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People walk past the TED logo at the Vancouver Convention Centre where the TED conference will take place March 17-21. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)
People walk past the TED logo at the Vancouver Convention Centre where the TED conference will take place March 17-21. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

TED’s next chapter is Vancouver’s Add to ...

Some locals are taking advantage of TED’s move to town. Vancouver architect and urban designer Bruce Haden has paid to attend, interested in having “the opportunity to engage at a really high level with people thinking about very powerful issues and ideas. ... I thought if I ever was going to go to TED that probably when it’s in Vancouver was the right time to do it.”

Mr. Haden, with the architecture and engineering firm Dialog, is in an enviable position – it’s a business expense for him. But it still took some thought and a strong recommendation from Michael Green, a Vancouver architect who spoke at last year’s TED.

Mr. Green will be back this year, this time as a paying customer. He’s also building the second stage for the conference. He knows the price is steep, but points out the money brought in by the conferences allows for all that knowledge to be shared online for free.

“I thought long and hard because I don’t make very much money and it’s expensive for me,” Mr. Green said. “But I realized just like I spent money to go to university, why should I stop spending money on enriching myself?”

The number of locals attending versus out-of-towners is unknown – TED would not provide that information – but Tourism Vancouver predicts $2.1-million in direct and $4.5-million in overall economic impact.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson expects a ripple effect beyond this week. “I think this is a great opportunity for our city to strut its stuff to some big influencers,” he says. The city contributed $25,000 toward a monumental work of public art commissioned for the conference, and paid $17,000 for TED street banners.

A consortium involving Tourism Vancouver, the Canadian Tourism Commission, the Vancouver Convention Centre and supported by the Vancouver Hotel Destination Association paid a fee to partner with TED to soften the financial blow of the move north. The CTC would not disclose the amount, but said there is great marketing power in being host city to TED.

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE TEDDING

Each TED conference has a theme. This year’s is The Next Chapter. The talks are grouped into sessions that have further themes, such as the opening event “Liftoff!” featuring Mr. Hadfield, among others. The final session, “Onward” will include a talk by Gabrielle Giffords – the former U.S. congresswoman who survived a gunshot to the head – and her husband Mark Kelly, billed as gun-law activists.

Sessions can be viewed in the theatre or in various gathering places. You can watch from a couch, bed or a beanbag chair. Other activities complement the daily TED experience. There will be yoga, meditation, “caffeine-fuelled conversation breaks,” early morning jogs, and late-night partying.

The TED website recommends drinking plenty of water, taking multivitamins and going easy on the alcohol. Also, leave your computer in your hotel room and your smartphone in your bag. “TED is an immersive experience, and you won’t want to miss a moment.”

THE TED EFFECT

The TED people also recommend talking to strangers. The small talk may end up being about oceanography or neuroscience, and it could lead to important connections and collaborations down the road.

Further, a successful TED talk can change a career – or even the world.

Mr. Green, whose 12-minute talk “Why we should build wooden skyscrapers” has been viewed more than 900,000 times since it was posted last summer, says the impact has been tremendous – with architects, architecture schools and even governments around the world suddenly giving the idea a close look– a development he “100 per cent” attributes to his online talk.

“One of the criticisms of TED often is how can you solve a major problem in 18 minutes or in my case 12 minutes?” he says. “You can’t, but what you can do is introduce new ideas to new audiences and if they’re interested, they’ll go and research it further, and that absolutely in my case proved itself out.”

Indeed, TED has become subject to inevitable criticism.

Benjamin Bratton used a TEDx talk for his takedown, accusing TED of over-simplification and famously calling it “middlebrow megachurch infotainment.”

“I submit,” he said in the talk later published by The Guardian, “that astrophysics run on the model of American Idol is a recipe for civilizational disaster.”

When asked about all the criticism, Mr. Anderson chuckled, pointed to his own Guardian piece in defence of TED, and acknowledged there have been some missteps. But he said the quality is rising as the organization evolves.

“This is a journey. And it’s a journey being carried out with a great deal of passion and desire to do things right,” he says. “Every day that goes by we learn something new. So we let the journey continue. That’s what the world of ideas is. You never get to absolute perfect pristine, beautiful truth. You just learn.”

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