A strange story appeared in the newspapers today. The headline: $10 million to live in Edmonton? No thanks.
This has happened before. A multi-millionaire is lured to the city, a hockey player or a researcher or an executive, and it does not work out. The weather is imperfect, or there is something about that previous life, in that other place, they miss too much. Maybe the husband or the wife, who does not work 16-hour days or travel around the world in airplanes, does not want to leave friends and family and attachments behind.
Place is important.
What’s strange about this is how Edmontonians, and Canadians, typically react to it. We are wounded. That new sense of confidence: sucked out of us. We want to be all things to all people, world-class and diverse and sustainable and innovative, and if one person — a rich person — does not agree with the place we make it a news story and put on our municipal hairshirts and wonder why why why? What have we done wrong? It snowed early this year. Thanks for nothing, snow!
While it is important to be welcoming and hospitable, to integrate new Edmontonians into our culture, we can’t be all things to all people — creamsicle city. Some people like ice cream and some people prefer popsicles. If Edmonton is an ice cream city we ought not to punish ourselves for popsicle failures. This isn’t a big, glamourous city. It’s something else.
Maybe you like the idea of building or creating something, from the ground up, and launching it into the world from an open and dynamic city of a million people. Or maybe you’d prefer to live in a beautiful, sophisticated, mature European city you will never change, a city that will not remember you but for the hundreds of great men and women already haunting the halls and walls and cemeteries. It’s true, in Edmonton, you won’t have as many opportunities to wear your tuxedo.
Edmonton is not for everyone. No city is for everyone.
It is better to focus on why Edmonton is for some people, smart and good people, and to place our city-building hopes and strategies there. When we recruit talented people, we ought to be honest. This is not New York City. It is not Toronto. It is not Calgary. It is Edmonton, and if you want to make something extraordinary this is your city.
Place is important.
Jared Smith of Incite Marketing hosted the Startup City launch in Edmonton on Wednesday. He spoke of his great-grandfather, who was passing through Edmonton over one hundred years ago, and had horse trouble. He might have bought a new horse but the Hudson’s Bay Company needed a school. So he stayed and started one. Then he started an insurance business.
“Edmonton is a city where you can get off your horse and start something.” Jared said.
It was true then and it is true now. Some people want to keep on riding, to cities were there’s very little left to start. Some cities are already finished. Good luck to those people, really.