Since we meet so many cool people at Green Drinks, we decided to start interviewing some of them. In this instalment, we talked to Darren Proulx, who was at our last event, Green Drinks: Good Business. He’s a passionate urbanist, who studies how we can make cities better for everyone, regardless of how they choose to get around, through his work at Slow Streets.
Our next event is Green Drinks: Habitat on February 1. If you’re interested in what Darren has to say in this interview, then our Habitat theme is right up your alley. Hope to see you there!
Hi Darren! How long have you lived in Edmonton?
I was born and raised in Edmonton. I lived here for 24 years and moved away to Calgary for work for 2 years, then Vancouver for a Masters in Urban Studies and work for 4 years. I recently returned to Edmonton.
Was Good Business your first Green Drinks? If so, why did you decide to come? If not, how many have you been to?
I have been to two Green Drinks. I came because I wanted to meet passionate people doing great things to improve the city and this seemed like a good place to do so. I was not let down.
What were you at Green Drinks to tell people about? (i.e. what’s your big idea / project / interest?)
I am extremely passionate about building great cities for people regardless of how they get around. Edmonton is a city that was originally built very walkable around a street car system, but after the 1950s planners started redesigning the city around moving large volumes of vehicles through quickly. Redesigning the city around the car included removing curbside trees, shrinking sidewalks and replacing fine grain retail businesses with parking lots. This was all to the detriment of the comfort and safety of people walking, cycling or using transit. If you want people to choose to walk, cycle or use transit you have to make it inviting. When we design cities around cars everyone loses, including people who drive; when you design cities around people everyone wins, including people who drive. You cannot design cities that move vehicles through quickly and still have a great city for people with a great sidewalk or public space environment. Through Slow Streets, I conduct observational research to show how people use and react to street designs, public spaces, and the built form, and use this to recommend design solutions.
Who’s the most interesting person you met at Green Drinks? (i.e. who should we interview next?)
I met Daria Nordell who is the director of the U of A Student Design Association. She seems to be up to some interesting initiatives, when I was chatting with her she was planning a design show downtown.
What do you do for work right now?
I’m a Transit Planning Engineer with the City of Edmonton
Can you tell us one nerdy, quirky or interesting fact about yourself?
I have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. As part of 6 years of training I had to break two bricks with my hand, do wall kicks, flying side kicks, and cat rolls over five people!
If you could instantly change one thing about Edmonton, or add something we don’t have, what would it be? Is there something you’ve seen in another city that you wish was in Edmonton?
I would like to see the city move towards an evidence-based Lighter, Quicker and Cost Effective (LQC) or tactical urbanism approach to city building. Often cities tend to treat transportation and congestion as a hard science like chemistry with absolute results however, since it is ultimately people who are driving cars, transportation is more of a social science. This means that congestion is not an absolute given, and the transportation results you get are the direct result of transportation and land use policies and decisions.
An LQC approach is more concerned about achieving and measuring results right now, using cost-effective materials rather than guessing and waiting years for funding. Cities of all sizes and climates (yes, including ones with cold winters) like Calgary, Chicago, Seattle, New York City, Macon and Nashville all demonstrate that it is feasible to implement projects such as protected bike lanes, parking to parklets conversions, street redesigns, pavement to plaza conversions, food truck pods and temporary public space activators and measure the impact through rigorous data collection and analysis. Edmonton has certainly been making great strides towards a quicker, lighter implementation approach with patios, cycling parking corrals, parklets and the new minimum grid of protected cycling lanes downtown. These projects allow people to use and experience new designs and make a more informed decision rather than relying on one-dimensional drawings or abstract concepts if they have never seen it before. Improvement still needs to be done on analyzing the impacts of design changes. How can you determine if you are generating the best return on public investments from a street design change without analyzing the impacts to businesses and user behaviours?