Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Edmonton's Inner Light

Confidence is a funny thing. When you have it, you’re invincible and possibility abounds. When it’s gone it can feel as though it’s rolling away from you never to come back. Of course we primarily speak about individual self esteem but it can just as easily be analyzed in cities. In the case of Edmonton, I think this is the crux of the identity problem we possess.

I’ve said for years that Canadians are terrible at speaking up about who we are. We’re bashful and always, at least in our minds, play second fiddle to the US. Albertans, despite some outsiders who view us as the ‘brash’ west, are worse yet constantly harping on our lack of national clout or our deficiency of good weather. If there was a confidence meter though, unfortunately no one would rate lower than Edmontonians. A city full of growth, promise, assets and opportunity still sees itself as less than other cities in this country and beyond.

Though I believe the confidence issue has existed for years, former Oilers defenceman Chris Pronger leaving our fair town in 2006 seems to be the quintessential example of our lack of self-belief. (As a sports junky and Oilers fan you should be proud I got through two paragraphs without a sports reference!) Now I don’t believe #44 handled his departure well, but there has yet to be any proof that he left because he hated it here. Ignoring all the rumours, there may have been legitimate reasons for leaving and most cities would’ve brushed that aside and worried more about the affect to the on-ice product. Here, we’ve not only taken it personally but based solely on chatroom buzz have started to think “gee, if Pronger leaves it must be true that this isn’t a good place to live”. Confident cities would instead rally to the support of their hometown or, and perhaps better, just ignore the situation and move on with quiet assurance of knowing their town is alive and well. However, in these three years every time a player doesn’t sign here, agree to get traded (see Heatley, Dany) or leaves our automatic assumption is that it’s completely due to our inadequate city.

The Pronger debacle merely brings to light our long held self-image problem. For a city with many great assets and incredible accomplishments, we have much to brag about. As I said, Canadians in general won’t brag, but Edmontonians need to build their inner confidence about how great a city this is. We’re not perfect by any stretch but we’re worth believing in. Confidence starts from within and it’s up to us as Edmontonians to act with a quiet belief that says “we know what’s going on here and how great it is”. It’s then that people, both in Edmonton and beyond, will take notice. Running to the top of Manulife to yell to the world isn’t necessary but instead building that intrinsic conviction is key. Until that light goes on in all of us, outsiders will perceive us for how we see ourselves, as inferior.


pkickham said...
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pkickham said...

Amen, Edmontonians love our city but struggle to communicate this with others. Edmonton is a beautiful city, with festivals galore, an incredible community spirit, a strong and resilient economy, a passion for sports and the outdoors and yes we have 4 seasons (and like it).

Tim Osborne said...

Agreed. But can't we have Heatley, too please! :)

David said...
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David said...

Good, insightful comments - I couldn't agree more. Now if City Council makes a firm decision to close the City Centre Airport, we'll move one very big step closer to proving that we have confidence in ourselves as a City. You and I have discussed this, and I know you agree.

I'll look forward to more blogs from you.

Digluesse said...

Good to see the airport decision come down. It's a start. Pat, you nailed it with the fact that there's so much going on.

Thanks for the comments and yes Tim, we can have Heatley!

Jay said...

I've been meaning to leave some thoughts on this interesting first post of yours. Not sure I can get it out as eloquently as I'd like but here goes...

Part of me wonders if all my time away from good old E-town since the mid 90s thru the first half of this decade gives me a unique perspective on things, but for me, the whole loss of confidence if you will of the city, seems to have its roots in the early 1990s.

With such a strong tie to sports teams as part of its identity, Edmonton seemed to lose its appeal, perhaps both to those inside and outside the city, when the Oilers went into that horrific downward spiral of not making the playoffs for those straight years followed by what seemed to be Groundhog Day-like consistency in losing to Dallas in the first round when they did make it in. Clearly the ability to boast about being the dominant NHL team could not longer be done, and I think this was a big dent into the city's psyche. And the Eskimos victory in '93 seemed to spell the end of the great "City of Champions" era for me when I thought of the city in terms of sports confidence.

Coupled with the general malaise that seemed to be prevalent during the King Ralph years with his heavy handed axe to healthcare, arts and environmental issues that seemed to strike a blow to many citizens (despite his success in eliminating of the province's debt), the overall mood of Edmonton seemed to be one that was slightly defeatist in a way - and having Klein from Calgary seemed to add to the shame.

Not trying to generalize things further but some recent events since I've come back have also left me feeling puzzled about just "what does Edmonton want?", and the identity it wants to uphold or forge ahead in building. Things such as the re-branding of the city's summer exposition (to Capital Ex) seemed awkward to me and a turning of the back towards the long standing former tradition and name; the denying of the Oilers ownership group to sell to Katz on repeated occasions when it was clear his stewardship would bring the team back to the forefront and improve its image; and of course all of those players who seemingly wanted to stay but weren't allowed/re-signed (Sykora), and those who publicly came out and said they wanted out (Peca, Pronger)) or don't want to come (Heatley). It just seems that a lot of things to do with Edmonton are uncertain and people just don't know what to make of anything anymore and thus this is damaging the city's confidence.

I could probably go on with a few more points but will leave it at that.

But as someone who's come and gone from the city, and seen it from the outside now for many years, I can say that the city shouldn't feel like the slighted child and as you say, should be sure of themselves, be proud of what they have and as long as they feel that way, the outside world will take notice. But until that is conveyed in a believable way, I don't think this tide will change soon, and judging from all the bitterness I heard on the sports radio in the days following the Heatley affair, I am not sure the populace (or at least those who have the time to call into those shows) is portraying that quite yet.