Putting the Vital in Revitalization

19 May 2013

So I have a confession to make. Until today, I’ve been against public funds for the new, downtown arena in Edmonton.

Call me selfish, call me irresponsible, but I was worried.

Worried about silly and trivial little things like:

1) a consortium of multi-millionaires reaping all the profits.
2) further gentrification that violently displaces the homeless community.
3) estimated infrastructure money that, heck, might not even exist in twenty years, pulled from projects of immediate relevance.
4) not finding a single informed and objective study on the impact of such an arena that’s actually positive.

Yes indeed, this list was keeping me from being a believer. Listening to so-called experts made things even worse.

Lucky for me, however, I went on Twitter, and found a way to stop thinking critically and to love the arena. Not for me personally of course, because I could never afford to go to a game. But for a whole section of our population normally left by the wayside.

Shamefully, I’d forgotten about the plight of affluent hockey fans.

Now, I know, admittedly, I wasn’t instantly as forward-thinking or as progressive as they are. But, through their use of compelling reason and sound inescapable logic, I experienced the warm embrace of arena-love! They won me over with prudent justifications, and prompt, nuanced follow-ups that earned my empathy and respect.

First, their arguments are airtight. A persuasive lament I kept hearing was “just build it already.” What is more convincing than that? It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Such crushing insight renders discussion and debate totally moot! There’s no need to for it! Even so, and although affluent hockey fans shouldn’t have to provide details or evidence, they DO. Noblesse oblige!

For instance, they point out how if you are alive in the 21st century, an arena is absolutely necessary for existence. Furthermore, AND more importantly, they show it is absolutely necessary for a world-class city through this formula:

Edmonton + New Downtown Arena = World Class City

Ponder that philosophical position and there’s only one inescapable conclusion: A DOWNTOWN ARENA IS THE ONLY CHOICE! I know that it’s not having concern for your neighbours or the environment, no way. Even the plight of poor kids in Africa is a New England clambake compared to the existential angst wrought by our lack of a downtown arena. It’s building a big hockey rink that immediately makes a community world-class in our futuristic post-Y2K world. Never mind that Edmonton used to have a downtown hockey rink. That’s not important, because it’s in the past. Committing historical research is nearly as bad as committing sociology.

I think it was Jane Austen who wrote, “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a city in possession of a good fortune must be in want of an arena.” Or something like that. But don’t trust me, or some clinically repressed dead English women, trust science!

That’s right, science. According to noble science, it’s a fact that every nice city is only pleasant because of its sports stadium. Clear examples are Hong Kong, London, Paris, Rome, and New York City. I visited them all to see their arenas, as do most tourists. And in every city, the question their citizens always asked about Edmonton was, “when are you getting a big new arena to go with that big shopping mall? Only then will you be like us! Come back and tell us about it and only then will we accept you!”

This realization made things click for me: revitalization doesn’t happen out of creativity, innovation, and new ideas. Nevermind affordable and accessible faucets of Edmonton like as the River Valley, the Art Gallery of Alberta, our vibrant local music scene, and even our unparalleled summer festivals.

Revitalization certainly isn’t from local businesses or people working together to develop their community. It’s from publicly-funded arenas, full-stop.

After it hit me, out of interest and awe, I’d took a gander at hockey fans’ twitter profiles. I noticed most are from a magical place called “oil country” and fans of the NHL. They love hockey! So just think: all we have to do is spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make them happy! And when there’s no lockout on, and before the Oilers miss the playoffs, they’ll get to gather in their luxury boxes and talk to each other about how much the property they own near the arena is worth. Cool huh?

These are the hard working lawyers, doctors, land owners, business leaders, and anybody who can live with themselves for working in Ft. Mac. Or, it’s the folks who want to be ’em. Even if they aren’t real professional hockey fans, they love the opulence the new arena offers. It’s as glamorous as they can imagine a city like Edmonton, even as they miss all the wonderfully world class things happening here already. The difference being, of course, they can’t profit from a helping make a beautiful art mural on a wall, organize a local music festival, or keep score for a group of kids playing playing basketball together in Churchill Square. It’s consumption over community. All you have to do is sit in a seat and be entertained, and don’t have to worry about participating. This is being world class in the 21st century folks, so get in line!

Arena boosters have latched themselves onto a project that will be pushed through because it’s too big to fail, just like the Oilers (except, they do fail – spectacularly), and those US banks when the recession hit a few years ago. And watch out: we’re constantly reminded that if it isn’t built, then one of the most marketable teams in the NHL will surely go to a city that doesn’t even care about professional hockey. Quelle horreur! Now there’s a threat you can take straight to the bank! For many Edmontonians, their identity is inseparable from the Oilers. And fair enough. We’re hammered with the teams importance in the media everyday. The cultural capital that gets built up means that anything that could help the dynasty is good, and any threat to it is bad.

So, we’ll have the government socialize an arena for private profiteers. Thank goodness the money will trickle down into the hands of the needy the elite. They know way more about spending money anyways, so it’s only fair. It’s the best kind of capitalism! The public will build it, and a few get to enjoy it. Wouldn’t it be great to do your part to give them what they clearly deserve for their modern thinking?!

But maybe you’re not totally on board yet. No, you’re still distracted by all of those negative implications – those factors affluent hockey fans don’t have to worry about. Well, maybe reading a tweet about a dystopian future will change your mind. It did for me:

“Justin Timberlake steps out of Rexall after show next Jan.”Um, let’s just hang on the bus guys-I don’t like the look of this area” #yegarena”

Seriously. How embarrassing. What if JT came here and had to go to an old arena, in an area of town with poor people. Gosh, do they even consume? What a nightmare! Do you want to be responsible for this? For making JT go out of his comfort zone, as so many other affluent hockey fans have to do every single time they go to Rexall?

Or worse, imagine hordes of angry Bliebers, rioting due to Justin 2.0’s refusal to perform at Rexall next time he’s in town. Not me thanks. As of now, I’m pro-arena and proud! Like Ann Frank, I just want to be a Blieber in progress and downtown pride!

So this one time, just this once, let’s do something affluent hockey fans aren’t accustomed to.

Let’s give them what they want.


(this was originally published on Never Tell Anybody Anything)



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Forgotten Worlds

27 March 2012

6 March 2012

The Past is Unwritten

While growing up in a country that relentlessly bombards youth with the social conditioning to be obsessed with ice hockey, it’s not surprising that I spent a large chunk of my allowance collecting hockey cards (the rest was spent, of course, on comic books and 5 cent candies). I had a lot of great ones – a card commemorating Wayne Gretzky’s “1000th point,” heck, I think I had the card of every Edmonton Oiler that was later sold off or traded for a profit at a loss to the community. Yep, I had a pretty big collection. Also, I think I have bitterness issues still resonating from the late 1980s and early 90s.

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