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How the Edmonton Project encouraged citizens’ creativity

Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson and Aziz Bootwala are the brains behind the Edmonton Project, a platform launched in August of 2017 that gave anyone living in Edmonton the chance to submit an idea for a new city landmark.

Hansen-Carlson is a manager at EllisDon and Bootwala is the managing principal at Kasian. Their experience in construction and design, respectively, gave them the knowledge to help create something inspirational for the city. Both companies, along with ATB, BDO, and zag creative, are founding partners of the Edmonton Project.

“I was having a coffee with Aziz … and he’s talking about how Edmonton needs some kind of landmark, some sort of signature thing that’s more forward-looking and defining as opposed to this blank canvas of street-level art that we have,” says Hansen-Carlson.

The idea came to Hansen-Carlson rather quickly after that. The concept of picking Edmonton’s new landmark based on a competition amongst citizens is something that, to Hansen-Carlson and Bootwala’s knowledge, has never been done before anywhere in the world. It was this level of originality that prompted the two to continue with the project.


“It had to bring Edmontonians together in a forward-looking way. There are no points assigned to the cheapest project or the fastest project. It was about those five Idea Den judges believing that this idea, above all others, has the best chance of inspiring Edmontonians.”

—Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson


“I know there has been a lot of discussion around the brand of Edmonton, and by no means is the Edmonton Project supposed to brand the city. But I think it will help give Edmontonians a sense of identity,” says Olivia Wik, a junior social media strategist at zag creative.

The competition brought in hundreds of ideas from people of all ages, and the Idea Den had difficulty choosing a top 10, says Hansen-Carlson. The Idea Den is the five people chosen by the Edmonton Project to pick the top 10 ideas, and the group that will ultimately decide the winning idea on March 6.

“We hand-picked those people based on their street cred within the community, their legacy. They are well-known people who have made a good difference in Edmonton. We wanted them to have a say, because we didn’t want people to think it was just this self-centred scheme,” Hansen-Carlson says.

The Idea Den is comprised of Ayaz Bhanji, an entrepreneur and senior partner of a real estate company; Carrie Doll, the owner and founder of a communications consulting company; Krista Ference, who works widely in the community, particularly with the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation; Ryan Jesperson, who is a radio host; and Cheryll Watson, the vice-president of Urban Economy at Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. All the Idea Den members are dedicated to encouraging growth and development within Edmonton.

When deciding on the top 10 ideas — and, in turn, the winning idea — the Idea Den needed to focus on projects that would bring a sense of both community and progress.

“It had to bring Edmontonians together in a forward-looking way. There are no points assigned to the cheapest project or the fastest project. It was about those five Idea Den judges believing that this idea, above all others, has the best chance of inspiring Edmontonians,” Hansen-Carlson says.

The competition also included a People’s Choice award, where the public was able to vote for its favourite idea. While the public vote does not affect the judges’ final decision, the competition overall has encouraged Edmontonians to express how they think their city should be shaped.

Hansen-Carlson says he had no idea what kinds of ideas the public would put forward.

“I had no clue. I’m not surprised that most of them have to do with progressive development of the river valley,” says Hansen-Carlson. “This is quite a powerful indicator that the day has come for some good, smart development (down there).”

Half of the ideas in the top 10 involve the river valley. Developing areas around registered parks can be difficult, however, and with this comes the need to partner with the City.

“The City is not a sponsor at all. The City is a facilitator, a champion. They want to see it happen. They have plenty of land, they have administrative resources … (the winning idea) will become part of the fabric of the city of Edmonton,” Hansen-Carlson says.

The City will help expedite the project, but it is not a financial provider. The financial backing for the Edmonton Project comes from corporate sponsors, private investors, and government grants that the project is eligible for, says Hansen-Carlson. As the person in charge of the project’s execution, Hansen-Carlson will use this budget to bring the winning project to life.

However, the intention behind the Edmonton Project wasn’t just to find and sponsor a single idea. It was about inspiring multiple ideas across Edmonton, as well as validating these ideas as being something that a lot of other Edmontonians would appreciate.

“It’s about bringing the city together around the power of just doing an idea” says Hansen-Carlson.

The project has inspired artists and other creators alike, and even those whose ideas weren’t selected were given a platform that reinforced their creativity, and this is something that could benefit the city as a whole.

“I think that ‘doing an idea’ is inspirational to Edmontonians. The Edmonton Project is all about that, and is about enhancing an already incredible city,” Wik says.

“I’ve loved seeing the Edmonton Project come to life. It’s been so phenomenal being along for the journey. I think that Edmontonians are eagerly awaiting to see which project is chosen — and frankly, so am I. I can’t wait to see the final results.”


Photography supplied.