What Happened at TEDxYYC

Urban Studies graduate and former VP of the UrbanCSA, Derek Pomreinke, recently attended the much-hyped TEDxYYC and was nice enough to write about the experience. In his words…

Hey all,

As I was fortunate enough to have work (the City of Calgary) give me the day off to attend what was ostensibly a professional development conference, I figured Id give you all the run-down of the speakers, my thoughts, and a link to their speech on YouTube so you can check them out for yourself if you so desire.

For those who dont know, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and began as a small conference to discuss the growing integration between all three subjects and to look toward the future. After offering all their lectures online for free at http://www.ted.com, they began an outreach program allowing people to set up conferences in their own cities and receive official support from TED. Thus, we are given TEDxYYC, where YYC is the airport code (and increasingly the Twitter hashtag) representing Calgary.

The unifying theme behind the event was Great Minds, a reference not to just our fantastic speakers, but also to our audience and to the population in general. Great Minds is about calling us all to action. They had a board featuring the guest list, most of whom appeared to be in fields such as architecture, web design, social media, and the like. Basically a cross section of Richard Floridas now-defunct creative class. The day was split into three sections, though the distinctions between the sections were hazy at best once you got into the actual speeches.

Community & Culture

Rick Castiligone, Journalist, Film-Maker, Philanthropist

-Rick began to tell us of the power shift occurring within the mediascape with regards to funding for programs. Because local stations are having difficulty competing against national stations, they get bought out which standardizes broadcasting across the nation. These national stations then try to cut costs by creating reality TV shows instead of serialized dramas. A side-effect of this is that it becomes unfeasible financially to market a one-off documentary special, no matter how important the subject matter is, and thus filmmakers like him are forced to look elsewhere. But fortunately enough if you make quality documentaries that tell important stories about real people, the funding will flood in regardless.

John Manzo, Sociologist

-My favourite speaker of the day, John examined the third-wave coffee renaissance currently striking Calgary. He noted that, per capita, Calgary actually has more third-wave coffee shops than Berlin, traditionally (ie since the 90s) the capital of the European coffee/barista couture. These third-wave shops are differentiated from second-wave shops by their generally more open floor plan that facilitates interaction between customers, as well as between the customers and the baristas, as well as by their increased focus on local products, local business, and the restoration of the art of coffee, something that was stripped away by the commercialization and standardization of second-wave Starbucks outlets. Fascinating. He even threw a shout-out to Insomnia as an example of how Calgarys local entrepreneurial spirit was creating a new chapter in our history.

Chris Turner, Author

-Chris previewed his new book, The Great Leap Sideways, where he continues his optimistic vision of the future first identified in The Geography of Hope. Im not going to lie, I sort of tuned out during this one as Ive heard much of what he has to say before regarding peak oil, the diversification of energy investments, the shrinking of space we deem acceptable to travel through, etc. Nothing new as long as you know about moving toward a more sustainable urban form.

Science & Discovery

Jennifer Martin, President & CEO of the Telus World Of Science

-Being the head honcho at the science centre, she had a vested interest in creating space and conditions whereby children could feel comfortable and confident enough to express their ideas in small-scale settings. Under these circumstances, where kids and teens express themselves, intra-generational learning can be facilitated and mentorships with adults can strengthen their reciprocal nature.

Garnette Sutherland, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, UofC

-Robots performing neurosurgery. This ones pretty self-explanatory. His speech may have been a bit on the dry side, but it was still worth it to paint a picture of how technology and design are coming into conflux in such diverse areas as the arts and neuroscience.

Eden Full, Youth Entrepreneur, World-Changer

-This young woman not only came up with a $10 idea that could change the world, but it provided her with the second-most desirable title to have on your business card: World-Changer. A self-described engineering nerd, Edens academic career at Princeton focused on photovoltaic panels and their support systems. She crafted a simple, cheap, easy-to-repair device that assists PV panels in tracking the sun across the sky (thus optimizing their output) made out of bamboo and a bi-metallic strip. This simple device replaced a $600 electromechanical tracking system and thus made solar panels much more affordable. Her long-term goal was to assist in any way possible the implementation of cheap electricity across the world, especially in Africa. All this and shes 18.

Arts, Culture & The Future

Lorrie Matheson, Songwriter

-Not much to say about him, he bookended his speeeeeeeeeeech with two indie songs that were really well crafted and executed in their simplicity. He spoke about the creative process, how someone in his line of work still hasnt run out of ideas for songs even after 20 years, and though sometimes the germ of the idea will need to be put on the backburner temporarily, the idea will usually be fleshed out 5, 10, 20 years down the road. I thought immediately about our long-term projects.

Ben Cameron, Program Director, Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

-Clearly an old pro who has delivered this speech many times, this was one of the most passionate arguments Ive ever heard in support of the traditional delivery of arts against the onslaught of modern technological reform. As the downloading and iTunes era has altered our expectation of entertainment to be personalized, customized, and democratic, it is the traditional performing arts that are institutional, prescribed, and elite that now require a reformation on par with that of the churchs. He dreams of living in a world where culture is defined by artistic participation instead of consumption. I highly recommend watching this.

Ruben Nelson, Futurist

-Best job title EVER. While I dont want to say his speech was sentimental or schmaltzy, it did seem rather congratulatory to all of us in attendance. We were told that the world is changing and that people willing to analyze the coming convergence of technology, entertainment, and design would be prepared to create physical spaces where this convergence could be realized. His best quote was that the greatest cities in human history have existed non-trivially, that to simply maintain the city is to relegate it to someday losing out. It is our place to strive constantly to better our city, to make it stand for something and to produce new things, and to make it a place worth caring about.

All of the speeches I watched were unique yet with a defined sense of importance to them, which was no doubt imparted by the speakers as many of them were lecturing about their lifes work. The first section on community & culture piqued my interest the most, though the passion brought to the arts & future section left me with a great sense of optimism about the day. If I could sum up this conference succinctly, it would be with just that word: optimism.

I hope they have more of these events here, from what I understand there was one at the university shortly after, and another one TEDxCalgary booked for the near future. This new one is put on by Leadership Calgary, its theme is Humanity 3.0: Leadership the World Needs Now, with sections on youth, elders, conflict, and poverty. For more info on it, check http://tedxcalgary.ca

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