Edmonton to the world (via somewhere else)

An identity is a complex thing, and more-or-less impossible to sum up in a few words despite what any branding expert will tell you. I change my mind about myself ten times a week, on average, but I like that on my website and on Twitter I am forced to distill the way I see myself and, I suppose, the way I would prefer others to see me. I do need an answer for “What do you do?” I keep the unitard pictures hidden, most of the time.

The work we have done and the work we are doing for Edmonton will not suit a million people unanimously. What we have tried to do is link our research with a common theme, glue, that allows citizens to understand the best part of themselves — collectively. We didn’t invent Make Something Edmonton. Edmontonians did. This week, at the Chamber of Commerce state of the city luncheon, this is what the mayor said.

Others talked about a “Great Northern City” and variations on “best place to live work and play.”

The latter is utterly meaningless. But in our interviews, I was shocked to hear how little Edmontonians cared for northernness. It’s a fact, sure, but not one that fills them with pride. Out of 112 interviews, no one brought it up without prompting. The Group of Seven and Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler, the artists and writers, say the soul of Canada is in the north. Maybe Edmonton just isn’t far enough north.

To paraphrase the magic moments in our interviews, they nearly always went like this:

“Did you know {x} was built/created/invented/made in Edmonton? Did you know how {it} was made? Let me tell you about it.”

The Pehonan story that is emerging in Edmonton feels authentic because it corrects language that has always felt a bit off. For thousands of years, Edmonton has been a gathering place, a waiting place, a place of trade and celebration, a place of spirit.

Not a crossroads or a gateway: a destination.

Mayor Mandel often talks about how “good enough” is no longer good enough in Edmonton. Nearly anything is good enough for a temporary city. But people do not choose to move here, and to stay here, because of that nice “temporary vibe.”

Identity is complex, but some things just feel right. It takes a bit of work to find a way to put it into words. From time to time, it’s helpful to smash up against something that feels utterly, fundamentally wrong. Insulting. Stupid.

Like this (click to enlarge):

I won't be flying to Amsterdam with KLM for a while.

I won’t be flying to Amsterdam with KLM for a while.

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7 thoughts on “Edmonton to the world (via somewhere else)

  1. I’ve been thinking about identity a lot myself lately, too. It’s curious, but the idea of identity is only partially about how we want to be perceived and more so about how others perceive us, often by peering through the gaps of our best efforts to shape that perception. We can plug the holes, but the most interesting parts of ourselves are often what we’re hiding behind what we’re projecting…

    I wrote this a couple of different ways and couldn’t avoid the tone that made it read like a critique: It’s not. Just an observation. See, I put a project up on Make Something Edmonton and I applaud the efforts of the site. But at the same time I wonder if there is a next step planned: are we just promoting our efforts and …then what? Or is there some tipping point of collaborative greatness anticipated? What’s the next step?

    I think I run up against the same struggle I do with every other project I start: there are more takers in the world than there are makers. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, or at least not until we try to engage others to participate let alone help us “make.” Takers are our audience — nothing more — while makers can be our collaborators. I’ve found a few, but they are truly rare and precious people. Even so — and at the end of everything else we again end up competing for limited mind share, pitching a non-stop flow of ideas to social networks and wherever else, when we should be putting effort into making the ideas reality.

    Make Something Edmonton is good for the City and our identity, short term, but the gaps will start to become obvious, longer term, if the makers of this community don’t see focus and benefit. Part of me feels like we’ve all arrived and set up at a kind of digital trade show… but I’m not sure who’s going to walk through the doors when they open: makers or takers? I feel like it should be the former… could be the former… but even then that I won’t know what I’m supposed to do for them when they walk up to my metaphorical booth and click the like button.

    Is there incentive to collaborate? Are we expected to browse and volunteer our time or expertise to these projects? Is there a way to measure collaboration, promote collaboration, trade skills for karma, or volunteer hours to each other’s efforts perhaps? Are you — as you alluded to in your post — making “a gathering place, a waiting place […or maybe] a place of trade?”

    Again, just an observation. Good luck, and I look forward to watching the project shape out.

    • These are great points, and points that obsess us too. “Makers” do have an oversized effect on Edmonton, and when we looked at the anecdotes from the past and present that built this idea… that quality of collaboration and volunteering was unusually strong here.

      But, as you note, no one can promise that every idea/project will succeed. What we want is to give Edmontonians that story to tell, anecdotes to support it, and hope that if they DO SOMETHING for the city they will feel something for the city.

      You’re right that there is a short window for this. Officially, Make Something Edmonton as a volunteer committee will transform into something else in the fall.

      Thank you.

  2. > I won’t be flying to Amsterdam with KLM for a while.

    Okay – who will you be flying to Amsterdam with?

  3. Pingback: Mayors, potholes and KLM | Edmonton Blog Watch | The Unknown Studio

  4. First of all I want to say excellent blog!
    I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing
    my mind in getting my thoughts out. I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the
    first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted just trying to figure out how to begin.
    Any recommendations or hints? Thanks!

  5. I am sick and tired of being fed the line that Calgary is the gateway portal to the rest of the world. I am even more tired of hearing people say “We had to connect in Cal-GAIR-ee”. I’ll be honest: Calgary has NOT been in my flight itinerary since I actually flew there in 1998!! The truth is, you DON’T have to connect in Calgary. The longer that people believe this, the longer Edmonton will go without getting new air services. If everyone believed this, we wouldn’t have new service to New York. Now all we need to do is refuse to connect through Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto, and we’ll be all set. The next time that a travel or airline agent wants to route you through Calgary, just say “Calgary??? Oh, my, no. I never EVER fly to made up places. Calgary sounds like a made up place. No, please route me through a non-stop connection in the US or London!!”

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