Edmonton: what are you making? wouldn’t necessarily replace the “City of Champions” sign on the drive in from the airport. But it could. It doesn’t sound like a slogan but a slogan, in Edmonton, can feel imported from one of those places where smart people live: New York, London, Los Angeles.
I was in a room once, when an advertising agency presented ten potential slogans for Edmonton. The only one I remember was “art and soul.” They were lovely, and they might have worked in other places, but in that room it was like someone had left ten pounds of raw chicken out on the counter for a week or so. The smell of death was everywhere.
We’re a tough audience. We’re tough on ourselves and on each other. We’re embarrassed by cheap boosterism.
We’re proud of action.
Once a city has a story, what does it do? How do we activate our city story, translate it into projects? What can our leaders do to help? No matter what we do, we have to follow the iconic Edmonton model: to make something, even a coherent identity or image, from the ground-up.
We can celebrate what we have already achieved, with Edmonton institutions and companies and events that prove our story. This involves a bit of education. What do we say about Edmonton, to each other and to Calgarians, Torontonians, New Yorkers? We’re all ambassadors and evangelists for the city. Even those of us who love Edmonton struggle with something to say.
Complaining is in our blood but we can stop apologizing for the weather. Bad weather didn’t stop Austin and Stockholm is doing just fine. St. Petersburg is sexy and mysterious.
This isn’t about advertising in Vancouver, not yet. If we’re going to make something with a Make Something Edmonton campaign, it has to work internally first. Edmontonians want proof. They want to feel it and then maybe they’ll think it and say it.
Let’s begin with the truth. Why Edmonton?
Thanks to our culture and our economy, Edmonton is the best place to make something, from the ground up, in North America.
If a Make Something Edmonton campaign were to have a communications component, you could imagine themes. Teatro la Quindicina and Folk Fest, Waiward Steel, Culina, the Birkebeiner, Micralyne, Melcor, yoyoGstring, Kaleido, The Brick, What the Truck?, Yardstick Software,the Edmonton Public School Board, Canadian Western Bank, Clearwater Documentary and Manasc Isaac Architects have something in common.
Like the examples in my previous post, and many more, they all started as ideas in Edmonton.
But they’re also very different from each other, steel fabrication and theatre. If this is going to work, it has to be a call and an invitation to all Edmontonians — not just the creative class types. In Edmonton, you can make something beautiful. You can make something new, make something big, make something global, make something delicious, make something green, make something north, make something odd, make something unforgettable, make something true. We have anecdotes to prove all of these and more. You can make something thrive, starting with your family.
The language we use, about the city, the magic, might be in a project we can inspire. Our best civic projects, if they work, will have this ground-up spirit about them. This is what has been missing from the arena development so far, and one of the reasons it’s been so controversial. We can learn from this, as we proceed with the City Centre Airport Redevelopment. We are, as I mentioned in the last post, urban barn-raisers. We want to help conceive it and build it, whatever it is, especially if we’re helping to pay for it.
But our most revealing and our most loveable projects might be small things, tiny changes to the city.
What are you making? How can I help?
We have studied successful models around the world. How have cities activated a builders’ spirit in their citizens? What is a distinctly Edmonton application? In future posts, we’ll talk about some of those ideas and test a few.