Monday, 14 December 2009

"World Class"

There has been a lot of talk around Edmonton over the past few years, and particularly the last several weeks, about what it takes to be a "world class" city. Ways to distinguish ourselves in this regard have been proposed in the form of elaborate signposts upon entry to the city itself, to the building of a downtown sports arena, to the current apparent passport to world recognition: Expo 2017.

Not surprisingly, I disagree with these things as being any kind of indicator as to the "world-classness" of a city. I would (and do) argue that these kinds of undertakings and endeavors actually do the opposite of what a truly world-class city would do. They glorify the flashy over the solid and dependable. They venerate highly paid entertainers rather than help out citizens in need. They confuse a marketing strategy with making the city a better place to live, for everyone.

The elected representatives of a truly world-class city would focus instead on the things that help their citizens the most, without worrying about image or notoriety. When you do the right thing, you don't have to worry about image or notoriety. So how about trying some of these 'world-class' things instead:
  • expand public transit
  • re-install public water fountains and encourage people to drink our excellent tap water rather than bottled water
  • develop walkable and bike-able communities, saving the city's surrounding farmlands from being paved over
  • build affordable public housing for the 3000+ homeless people in Edmonton
  • protect the fertile farmland in/to the northeast of the city, and protect it for the generations to come
  • maintain and retrofit existing infrastructure before building new, fancy, Dubai-esque monuments
  • encourage businesses and citizens to investigate things like solar power, green roofs, geo-thermal for their businesses and residences
  • Start converting city-owned buildings with some of the above-mentioned technologies
A city or town that did these sorts of things would soon be recognized far and wide as a pro-active, cutting edge and visionary place which serves its citizens in the long run, rather than staging a few flash-in-the pan publicity stunts. And as a bonus, there are no multi-million dollar application fees.

I doubt that Edmonton City Council reads Lao Tzu, but perhaps they should. Everyone benefits when society, and individuals, choose substance over style:
Return to the state of plain wood
Plain wood splits, then becomes tools
The sages utilize them
And then become leaders
From Derek Lin's translation of the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 28.


Adam said...

Enough of your practical solutions! We want big shiny buildings and a place to sweep the homeless under the rug. We only feign compassion and do the whole "green consumer" thing at Whole Foods so our friends think we actually give a shit. Duh!

Theresa said...

I know, I know, I should shut up with the practical suggestions!

E said...

Perhaps we could add:
Access to diverse, quality education for all (regardless of age, gender, life situation)
Expanded libraries
Wholehearted support of local farmers
Protection of natural resources/providers of ecological services (forests, water, soils etc)
Taxation that reflects true costs (oil extraction, loss of farmland, depletion of aquifers etc)

Theresa said...

E - yes, I wholeheartedly agree with those additions, which are truly world class.