It’s been 100 years. One hundred years of Edmonton battling its brand … its image … its reputation … which has resulted in something quite UNremarkable. Better than Winnipeg and Regina … kinda like Ottawa … but comfortably less flashy than Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary.
- Definition: un·re·mark·a·ble [ri-mahr-kuh-buh l]
- Adjective: Ordinary. Common. Average. Good Enough.
- Adjective: Not worthy of attention. Not worth remarking about.
We used to be known for Wayne Gretzky and West Edmonton Mall. But Wayne left town and someone built a bigger mall. We used to be known as the City of Champions. But a couple bad seasons quickly left our teams not worth remarking about. We used to be a government town, a university town, a festival town, a sports town, a creative arts town, an entrepreneurial town and a volunteer town. But we have never wrapped that kaleidoscope identity into something we can stand up with and shout to the world.
Why? Because over that 100 year history we have been afraid of building remarkable things. In 1912 we thought a $2.25 million chateau-style hotel was way too extravagant for the city, and nearly kyboshed the MacDonald Hotel. Kinsmen Sports Centre was unnecessarily big, as was Commonwealth Stadium. We were spending too much money on acoustics at the Winspear. Hall D at the Shaw would never work. And, the majority of Edmontonians thought lipstick on the old Art Gallery would be good enough.
Our history is riddled with big visions deflated by endless debate. And Edmonton’s identity has suffered from this lack of unity, a lack of confidence and a lack of action.
In my first week at EEDC, Councillor Amarjeet Sohi asked me, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rank Edmonton’s brand?” I indicated that I believed we were a 1.5 out of 10. After a clear audible clenching sound throughout the council chambers, Councillor Kerry Diotte thanked me for my brutal honesty.
I question whether we are serious about changing our identity? Sometimes I think that maybe the tagline “Edmonton: Good Enough” is what we really want? But, my hope is for more … much more. My hope is we unshackle ourselves from this civic brand of indecision and inaction … of good enough … and push for remarkable things.
We live in a city with a $56 billion economy, growing at 3.5% per year. We serve over 1.2 million people in the capital region, growing at 22,000 people per year plus over 9,000 new students that gainfully enter our workforce every June. Household incomes are the envy of the country, corporate profits are high, commodity prices are buoyant, we have no consumption tax and we have the 2nd lowest tax structure in North America. Yes we have potholes, and poverty and social challenges. Yes we will always need more schools and hospitals to accommodate our growth. But we also need big, bold, remarkable ideas to attract those same people who may want to come and live here in the first place.
It’s our brand and our image … and it drives population growth, investment and self esteem … and it makes cities either great or ordinary. Great cities must maintain a vision of “remarkable” despite a public policy environment that is filled with austerity, intervention, budget cuts, fiscal deficits, debt and uncertainty because they forgot to live within their means.
Do Edmontonians want to settle for good enough … for average? Or do we want to be remarkable?