The other day, stalwart blogger and friend Mack Male posted a tweet about his dining experience at Sabor Divino. His tweet said: “Overheard at Sabor Divino, waiter to patrons visiting from Texas: ‘Of all the places you come to Edmonton?’ – That’s our problem.”
Mack’s right, that’s exactly our problem: a severe lack of pride in our city because it isn’t something or someplace else. And this statement is one that doesn’t take into consideration the efforts of building Edmonton into a global city in the next ten to 20 years. I’m talking about efforts by individuals citizens, by groups of organized citizens, and even by politicians, though I’m sure the cynics among you might think otherwise.
When I was younger, I used to shit on Edmonton constantly. “There’s nothing to do here,” “Downtown’s dead,” “Whyte Ave is a slobbering drunkfest.” And this may have been true, ten years ago (often, sadly, Whyte Ave continues to be a slobbering drunkfest). But there’s plenty to do in Edmonton, and the tools to find out what’s going on are becoming more and more accessible thanks in part to individual citizens blogging and broadcasting about the goings-on here; the City itself is using social media and its own website to disseminate information to people.
For a city that was once known only for its hockey team or its giant mall, Edmonton’s changed quite a bit since my childhood. Or perhaps it hasn’t changed all that much. One thing that has changed, in my mind, are the number of people becoming engaged and involved in the way the city runs, and the way its cultural institutions integrate with other civic agencies and businesses. Individual citizens appear to be more engaged than ever before because of the ease of information flow thanks to the web, social media, and certain champions of the city who have decided to try and get the word out. And this is key.
From the time I graduated high school just over ten years ago until I graduated from University about six years ago, there was a steady bleeding of talented, smart Edmontonians seeking opportunities in other more progressive cities. They wanted to live in places where communities were active and vibrant, where they could walk to a corner market and buy produce, or head a few blocks down a street and find a festival or event taking place. These types of amenities don’t spring up overnight. It takes the effort and will of engaged and passionate people to build those types of things in their own communities.
Thankfully, since my convocation, there have risen individuals who’ve decided that enough is enough.
Edmonton can and should be a place where all of these amenities are available. We now have the Downtown Farmers’ Market, and our festivals are increasingly recognized as world-class (I loathe that phrase, but there you have it) and steadily growing in their sizes and scopes. Even the City itself is getting into the spirit of things, attempting to engage citizens and draw them our of their homes during the typically dead winter.
The thing to remember about all of this? These things take time.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Edmonton won’t become a centre of cultural diversity, business innovation, or a tourist destination up there with larger Canadian cities like Vancouver and Montreal overnight. I mean, it’s taken more than ten years for Jasper Avenue to not be completely devoid of life. And it’s not even half-way along to the bustling street it could be. But it’s moved forward, and it continues to do so.
And that is what people who see the potential of Edmonton are doing: moving the ball forward. Because we don’t want this just to be the city with a big fuckin’ mall. We want it to be a city that’s really great to visit, really great to live in, and really great in general.
We’re getting there, slowly and surely, thanks to passionate Edmontonians.