Edmonton's problem

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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.

20 Responses to “Edmonton's problem”

  1. blu
    August 5, 2009 at 9:48 am #

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Justin Archer
    August 5, 2009 at 10:07 am #

    Great post. I like the analogy of “moving the ball forward,” because I think that’s precisely what is being done, and what needs to continue.

    I’m one of the (seemingly) few people around town who grew up in Calgary and moved to Edmonton after university. One thing that I’ve noticed in the three or four years that I’ve been here is that Edmontonians tend to spend far too much time worrying about what’s going on in Calgary, and not enough time enjoying Edmonton and its many attributes.

    There is a group of young people here like Mack and others who are working hard to change that, and I think their work is paying off. What needs to happen is that people need to stick up for this place. Don’t pile on when your friends are running Edmonton down; instead, respond by saying something that you really like about Edmonton. If you hear a waiter chasing tourists away, say something to him. His job depends on people coming here and spending money – he needs to get on board! Let’s get rid of the old culture of civic self-flagellation and follow the lead of the new, forward looking, generation. Other cities do it, why not do it here.

  3. Brendan
    August 5, 2009 at 10:07 am #

    Since moving to Edmonton in 2001 to attend University, I’ve seen Edmonton take great strides as a city. You’re right it’s not there yet, but I love this city.

    My favourite part about Edmonton is that despite it being close to a million in population it doesn’t feel like a big city. Calgary is too congested, and too big. Vancouver is a nightmare for traffic. Edmonton has that small town feel that I just don’t think you can get anywhere else in a big city in the West (unless you’re brave and venture to Saskatoon or Regina maybe).

  4. kate
    August 5, 2009 at 10:12 am #

    I think Edmonton’s problem is partly a visual one. So, I live in Vancouver. Vancouver is like that beautiful girl who doesn’t have to wear any makeup or really try. She just has to not fuck it up. Whereas Edmonton is kinda plain, and has to work a bit harder. On the flip side, on twitter i find ‘Couves less passionate than #yeggers about making their city better…i think we have a tendency to coast on our looks a bit. Passion can go a long way imo.

  5. Mike J
    August 5, 2009 at 10:12 am #

    Great points Adam. The same could be said for many other small communities in Northern Alberta.

    Grande Prairie has hired an American firm to help it’s image by ‘rebranding’ the community. The citizens of my Community of Wetakiwin seem more interested in complaining about the way the city is run, rather than trying to become a part of the solution.

    The 25-40 demographic in this province have to become more involved in politics & organizing events in order to ty & make our province a better place.

  6. Jeff
    August 5, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    But I want it now!

    You’re right on when you talk about having some patience in changing the city into something drawing people in (outside of oil booms). I try and remind myself of that when I think about the LRT and transit. The greater good will come!

    You’re also right that the city has had its champions, continues to have those people driving new ideas, and will require those kinds of people to push the evolution.

    I also hate the term “world class” city.

    This post also reminds me of some musings from a friend, where he talks about the need for good Edmontonians to get on the case of the bad: http://grandefullbody.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/a-note-on-edmonton/

  7. bingofuel
    August 5, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    One of the things I think is key in all of this is that this steady improvement isn’t the result of political will or investment of businesses (though these all have significant effects); I think those elements of growth and improvement are largely peripheral.

    The major take-home here, at least for me, is that it’s people doing this. Real people who give a shit, who care enough about how things have gone that they now want to have an active role in how things will go. I’m loathe to evoke the word “grassroots”, but that’s what it is.

    And that gives me hope.

  8. Mike J
    August 5, 2009 at 10:33 am #

    I guess I should have used some references as well in my first post.

    Grand Prairie: http://www.dailyheraldtribune.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=1640792

    To be fair to Wetaskiwin, they have started a message board/newsletter/twitter & have hired some firm from out of town to run the whole thing.

    http://www.uccommunications.com/
    http://www.wetaskiwintomorrow.ca/

    Part of the problem with municipal governments is that they have a hard time listening to local constituants ideas I guess, so they need to hire consultants to solve local problems.

  9. Aden
    August 5, 2009 at 11:16 am #

    Thanks for this. Excellent article, perfect attitude.

  10. Ryan Heise
    August 5, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    I agree with a lot of this. I think Edmonton has a lot of great things going for it, and residents — especially young people — slag on the city a lot for very some unfounded reasons. (And definitely some that are legitimate. For instance, I think a large portion of Whyte Ave and all of West Edmonton Mall should burn to the ground, but that’s just me.)

    Needless to say, I love the city, and there’s a good chance I’ll be coming back. I’m excited for that.

    However, what I think needs to be asked is “why are we rallying around these things and what are the ends?”

    The Edmonton Twitterverse (which I would argue is not indicative of the average Edmontonian and is but a fraction of a fraction of the population) seems to rail against every issue that anyone can make a case for harming or helping the city. I’m not saying that having discourse about these things is unimportant — it’s very important and we all have every right to do so — but I’ve never seen anyone present an ultimate goal of what this “Better Edmonton™” should be or how to achieve it.

    I don’t think Mack’s tweet is unique or insightful. The girl probably doesn’t really want to be a waitress and would probably love to get out of Edmonton. You once wanted out. I wanted out. My friends who grew up in other cities wanted out of wherever that was. I won’t fault young people for thinking like this, and I don’t think anyone — a waitress or a brain surgeon — has a responsibility to stay in the place they grew up.

    I know more people who are proud of where they live than those who aren’t. That goes for everywhere I’ve lived for an extended period of time. (Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa.) Edmonton doesn’t have one big endemic problem. It has a series of smaller problems that most major municipalities also have. Tweeting and blogging about them doesn’t accomplish anything. Your audience is converted. Pin-pointing the problems and explaining to the apathetic masses why they’re important, then offering tangible solutions is what needs to be done. That’s not going to be done through social networking.

  11. Morpheus
    August 5, 2009 at 12:12 pm #

    I always refer to a quote from Henry Rollins:
    “Life is full of choices, if you have the guts to go for it. That’s why I get immediately bored with anyone’s complaining about how boring their life is, or how bad their town is. Fucking leave and go somewhere else. Or don’t.”

    Make the choice, or shut up.

  12. Mack D. Male
    August 5, 2009 at 12:47 pm #

    I think we already do engage people outside the echo chamber, though I agree there’s always room for improvement. We certainly don’t have a lack of face-to-face meetings for those using social media, however!

  13. Adriel
    August 5, 2009 at 12:55 pm #

    It’s winter 6 months of the year and the temperatures are incomprehensible to most of the rest of the world. IMO, that’s the biggest obstacle to increasing tourism and reducing brain drain.

    Weather is often sunny, unfortunately often accompanied with frostbite warnings.

  14. edmontonrealestateinvestor
    August 6, 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    Edmonton has certainly changed since I was a kid. Coming from Ontario it seemed one step away from having tumbleweed rolling down the streets. The city has improved so much whenever anybody say “Why are you going to Edmonton?” or “There is nothing there.” I think they haven’t visited since 1989.

  15. Edmontonstories
    August 12, 2009 at 11:01 am #

    Great entry. Glad to see our city’s local pride apparent. Has anyone had the chance to check out Edmontonstories.ca? It’s voting time…you can win a prize 😉

  16. Ivan
    August 12, 2009 at 3:36 pm #

    I think Adriel has a very important point there.

    People who have lived in Edmonton most of their lives can’t really realize how bad the weather is here. -35C with strong wind can kill anyone in winter.

    That said, people here is awesome, traffic is never a problem, there are plenty of jobs and there’s no stress. Also festivals are something to look forward to during the summer.

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