Every morning, Ian O’Donnell (`01 BA) grabs a cup of coffee and makes his way to work. Five minutes later, he’s at his desk.
It’s been more than a decade since the Edmontonian moved downtown — just three blocks from Manasc Isaac Architects, where he works. “Now it’s unimaginable to think of commuting to work,” he says. At the end of the business day, thousands of Edmontonians are braving the city’s icy streets or clogged freeways while O’Donnell is cooking up a steak on his barbecue.
While he owns a car, O’Donnell rarely uses it, insisting that everything he needs is either in walking distance or accessible by public transit: “It’s easy to dismiss the idea that Edmonton’s a car-oriented city, if you want to.”
O’Donnell is a vocal advocate for downtown revitalization. As the development chair of the Downtown Community League, he’s been actively involved in the downtown arena project since its inception in 2009. “We were actually involved with the Katz Group throughout the journey,” he explains, adding that the league’s input helped shape some the design planning and rezoning of the area.
O’Donnell was excited to see construction of the arena officially begin in early March 2014. When the project is complete, it will bring about 2 million people to the city’s core each year. This will go a long way towards injecting more energy and investment into downtown, he says: “It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s part of the puzzle.”
This “puzzle” is worth solving for both social and environmental reasons, O’Donnell says. High-density downtown living creates diverse communities in which people have easy access to the arts, entertainment, dining and amenities. Living within walking distance of where you work and play allows for a healthier, more active lifestyle that’s easier on the planet.
O’Donnell’s urban advocacy ties in nicely with his day job. At Manasc Isaac Architects, he works in field services/communications, helping to keep building projects on time and on budget. In addition to keeping a watchful eye on the numbers, he’s a liaison between different stakeholders, including the contractor, project owner, engineers and architects.
“It’s heavily focused on being a good communicator and someone who can manage a lot of things at one time,” says O’Donnell.
During his career, he’s been involved with a diverse range of projects, from the re-visioning of the Servus Credit Union corporate centre to the rebuilding of Slave Lake’s government centre and library.
One of his first projects was actually the controversial conversion of the U of A’s Pembina Hall from graduate residences to offices and classroom space. “I came in about halfway through that project but it was fantastic because, controversy aside, it preserved one of the original buildings on campus,” he says. Great efforts were made to preserve the historical value of the structure.
Now well into his career, O’Donnell thinks his Arts degree in economics and psychology has been a critical part of his success: “My degree was focused on writing, presentations and communication, ensuring [I was] able to decipher information – be it technical or historical or anecdotal – and convey that to an audience,” he says.