It’s been almost two years since we moved in Edmonton from Toronto. Since arriving, we’ve visited Jasper and Banff, summered in Kelowna and wintered in California – all within reach from our new western home base. But the one thing I hadn’t done was spend any real time in Calgary.
Now, this isn’t entirely by accident. Our move to Edmonton was preceded by considerable discussion about Edmonton vs. Calgary. Once we had moved to Edmonton, I was committed to integrating our lives into the community there. And that’s exactly what has happened. We are part of a great community, we have met many new and dear friends and I’ve come to see and value in Edmonton something that is often missed by external observers who visit: it’s a city with a huge heart.
As a visitor to Calgary myself, it only takes a few days to see and feel the differences with Edmonton. Calgary is an urban city in a way that Edmonton isn’t – and may never be. There is urban density: a combination of corporate towers, commercial and retail development, rising condominiums, bars and restaurants creating vibrant streetscapes teeming with life. Mind you, it was Stampede and there were lots of extra cowfolk around, but Calgary feels more like Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal. Edmonton is more like Ottawa or Winnipeg.
Now, I am NOT saying anything bad about Edmonton. And that’s my point. Edmonton and Calgary are so different as to make their comparison as meaningful as, say, comparing apples to oranges. In many ways, they are the antithesis of each other – a dichotomy of urban models that makes Alberta stronger.
I find the simple-minded rivalries that exist between cities like Calgary and Edmonton miss the point. Each city has a unique contribution to make. Edmonton should not be trying to be more urban like Calgary – but striving instead to be differently urban in a way that is complementary to itself and to Calgary.
Forget the concrete downtown core that has been the model for urban development for the past 50 years. Instead, let’s create an urban oasis in Edmonton’s river valley. Let’s stop worrying about attracting corporate head offices and their gleaming towers. Instead, we can build on the community, warmth and heart that exists in Edmonton and create a 21st century city that cares – about families, about good education, about medical care, about tolerance, about physical fitness, about the ecosystem that sustains us.
I’m not an urban planner or visionary – I’m just a guy who tries to see and appreciate the forest for the trees. And both Calgary and Edmonton have lots of complementary qualities to build on.