How British Columbia trumped California for Olympics of ideas
After 30 years of sunshine and warm beaches, moving a well-entrenched and highly respected conference of the world’s brightest minds in technology, entertainment and design was a major decision. But Vancouver had a secret weapon.
For the past 10 years, a small group of TED conference employees has toiled away in relative obscurity in North Vancouver, organizing the world renowned conference for intellectual thinkers and doers in business, arts, sciences, academia and philanthropy. Their knowledge of the views, the livability and the atmosphere of West Coast open mindedness impacted on the choice of Vancouver as a natural fit for the four-day main conference described as “the ultimate brain spa”.
Asked if the decision to move the main TED event to Vancouver was influenced by TED staffers already here, a North Vancouver organizer said “absolutely”, however she did not want to elaborate.
In New York, however, TED Curator Chris Anderson says the decision was not influenced by its Vancouver employees.
Vancouver Convention Centre big draw for TED organizers
“Vancouver's many great qualities were the deciding factor, not our internal operations. When it came time for us to look at possible new cities to host our 30th anniversary TED Conference – a big deal for us – we explored many options”, said Anderson. “We chose Vancouver for a number of reasons. It's vibrant, committed to sustainability, remarkably walkable and located in a gorgeous natural setting.”
On Monday, after months of secret negotiations, TED officials announced the move to BC in 2014 after three decades beside the beaches of California.
The official news release echoed Anderson’s comment, recognizing Vancouver for its “livability, walkability, sustainability, innovation – and stunning natural beauty”. A bonus selling point: a panoramic backdrop of snow capped mountains through the huge windows of the Vancouver Convention Centre.
“Vancouver also appealed to us for its state-of-the-art Vancouver Convention Centre. In addition to being beautiful and LEED-certified, the venue also has a space where we can custom-design our own theater,” says Anderson.
The promise of a new TED theatre for the often inspiring 18 minute lectures also played a part in the decision to move north of the border. TED organizers say they and city officials are now planning “a custom theater designed to maximize the impact of talks, permitting multiple configurations for sitting, listening and connecting with audience members, speakers, and performers.”
The location of that theatre is not lost on tourism officials hoping to market the stunning views of the water and North Vancouver. The convention centre boasts a 55-foot high space, looking out through massive windows to views of the snow capped coastal mountains; a panorama that will be captured forever in TED Talk videos that have so far been viewed a billion times online.
As ideas and dreams are disseminated, attendees will be enveloped in the vistas of Vancouver, while online viewers will be treated to the majestic views crucial to the marketing of the city.
“The Vancouver Convention Centre... coupled with the proximity of world-class hotels, will offer an intimate and inspirational setting to engage delegates,” says the gushing news release from both Tourism Vancouver and the Canadian Tourism Commission. It also offers the city an unparalleled marketing opportunity as the TED host city and country, on par with major business, cultural and sporting events globally.
Opportunity to establish city as place where great ideas are born and cultivated
For entrepreneurs whose ideas have flourished in Vancouver, the decision to move here makes perfect sense.
“While TED joining our community is going to be a fantastic means of drawing further attention and talent to the area, I strongly believe that we are already on the cutting edge of many industries, tech especially,” said Ryan Holmes, CEO of Vancouver based Hootsuite. “They chose Vancouver for a reason, and that's something to be proud of.”
“It’s like Davos”, says Michael Tippett, former GrowLab Ventures Inc. executive director and serial entrepreneur, referring to the World Economic Forum each year in Switzerland. “To have a conference the calibre of TED to choose Vancouver as its global destination is a real opportunity for Vancouver to establish itself as a place where great ideas are born and cultivated.”
Tippett says the decision to move TED to Vancouver reflects well on a city that has been pushing to establish itself as an entrepreneurial hub of the future with a foundation of environmental awareness and action.
“I think the extent to which Vancouver is establishing itself as a thought leader on the green agenda; I think that is great that we can have that message come out. And I think it says that Vancouver is located at a place where people will come. The fact Vancouver made the list means that Vancouver is a desirable location for people to come from all over the world,” said Tippett.
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“Everyone knows that I sincerely believe some of the most talented minds in technological innovation are living in our city,” said Ryan Holmes.
“Vancouver has what it takes to become an international hub for innovation and TED's announcement may serve as further proof to that end. This city's residents are generally committed to sustainability, from being avid bikers to taking the time to compost and even building community gardens. It's great that TED took this commitment into consideration when looking for its next big destination.”
The announcement from TED organizers refers to the eco-friendly Vancouver Convention Centre with its six-acre living grass roof. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says the decision to move the TED Talks to Vancouver is “a validation of our work to make our city a world leader in sustainability and innovation.”
In an online world dominated, it seems, by bad dancing videos and stupid animal tricks, the TED Talks videos have become a refuge for millions of curious souls seeking knowledge and inspiration. TED provides taped 18 minute lectures online for free.
In 2012, TED surpassed one billion video views. What began in 2006 with six videos are now 1,433 videos on topics that are categorized as “inspiring, jaw-dropping and funny”, ranging from scientific insights into the dung beetle to a 10-year old banjo playing sensation from New York. Past speakers include people like education specialist Sir Ken Robinson to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
“It’s a platform for ideas, it’s a platform for provocation, platform for thinking about new ideas, thinking about ongoing, long standing questions in new ways. I think it’s fantastic,” said Norman Armour, Executive Director of Vancouver’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
“We just finished our ninth festival and our presenter’s week where we have people coming in from across Canada and around the world to see the work being presented in the festival, to connect with local arts scene here, to talk to each other, to network and share ideas and perspectives, ambitions and aspirations,” said Armour. “I see the TED Talks coming to town as that kind of an opportunity. The fantastic thing is you don’t have to get on a plane to go somewhere else to connect with people coming into the city.”
The TED conference attracts some of the leading lights in the intellectual world, but it isn’t cheap. A ticket to the event cost $7,500 if your application to attend is accepted. Presenters in the past included Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
West Vancouver anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author and photographer Wade Davis lectured at the 2003 TED Conference on Preserving the Ethnosphere along with Cape Breton fiddling sensation Natalie MacMaster.
The move to Canada could possibly have an impact on whether some participants attend. However, Anderson disagrees. “We anticipate seeing plenty of family faces in the TED2014 crowd,” says Anderson.
“We also expect the move to bring in new ones we’ve never seen before – which is exciting for us.”