Cities speak to us even when we aren’t listening. As anyone who has ever been on a carefully planned blind date understands, the inaudible communication between human beings who ought to be perfect for one another can be sinister.
The same goes for cities.
A place might be the right size, with pleasing architecture and urban design, an intelligent mayor, great schools, expansive parks, fine public transportation, a view of the sea and mountains yet, mysteriously, impossibly, dead to our hearts.
I remember thinking these thoughts while travelling, in cities I was supposed to love.
Yesterday morning, the rain transformed. The temperature dropped and the roads turned to ice. Wet, thick snow hung on branches. Brown turned bright.
Conversations about the snow had a peculiar quality: a peculiarly Edmonton quality.
We’re selling our house and people were coming through it last night, so we walked in the snow to Langano Skies, one of our neighbourhood restaurants. Our daughters were in their snowpants and made a rule: every ten seconds they would jump in the drifts. And they did.
At the restaurant we wiped the snow off them and they ate Ethiopian food with their fingers. Walking home, some of our inspired neighbours had turned on their Christmas lights early. People were still out shovelling the sidewalk and we had jolly chats with all of them. It was dark, as it will be until the end of February, but also beautiful.
An Edmonton writer, Michael Hingston, wrote this on Twitter yesterday:
There’s more to life than traffic conditions. Go play in the snow for 15 minutes, then tell me we don’t live somewhere special. #yeg
Thoughtfulness abounded. A woman named Zoe Todd posted a terrific response to this blog, to Make Something Edmonton, to Audacity in Edmonton and even the fundamental question: What are you making?
On Twitter she put it this way: An audacious Métis woman’s take on Make Something Edmonton.
The post about audacity is the most-read of any of these posts, even more than the bit about building arenas. Audacious thinking, about this city, comes in many forms. A group of groups — businesses and organizations — is getting together soon to scheme up ways to celebrate instances of audacity in our history and encourage more of it in the future. We’re inviting you to Make Something Edmonton in a more organized fashion, so start planning.
You all have those ideas you sit around and discuss, over wine or tea or beer. Now is the time to make them happen.
When I am trying to move myself from idea to reality, I think of a writerly quotation from J.D. Salinger. It’s from one of the stories about the Glass family, a piece of advice from one brother to another:
“If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined.”
The city version of this is obvious. What would you most like to see or experience in your city, in your life, if you had your heart’s choice? What do you really want? You just shamelessly do the thing yourself. You and your friends, your co-workers, your wife, your kids, your neighbours. This is the best city to launch these ideas, right now.
Vancouver city planner Larry Beasley made a speech a couple of weeks ago at their city museum. The city, he thinks, is a museum. And museum people, the keepers of the city story, are — must be — activists.