Edmonton – City of Creatives, or Spectators – City of Producers, or Consumers?

The unfolding developments surrounding the proposed new arena and entertainment district represent a significant fork in the road for Edmonton.  The discussion is almost entirely about the project itself, and its immediate impact, physically, economically, and socially.

Some very interesting questions, and the longer term future, are not being discussed:  perhaps they are not even being considered.

What are the essential characteristics of the world’s great cities – not necessarily the largest ones, but the ones that are known, respected, and attractive?

Is London, or Geneva, or Stockholm, or Paris, or Beijing, or Singapore known for the teams they host?  Is any of these cities famous because of its sports fans, or because of the after game night life?  Does the quality of life in Stanford, or Oxford, or Rome or Sidney suffer because they don’t host championship professional sport?

Basically, the new arena is a proposal to keep Edmonton on the same trajectory it has followed for 50 years, and infuse new energy into the trajectory.

Perhaps Edmonton’s trajectory should be deflected.  Perhaps instead of encouraging more spectating and entertainment, we should be encouraging more participation and productivity.  Perhaps instead of encouraging more low income employment in the food/beverage and entertainment industry we should be encouraging post-secondary education, research and development, and innovation.  Perhaps instead of further encouraging a consumer economy we should be encouraging a creative/productive economy.

The new arena involves more than $100M of community money, from the City and from the province, in the form of immediate and long-term support.  It is also private enterprise that depends on a non-compete provision.

Perhaps instead of putting $100M into maintenance and acceleration of Edmonton’s current trajectory, we should be considering using the money to deflect our trajectory in a somewhat different direction.

Could we use $100M to fund annual global awards, like the Nobel prizes, that would draw the best and the brightest into our community every year, and bring the eyes and ears of the world with them when they come?

Could we use $100M to fund annual trade fairs, like the Hamburg fairs, that would focus attention on design, and manufacturing techniques and technology, and focus the world’s attention on Edmonton year in and year out?

Could we use $100M to create a trans-polar “toll-road in the sky” that might make Edmonton the North American air traffic gateway to Europe and Asia?

Could we use $100M to make Edmonton the world’s premiere “winter city” – and improve the quality of life for all Edmontonians while attracting people here from every northern zone city in the world to see and enjoy how we live?

If/When we say “yes” to a new arena, are we consciously, deliberately, and happily continuing the current trajectory?  Does that trajectory really represent the best that Edmonton can be?  Is it truly the case that a better professional sport facility is one of the key building blocks of a world city?  Or are we building a coliseum precisely because we are in decline and want to be distracted?

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