Why He’s Top 40: Through his columns, novels and, maybe soon, a feature film, he tells Edmonton’s story to itself and the world.
Key To Success: “If you have a story – if you believe it and others believe it – you have an advantage over everyone else that you’re competing with.”
In his role as a columnist, Todd Babiak says it’s easy to get into the rhythm of complaining. “I think the role of a critic is important, but, as the media transformed, there’s an opportunity to advocate for positive change,” he says.
After years of staring at a dystopian wall from his office window inside the Edmonton Journal, where he started in 2003 as an arts reporter, Babiak recently saw an opportunity where he usually saw cement. He created YouTube videos and columns under the title “Interventions” asking property owners or community members to intervene with urban design ideas, “Edmonton’s No. 1 esthetic problem.”
“The Wall” was a good start, and soon the property owner, Melcor Developments, was negotiating with him and an artist to make that wall a work of art. The reader response was also positive; he received 485 ideas for “interventions” in two weeks. “I should have told them to do something, then e-mail!”
When Babiak gets excited about Edmonton, its faults and glories, he can’t be muzzled. Though wanderlust has pulled him away from the city, he always finds his way back to it, and it almost always finds its way into his work.
Of his four prize-winning novels, three took place in Edmonton and one, the 2006 Giller-nominated The Garneau Block, anthropomorphized the city with trees reacting to suburbia’s material sickness. More recently, he co-wrote an Edmonton-based screenplay with Vancouver filmmaker and former Edmontonian Jason Margolis that’s now seeking development funding. Titled The Great One, it follows a reporter on the day Gretzky was traded, when the city’s “young man confidence … was shattered.”
For Babiak, the story, not the medium, is the message. His most recent venture, Story Engine, co-founded with former Journal reporter Shawn Ohler, aims to consult organizations on how they can build their stories for strategic planning. “Storytelling is the most powerful means of communication we’ve ever had, and the most powerful way of thinking about the world.”