On Tuesday, at City Hall, Councillor Don Iveson said a rather perfect thing. The WinterCity Strategy had just been released, and it was an occasion for a municipal committee to figure out what to do about it. This was largely a procedural matter and it confused many of us who are unfamiliar with committee deliberations. Was the committee going to accept the strategy for information? Or accept it more fulsomely? How much was this thing going to cost?
Councillor Iveson praised the report. He said he appreciated all of the recommendations and thanked the volunteers who had helped put it together. Then he said his rather perfect thing.
“I’m doing my part,” said Councillor Iveson.
Then he described his winter solstice party, an outdoor event he is planning with his friends and family. There will be a fire pit and perhaps hot rum. Maybe someone will play the guitar. He did not mention the accordion but why not? As he described his solstice party I found myself thinking what I might add if I were planning my own solstice party. Maybe Shout Out Out Out Out has some smash teen Christmas hits and wants to play them in my yard.
“We’re going to celebrate the longest night,” he said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. The night is longer in Edmonton, on December 21, than in any other major city on the continent.
Of course we should celebrate.
There were questions about the nature of the report, and some skepticism. Did this mean the city had to start building a bunch of worrisomely expensive things? All-year outdoor swimming pools and an ice hotel in Churchill Square? We repeated what we had heard so often at committee meetings, which echoed what Story Engine had heard in its interviews.
Edmonton has a bottom-up culture.
We can’t shame Edmontonians into understanding or feeling or re-telling Edmonton’s story. We can’t force Edmontonians to ask: “What are you making?” instead of talking about the weather. And we can’t order Edmontonians to fall in love with winter because it is good for them, like castor oil. “Hey Edmontonians, a think tank decided you should stop complaining about cold weather. Get on it!”
All we can do is invite them to come outside and play.
Neighbourhood longest night parties, with fire pits and home-spun entertainment, is much cheaper than my own dream Make Something Edmonton project: the world’s first winter urban obstacle course from City Hall to the legislature grounds and down into the valley, up and over icy walls, sliding and falling, across the river and up into Old Strathcona and ending at McIntyre Park. This would be terribly expensive and dangerous and stupid and marvellous.
But putting together toolkits for neighbourhood longest night parties and inviting Edmontonians to make them happen — hot rum optional — is easy and elegant. Every one of them will be different but Edmontonians will be bound by the effort, by the ritual, and by the anecdote we can all tell on December 22 and the rest of the year.
What are you making on December 21? Hot rum? Fire? Edmonton?