View from the ‘Loo: Crazy, but a good crazy Anthony Reinhart September 12, 2013 Communitech, View from the ‘Loo It comes every fall, sharp as the crack of a fresh textbook’s spine: that back-to-reality feeling. Its arrival was especially abrupt for me this year, having just come off a three-month parental leave with my twin baby daughters. The only thing crazier than that, maybe, is returning to work at Communitech. Three months here are like a year anywhere else, given the pace of growth and change around here. But, just like parental leave, it’s mostly a good crazy. Between burps, baths and diaper changes, I did my best to keep up as Thalmic Labs raised a $14.5-million Series A round; our website Communitech.ca relaunched; we unveiled HYPERDRIVE’s Cohort 3 and changes to the program; and introduced Communitech DATA.BASE, among other developments. But I was just as excited to see progress on key items linked to our place in the broader community, which is also undergoing growth and change as Waterloo Region becomes a denser, more urban and dynamic place to live and work. One of those items is a conference I told you about before I went on leave, CityAge: The Innovation City, now less than a month away on Oct. 9-10. The two-day event, featuring top urban thinkers from across the continent, is sponsored by Communitech. Sessions will take place at the CIGI Auditorium, and a reception is planned for the Tannery Event Centre. Participants will discuss how mid-sized cities can capitalize on their potential in the digital and creative economy, as Waterloo Region is doing, and the challenges and opportunities associated with it: everything from sustainable planning and transportation to the role of place-making to talent attraction. I’m also thrilled to report that Kitchener’s own Bob Egan – steel guitarist with Blue Rodeo, entrepreneur, educator, proud downtown resident and passionate urbanist – will serve as MC for the CityAge conference. His musical bio is impressive enough, but I was also intrigued to learn Bob – who was born in the U.S. Midwest – has a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology, and worked as a management consultant. He is also playing a key role in the new Kitchener Studio Project, a collaborative learning centre combining art, design and digital media. I met with Bob on Wednesday and found one of his observations about Waterloo Region especially astute. From a place that loses many of its creative young people to larger centres, he said, we’ve evolved into one that’s begun to attract them – a rare trend among mid-sized cities in Canada that presents a huge and unique opportunity. “People are moving here, like they would have to Toronto or New York City, to start something, because it’s a fertile ground for a career, for a relationship, for education, for making something,” Egan said. When I stopped to think about some of the people I’ve encountered since I returned to work last week, I realized just how right Bob is. On my first day back, I greeted Chris Plunkett, Communitech’s new full-time Director of Media Relations. Chris, raised near Guelph, comes to us from Washington, D.C., where he handled key files as Canada’s spokesman at the embassy. Before that, he was stationed at Canada’s permanent mission to the UN in New York, and at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa. In addition to first-rate skills, Chris brings a wealth of experience in dealing with top U.S. and Canadian media, which can only benefit our tech cluster as it attracts increasing attention from abroad. That he chose to join Communitech and settle in the urban heart of our region says much about what we’re building here, and the renewed vitality of this community. A few days later, I met with Karie Liao, the new artistic director of CAFKA (Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener & Area), who moved here from Toronto last month. Karie is hard at work preparing for CAFKA’s June 2014 biennial exhibition of contemporary art in public spaces. With Karie was Victoria Kent, another relatively recent Toronto transplant, who owns the popular Yeti Café on Eby Street in downtown Kitchener, across from the Kitchener Market. Victoria, a former Toronto Star librarian, is a strong and steady advocate for arts and culture, and her café clientele reflects that. You’ll often bump into people like Belfast-born, Kitchener-based painter Nik Harron, or budding fashion entrepreneur Catherine Bischoff, who moved back here from Berlin a couple of years ago. Catherine also works with Canada’s Technology Triangle to market our region as a business destination to the world. CAFKA, which works with our friends at Christie Digital to bring internationally accomplished artists-in-residence to the region, often incorporates installations with a technological bent – perfect for the Communitech network. Before I took my leave in May, I found this year’s artists-in-residence, Ruth Gibson and Bruno Martelli of London, U.K., working right here at the Communitech Hub in Christie’s space. Gibson and Martelli, whose work explores the intersections of technology and humanity, and of physical and virtual reality, have shown their work across the globe, including at the Venice Biennale, one of the world’s top contemporary art exhibitions. But they told me they’d never encountered a place as welcoming as Waterloo Region, and are considering staying here beyond the end of the program. When you add the many international students, world-class research institutes and globally experienced tech workers in this region to the equation, it makes for an interesting mix. So what does all this new blood mean for a community that, despite a history of prosperity, industriousness and innovation, has mostly escaped the world’s attention until recently? I think it means we’re in the early stages of a transformation, from the big small town we’ve been to the small big city we’re becoming. With that comes all kinds of potential – for new collaborations between tech and the arts, new styles of living, working and moving around, new ways of seeing ourselves, but also for some interesting friction between what was and what will be. Crazy, you might say. But a good crazy. Anthony Reinhart is Communitech’s Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer. View from the ‘Loo is a weekly look at the issues, people and events that shape Waterloo Region’s technology sector.