovost, principal planner with CITYLab. How are you doing today Yvonne?

Yvonne: Pretty good. Thanks for having me.

Troy: On my right we've got Chris Gusen. He's with Make Something Edmonton. It's a organization that, you've probably seen it, encourages makers, the entrepreneurs and the creative types in the city to really show their creativity in new and innovative ways. He's here joining me today to talk about 100in1Day city other topics. How are you doing today Chris?

Chris: I'm doing very well, thanks.

Troy: All right. Let's just get right into it. Chris, how did you start with Make Something Edmonton? What's Make Something all about?

Chris: I started with Make Something Edmonton about two and a half years ago. I moved to Edmonton about three years ago. My girlfriend came here to do her Masters of Fine Arts at U of A. I tagged along, took a few months off, and just when I was starting to run out of money the Make Something Edmonton job posting came up. I was there first hire. I was initially hired to do social media, blogging, sort of the marketing communications side of Make Something Edmonton -

Troy: How many staff do they have now?

Chris: Now we're three. It's not like we're massive, but we are embedded within Edmonton Economic Development, so we're able to pull on some other resources there. Our team kind of expands and contracts. Like CITYlab, we always like to do things in partnership, because we can be mightier together.

Troy: Give us a bit of an overview. What is Make Something Edmonton? What does it do? That sort of ...

Chris: Make Something Edmonton launched in March 2013. Before that there was about a year of research and work stemming out of the major's task force for image and reputation. You might have heard of this concept of place branding. Many, in fact probably all cities now are engaged in one way or another in trying to project their image out into the world, and create more confidence and excitement about their city internally as well. In 2012 leaders from the city, from the community, from the business community, got together, realized that based on a study that was done, the Longwood study, [Edmontonians 03:15] are really fond of their city, they really like it, but there's a huge disparity between how they feel about their city and how we're perceived externally. In fact it's the largest disparity that of most comparable cities. We realized there was a struggle to articulate what we like about it. We wanted to get past cliches like "best place to live, work, and play," and -

Troy: City of champions.

Chris: City of champions. We really, those are our enemies in this quest. I say what we are trying to do as Make Something Edmonton, the answer to the task force of image and reputation, the small team that we have and the website where you can share your project, is we're trying to tell the Edmonton story through action. Through what people are doing to further their vision for the city. We're trying to embrace the idea that you touched on, which is that makers, not just people who make physical things but also entrepreneurs, artists, organizers, that ten or twenty percent of the city who are putting their cognitive surplus, their extra time into making the city better, shaping it to their vision, those are the people we want to support. Rather than just talk a bit game about Edmonton, we're trying to engage with that community, support them, but also very much tie that into storytelling. We do have that background and that angle of marketing, communications, and storytelling.

Troy: Could you go into exactly how you support the makers? Is it just through the website, or is there funding? What sort of support do you offer the makers of Edmonton?

Chris: There's a mixture of things, and we are still experimenting as we go. For example, we've done three rounds now of something called the Project Accelerator Grant, which is a micro-grant that we piloted in 2014. It started off with no more than $1,250 dollars. We've recently tried upping it to $2,500, and we've funded things like warming huts in Hawrelak Park this past winter. The idea there is that there is a gap in the city where small grants can fit in. For something that's more of a quick experiment or a prototype rather than a longer-term program. It was inspired by a project to put pianos in public space, that just needed a couple hundred dollars to cover the insurance costs. That's one thing we've done. I would not characterize Make Something Edmonton as a funding body. I don't think we want to get into that game there. So many tremendous funding opportunities outside of Make Something Edmonton.

The real bread and butter of how we support is in two ways. One is sort of a match-making function. If you put something up on our website as a project, whether it's an idea that's half-developed or if it's something that you're ready to launch, we will hear about it, we'll ask you what you need help with, and then we'll do our best to help you navigate the system. CITYlab does a really good job of that as well. I think that's interesting. We talk about how Edmonton is a really nice sized city, it's got sort of small-town feel, easy to connect with people, but that's not always true. There's still confusing systems that people have to navigate. We try to do a good job of matchmaking as a form of support. Secondly, because our site has been around for a while now, if you're looking to get the word out about your idea, local journalists are always checking our site for new story ideas. There's an inbuilt mechanism where you can get some press coverage through using our site. Then we'll amplify what you're doing through our own social media channels.

Being a real champion for the makers of this city, celebrating them, and also supporting them through the fact that we sit in this interesting intersection between Edmonton Economic Development, the city business community ... Though we are a small team, we have a lot of networks that have been built up. We're sort of seeing these patterns and trends in terms of the types of things people need help with.

Troy: Speaking of match-making, a lot of your projects are matched with another city corporation development team, whatever you want to call your little riffraff of people over there. Yvonne, could you go into CITYlab, and what exactly that is?

Yvonne: CITYlab is a unit within the city planning branch. We are planners actually. There's four of us, and we're really about sparking conversations, as you said, about how the city grows and develops. We're really into trying new things, testing new things, piloting new things, and we really want to work to help connect people to place and to each other. Part of what we do is take what we learn from the projects that we do out in the community and bring that knowledge back to the corporation, and make sure that knowledge gets shared around.

Troy: It's often hard to keep track of everything the city does, because it's so big. CITYlab being a small team might get lost in the mix. What's something cool that your team has done that maybe someone has heard of, or something that you're very proud of?

Yvonne: Ooh, well there's a couple, but I guess the one that's gotten us the most attention are the rainbow crosswalks. We partnered with Sustainable Transportation on that one. It was an initiative that started within the city. We wanted to do something really great with crosswalks, a lot of us are very supportive of Pride. Seemed like an excellent opportunity and so we went ahead and did it. Like I said we partnered with the Sustainable Transportation. We did some analysis as well around how the crosswalks were being used, so we could present that information back to say, "Yes it's safer," or, "No it's not." In this case, from the limited data that we have, the crosswalks actually seem to be performing just the same as a regular crosswalk does, even though it's got the colored lines, or even a bit better in some cases. We are running the pilot again this year, and we'll be looking at the crosswalks again to gather more data, but right now it seems amazing. Things are going well.

Troy: I mean I can say it's always nice to walk around Old Strathcona and see the rainbow crosswalks. It's very fun.

Yvonne: Who doesn't want to walk on a rainbow?

Troy: The big project that's come up between both of you really in the past little while was the 100inaDay. I'm sure everyone's heard of this at some point, and if you haven't shame on you. It was, well Chris, why don't you let us know. What was 100inaDay?

Chris: 100in1Day. It's a very confusing name, because a lot of people also think it's "one hundred and one day", like 101 Dalmations. We ended up getting even beyond that goal of one hundred projects. To quickly summarize what it is, it's an international festival of urban interventions. Interventions or projects in public space designed to make the community better in some way. To create a sense of place in what otherwise might be an unwelcoming, empty space. It started in Bogota, Columbia in 2012. A couple of planning students were sitting together for beers, and they talked about all the things they were discussing in class, and said, "Why don't we just do some of this? Why don't we do a few projects?" Then they had a few more beers, and decided that they wanted to try to do a hundred projects in one day. I think that first year in Bogota they had several hundred. They did a lot. From there it's really been snowballing into really a global movement.

There are now, including Edmonton, six participating Canadian cities, all of which did their 100in1Day festival June 4th this year. We, CITYlab and Make Something Edmonton, actually collaborated last year on something that we coined ourselves, called DIY city, which was essentially the same concept. After we had already pulled the trigger and started moving on that we realized, "Oh, 100in1Day exists." After some early success with DIY city with a little over two dozen projects on June 21st 2015, we decided all right, we're going to do this next year, we're going to align with 100in1Day, we're going to shoot for that even bigger goal of one hundred projects all in the same day, driven by citizens. Not organized by us, we're just the facilitator, we're putting out that invitation and helping people to bring their ideas to life. They're the ones who are executing them. That's sort of the summary of what it is. It's a celebration of the idea that it's up to everyone to step up and build a better city.

Troy: How many projects do you end up getting?

Chris: One hundred and thirty-one. We were really proud of that. If you look and drill down into the types of projects, we were very permissive in terms of what counted as place making or urban intervention, but we didn't want to fail, so we let everything. Well actually no, there were some that we didn't let in. We had one hundred and thirty-one all told, so we were very proud of the result.

Troy: Was there a predominant type of project that was in the majority, or was it a real wide spattering of different ideas?

Yvonne: We still have to do an analysis of the event. That is one of the questions we're going to ask: what are Edmontonians really interested in doing? We haven't had the chance to do that yet. We just sent out a survey to project leaders to ask what their experiences were. That analysis will be up on the CITYlab website hopefully within a month.

Troy: Overall, I know you haven't done the full analysis, but happy? You'll have this ... Project was a success? Something you'll do again?

Yvonne: Absolutely. It's really exciting to see Edmontonians step up like that, and really engage with their city, and build it. In whatever ways are meaningful to them. It's kind of fun.

Troy: What were some challenges or problems that came up in 100in1Day? Did you wake up one morning and said, "Oh crap. This 100in1Day. We're not going to do this. We're going to fail." Was there any of that? Was there any big problems that came up along the way?

Chris: I think there was a moment probably when we were a month away, so in early May, where it started to hit me we don't have a lot, or we're still very far away from our goal. I think that was a little after our earlybird deadline, which was the deadline for having your permitting costs offset by CITYlab. In terms of what the challenge was there, we ultimately did achieve our goal through dedicated push to get people to sign up for projects, but I think part of it is that people just tend to submit their ideas at the last minute. That's a typical thing, so it's always going to be a bit of a nail-biter at the end. I think next year we'll probably shift the final deadline so that we can give ourselves a little bit more breathing room, so that late on a Thursday evening a couple of days before Saturday, June 4th I'm not sitting there uploading mapping data at home. I say a challenge was just getting people to see the value of submitting their project early.

Then I think that in its first year it's a new concept, so it can be hard for people to see what project they might do, or to see themselves in it. Right? Part of it would be getting people to see that, "Oh, my thing that maybe I'm already organizing, or my idea that I've had for a while, fits well with 100in1Day."

Troy: One of the problems I had with 100in1Day is I couldn't go to everything. There's the same problem that exists with the FCL's Community League day, is all community leagues organize something, and then you can only go to one or two because they all overlap on the general same time. A lot of the 100inaDay projects were - 100in1Day projects - were from 11:00ish to maybe 4pmish. Is that something you see as a problem with this idea? Or maybe do you want to spread it over one hundred and sixteen days, or is that something you see as an asset to the project?

Yvonne: It's kind of exciting to have everything happen on one day. I agree, it's a total challenge to be able to go visit all of them. We tried. We failed, even though we were breaking up into teams and strategically dividing up the city to hit up as many projects as we could. However, having all the projects happen on the same day I think has a greater cumulative impact in the general conversation that's happening in the city. It's not just this one cool thing that happened over there that one time, it's all these cool things, all in the same day, and the fact that you can't get to all of them I think there's something really special in that too.

Chris: Yeah I would echo Yvonne's point. It's not a problem at all. It's an asset, it's one of the unique characteristics of this as a grassroots, citizen-built festival, is that there is no single 100in1Day experience. It's a choose-your-own-adventure. Yvonne and I focused on centrally located projects, and we tackled as many as we could by bike. That was our 100in1Day. Then we had some colleagues who tackled some other parts of the city by car, and they had their 100in1Day. I think that's really interesting. It's a festival that celebrates the multiplicity of experiences in a city.

Troy: One other thing that came up, and we noticed because my neighbor and I, we went to one 100in1Day project, which was a block party over in Hazeldean. Hazeldean is really close to where the Pride parade was marching. Was that an intentional thing? It's we're capitalizing on Pride, or was it just a matter of, "Oh, shoot, Pride's scheduled the same thing. It's too late."

Yvonne: It was the latter. Ideally we would not have scheduled it on the same super-Saturday as Pride, but unfortunately when you're part of a global festival you don't always get a say in when things are going to go down. We did have a lot of conversations though about how our little festival would interact with Pride, or how they could potentially boost each other. Yeah it was kind of a funny thing, and not something we anticipated. It was one thing we also talked to our project participants about, just to let them know, "Hey, you know Pride is happening on the same day, so if you are thinking of doing something along the White Avenue area, you maybe want to be respectful of the other festival that's going on. Just be aware that there might not be space for your project at that time." Which is a bit of a shame, but I guess that's the problem when you live in a city that is so in love with festivals.

Troy: I think it's a pretty good problem to have all things considered.

Chris: Yeah I think adding to that from my perspective, trying to through Make Something Edmonton's mandate, get the story and the word out there about Edmonton, or #YEG. If you look at the social media impact, #100in1Day trended third in Edmonton. #YEGPride trended second. #YEG itself trended fifth in all of Canada. We combined forces in the digital sphere, and there were some really cool projects that came out of the fact that Pride was going on. There were two projects that some colleagues of mine from EEDC gave a small amount of funding to. One of them was Pride Bench, which was a simple everyday bench but painted in rainbow colors. That was placed on the Pride grounds, and there was a sign indicating that it was associated with 100in1Day, but it was also something that resonated with Pride. There was a project called, was it "Hi How Are You" or "I Want to Hold Your Hand"? I can't remember -

Yvonne: I think it was "I Want to Hold Your Hand" ...

Chris: Yeah, "I Want to Hold Your Hand." That was a lovely Pride-related project as well. It's tough. Last year for DIY city, we did it on June 21st because we thought, "Yeah longest day of the year, this will be awesome." June 21st is National Aboriginal day, so we ended up trampling on that. Well not trampling on it, but at least competing with it in some sense. It was also Father's Day that year. A bunch of dads who would have otherwise been doing barbecue projects and other dad-like things for our DIY city, they were otherwise engaged.

Troy: Both of you work in very small organizations at the city of Edmonton. One of the much maligned aspects of a big organization like the city is, when you have a project idea, it can take year before it actually gets to implementation. If someone on your team has an idea, like say it's DIY city or 100in1Day or some other unique idea that they want to try, how long does it take before that actually gets to implementation? What's that process look like?

Yvonne: It really depends on the project. Some projects are easier to pull off than others obviously. For us at CITYlab as well we don't do things by ourselves. We always are looking for partners, whether that's external or internal with groups who might want to try something new within the city of Edmonton. Projects can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month to pull off. I just finished one that took nine months. However, that was really cool.

Troy: Which one was that?

Yvonne: CITYlab partnered with Jasper Place High School in October of last year to put in some student-designed and welded bike racks along Stony Plain Road. We were approached by Julia Dalman, from Jasper Place, who was saying this would be a great opportunity for the students to work on a really real-world problem, where they have some real design constraints. I said heck yeah, let's do this. The nine month time span had to do both with the student's semesters, because they had two different classes, they had a design class and a welding class, so it's two different semesters. Also me within the city figuring out okay, how do we get this done? It can sometimes be a bit challenging when you're trying to do something that has never been done before, but it's totally worth it. I'm happy to say that there's now two bike racks on Stony Plain Road that the students have designed and built.

Troy: You could even say that taking that risk was the most Edmonton thing you could do.

Yvonne: We could say that.

Chris: Wonder where you got that idea from.

Troy: Yeah, could that be a Make Something project that we saw?

Chris: I mean that actually, that's something that comes to mind since I'm working on it now in terms of your question about how long things take to come to fruition. Yvonne's right, it depends on the type of project, and it depends on the scale. Make Something Edmonton can rally together if we decide, "Okay, the theme for our project Project Accelerator Grant round, like the most recent one this past winter, was Make Something Winter." We decided on that idea in late December, we hustled to put the call out, we had about a month of accepting applications, and then we put a six-week cap on people's ... We had a two-week turnaround to give people an answer about whether they got funding or not, and then they had six weeks to implement.

I definitely see a strength in the idea of these grants, or with 100in1Day having a deadline, but that's more if we were putting out that call for ... 100in1Day was almost a festival prototype. It's a bunch of things that were really designed to be just for one day. What Yvonne's talking about, or the project that I'm just working on now, the mural, that takes many months of getting to yes, of talking to all the different people involved. Then suddenly can start moving very quickly. You probably found that with the bike racks. I've certainly found that over the past few weeks with the mural. It's been an idea for probably over a year, and it's been negotiations and discussions and planning, and then waiting for the right season, because you can't apply the lettering to that surface when its winter when the wall is cold. Then when we're ready to go it's going up and the days are marching and you have to get everything in order for that. It really does depend on the scale.

I understand your question, you're asking about a frustration that people like yourself who are engaged with and interested in how the city evolves, sort of have that urbanist's aching heart, or "uah" for short. Which is, it's almost inevitable that you're going to have cognitive dissonance between your vision for where you see the city being in say ten or twenty years, and the fact that realistically anything that's an infrastructure project or that's big and unwieldy, it's going to take time. It's interesting to think about what the dynamic is between these small prototype projects that really can be executed in day and the projects that will inevitably take time.

Troy: You mention that you can rally your base, and if you put out a project idea you can get submissions, and sprint to it, and actually have a pretty successful amount of projects come out. The question I have is, a report came back to City Council just about a week ago with the updates on where the city is in terms of its goals, and it says that volunteerism is down. It's down year over year and it's down according to its targets for 2018. One of the speculations was that it's a generational shift. People in the new generation, Gen X, Gen Y I guess maybe we're on Gen Q now? I don't know. They volunteer in different ways from how we typically measure volunteerism. Is that something that you guys see in your roles, or ...?

Yvonne: One of my thoughts on that would be that I think that in some ways people's definition of community is changing a little. It's broadening. In the past we used to really focus on geographically-based communities, so your neighborhood, your block, your street. Now people are really rallying around different sorts of communities that are potentially online, or interest-based. That can be a bit harder to track in some ways. It might be generational. I think a lot of it is aided by the internet. People can communicate so much easier now, and can gather around different things and in different ways then they used to be. I think that's kind of exciting. It's a challenge, because as you said it can be hard to measure. If that is one of the city's measurement goals, how do you adequately capture that when you don't even necessarily know what direction volunteerism or community participation is taking?

Troy: Chris, have you actually seen any Make Something projects that are exclusively online? Or that really caught your eye as, "This is something cool that someone's doing, but it doesn't actually have any manifestation in the physical realm?"

Chris: Yes. Yeah, all the time. I think there are projects, a lot of the projects on our site are events. Are things where people are getting together in physical space. There are many digital projects. I think there's a lot of digital creativity that's happening in Edmonton. One project that, in fact multiple projects that we allowed to be a part of 100in1Day, were not physical place-making. They were digital place-making. There was a project called YEG Storyhood, where a gentleman has put together a really nice looking map of Edmonton, and he's encouraging people to add placemarkers and write a small micro short-story about that place. His first submission was about the Remedy Café on 124th Street. There was another Edmonton Pride 100in1Day project that was Pride Stories, and a couple of friends were going around White doing little interviews with people. There was another project called, this was a digital physical mix, and it was called, "Hellevator." The place that they were activating was an elevator. Over the course of the day they did a hundred short Instagram videos about a corporation called Hell, LLC, where a bunch of demons and other creatures were trying to deal with office life in a corporation. All the time. The answer is all the time. There are many projects that are digitally manifesting, and like Yvonne says, it's harder to measure that.

I think about the volunteerism that I do myself. Maybe I'm just not filling out the right surveys, but I haven't reported some of the things that I do, like volunteering for The Local Good, for example. Meet-up groups that I attend and things like that. I think yeah, it's hard to measure it.

Troy: Sort of a final topic that I wanted to get into is, it's very hard to argue that an increase in entrepreneurship and creativity is a bad thing for the city. It's unquestionably a good thing, but how do we best go about ... Obviously you two are trying a lot of different things to encourage this, but is this a problem that you see we need more actual policy and infrastructure to support? Do we need more grant funding, do we need more mandates from the government to increase this, and do we need more space given? Is it a thing where we need to nourish something that will organically grow? What sort of path do you think is the best way to go down to encourage this entrepreneurship and creativity in the city?

Yvonne: I think both paths, if I could be so bold.

Troy: Why not both?

Yvonne: I like both. One of the interesting things about 100in1Day this year is that there was no grants or funding offered. Everything that was done was just done on their own dime, on their own time, in their own spaces, and I don't know if it was because of how we marketed it or presented it, but the uptake was way higher than last year's DIY city, where Make Something Edmonton did have a small grant or seed fund available. I'm wondering if the invitation, because it was just, "Hey, do something, no strings attached," well, obviously there's some strings, but I wonder if that invitation was easier I guess for people to take up than, "Hey, do something, and we'll give you some money," which seems to have a lot more responsibility and wait and ...

Chris: Obligation.

Yvonne: Exactly. Thank you. To actually undertake. I don't know, I think lighter quicker cheaper, I think there is a lot of benefit to that.

Troy: Okay. Any closing thoughts Chris?

Chris: Yeah. I would say Edmonton, in terms of this idea of entrepreneurship ... Defined very broadly, so entrepreneurship or innovation in terms of people and ideas bubbling up from below in terms of how the city should be built and shaped, or whether it's business or a new festival ... Whatever it is, like Yvonne said, creating that invitation, it's not necessarily always about funding, it's about creating that social license. Make Something Edmonton has always been about social license, same goes for something like the winter city strategy. We're just saying, you know what, we want your weird ideas. This is a place you have a home for that, and we want to hear them. We encourage that. That's very important in creating that culture.

Edmonton has all of the ingredients to continue to accelerate and build on what we already have in terms of entrepreneurship. We have amazing post-secondary institutions here, so we've got a lot of talent in training. It's very important to continue to invest in that. Also, look at where we're sitting, well, listen to where we're sitting if you're listening to this podcast. We're recording this in the Makerspace at Edmonton public library. This is a space that has all sorts of things mashed together, and all sorts of people end up being mashed together. This is a place where ideas collide and cross-pollinate, and I think that's a really important ingredient.

You can do that in a space like EPL, you can do that in a space like Start-Up Edmonton, which is where Make Something Edmonton works out of, and you can do that in other spaces that we're trying to push forward in the city. Maybe a more robust Makerspace, for example, it's not just about the equipment that's available there, it's about that community. I think community can be a real competitive advantage for Edmonton as a city. It's not just buzzword, and it's something that's harder to measure the impact of, but it's so important that we invest in our community. I think you look at place-making, that's designed to have people gathering and colliding in public space. That is what will foster and create the fertilizer and the environment for it. We can't predict what's going to come out of it. All we can do is create a really good environment for that kind of thing. For ideas to flourish.

Yvonne: Sometimes you've just got to get out there and try something.

The crew then proceeds to play a game of Top of the Muttart. Tune in to the podcast version to see how well Chris Gusen and Yvonne Pronovost can co-operate

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