I think this is the one:
Are we world-class?
In brash-talking Calgary, the answer to that question is a resounding yes --and Calgarians think the rest of the country would agree with them. In Edmonton, not so much. We're good, all right, but we don't brag or carry on. We're, well, we're Edmonton
The Edmonton Journal
Sunday, July 20, 2008
They are Veronica. We are Betty.
They are Lucy. We are Charlie Brown.
They are Calgary. We are Edmonton. And a new survey shows that Calgarians think more of their beloved city than Edmontonians think of Edmonton. Not only that, Calgarians are quite certain that others have the same high regard for Calgary as they themselves do. But Edmontonians think others see their city as a second-tier outpost.
The survey, conducted by the University of Alberta's Population Research Laboratory, explored the priorities of Edmontonians and Calgarians, as well as issues around the self-esteem of Alberta's two major cities.
Asked if they thought Edmonton was a world-class city, 61 per cent of Edmontonians said that this was the case, 29 per cent said it was not, while 10 per cent said they weren't sure.
But in Calgary, 76 of those surveyed felt their city was world-class, with just 19 per cent against this proposition, and five per cent not sure.
The kicker, though, was the followup question: Do you think other Canadians view your city as a world-class city?
In Edmonton, just 26 per cent said other Canadians would deem Edmonton to be world-class, while 56 per cent of Calgarians thought outsiders would think that Calgary is world-class.
"Calgarians have a very high opinion of themselves and assume everybody else does, too," says Prof. Bruce Johnson, an economics professor at Centre College in Danville, Ky., and the study's lead author. "And Edmonton, I don't want to say they have a chip on their shoulders, but they don't think they get the respect they deserve."
Edmonton's Mayor Stephen Mandel says Edmontonians just aren't the kind of people who brag about themselves or their city. They see the city differently, and in a more critical light, than the rest of the world sees the city. "Often times, the most critical people about the city of Edmonton are Edmontonians," Mandel says. "Whether it's good or bad, I don't know.
"Sometimes it makes it difficult for Edmontonians to sell Edmonton because they don't have the kind of belief in the city that other (outside) people have."
Do Edmontonians have a self-esteem problem about their city?
"I don't know if they do or not," says Mandel. "I think our self-esteem is growing exponentially. I think we once had (a problem) but we're now feeling more confident in ourselves as a city, I hope."
Patrick LaForge, president of the Edmonton Oilers and chairman of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, agrees that Edmonton is on an upswing. "It's on the road to greatness and it's figuring out what to do about it. I think it's in the transition mode, not in a negative mode."
In certain businesses, such as hydrocarbons, education and health care, Edmonton is world-class, LaForge says. But people not connected to those areas might be ambivalent about Edmonton as a world-class city. "Edmontonians are very realistic, maybe a little more logical about where their role is in the world and their connection to it," LaForge says.
As for Calgary's seemingly high self-esteem score, LaForge says, "I'm amazed that Calgary scored so low. Most Calgarians think the place is the bee's knees."
Johnson and John Whitehead, an economics professor at Appalachian State University, worked on the survey with Dan Mason, a sports business professor at the University of Alberta. More than 900 Albertans were interviewed about their civic priorities. The results are still preliminary, Mason stresses, with final results to be presented at a conference in November.
When he was conceiving of the study, Mason wondered if Edmonton and Calgary might be different when it comes to self-image, and if that difference might affect the willingness to pay for improved downtown districts, which could include the construction of new arenas.
Mason, who grew up in the Okanagan and studied in Vancouver and Washington, D.C., before moving to Edmonton, had long suspected Edmonton might have something of an inferiority complex. He recalls how strongly the city reacted when a London newspaper columnist, Robert Philip, labelled the city "Deadmonton" during the 2001 World Championships in Athletics.
For a few weeks, Philip was Public Enemy No. 1 in Edmonton, and got all kinds of media coverage. Mayor Bill Smith went so far as to organize a helicopter tour of the city for Philip in order to change his mind. "I wouldn't want a writer of a newspaper that's going all over the world to leave this city with the wrong impression," Smith explained.
But Mason wonders why anyone cared what Philip had to say. "Do you think that if somebody from Indianapolis went and covered the London Olympics in 2012 and wrote that he thought the subway was dirty that it would get big play in London?" he asks.
Mason noticed the same strong reaction in Edmonton as a result of the Chris Pronger's rejection of the city because his American wife, Lauren, didn't like it here.
"There's a lot of people who leave Vancouver because their wives hate it, but Vancouver doesn't care."
For his part, Mandel says he puts zero weight on Lauren Pronger's take on Edmonton. "Who cares about her?" he scoffs. "She's a very, very wealthy person from St. Louis. She's a hockey wife, who is all alone, who didn't want to leave that city, which is where she's from, and she didn't adjust well. Lots of times, people come to cities and don't adjust well. I don't think she would be the one we should use as the bellwether for the city of Edmonton."
Nonetheless, public interest in the Prongers remains strong, as witnessed by massive readership for any news item about the pair.
Rejection of this city continues to repulse and fascinate Edmontonians, just as it did in the 1980s, when Montreal writer Mordecai Richler blasted Edmonton as the "boiler room" of Canadian cities.
Mason has also seen the self-esteem issue at play through the defensive reaction of some critics of the downtown arena proposal. "For them, it's like, 'My Edmonton is fine and I don't want change.' I would argue that's kind of a manifestation of that inferiority complex. Rather than saying, 'What can we do to make our city better?' it's like, 'Our city is good enough, damn it. We don't need these things. ... If you don't like it, you can go home.' "
Now that he's lived in Edmonton for some time and faced questions from outsiders about why he chooses to live in such a cold and remote place, Mason says he understands some of this defensiveness. "You just get tired of, 'Edmonton, that's way up north. Why would you want to raise a family up there?' "
But the survey shows a different attitude in Calgary, Mason says, where there is more of an emphasis on arts and culture and on a vibrant downtown, as well as more support for having a new arena built downtown rather than in the suburbs.
"Calgarians are high on the horse," Mason says. "They also value downtown a lot more."
In Edmonton, 37.4 per cent in the survey thought arts and culture was a "very important" quality-of-life issue, while 43.2 per cent of Calgarians did. Likewise, 33.6 per cent of Calgarians felt the downtown was a very important quality-of-life issue, while just 21.8 per cent of Edmontonians did.
On the arena issue, people were told in the survey: "Building an arena downtown would improve the quality of life more than building it in the suburbs," then asked if they agreed or disagreed. In Edmonton, 46.7 agreed with the statement, 41.7 disagreed, while 11.7 were neutral. In Calgary, 55.6 per cent agreed, 30.2 per cent disagreed, while 14.2 per cent were neutral.
"Calgary is a more evolved cosmopolitan
area ... ," Mason says. "They think they are world-class, and the things that make world-class cities, they have more demand for: arts and culture and a vibrant downtown."
But LaForge, who lived for eight years in Calgary, says he's not at all surprised that Calgarians are more in favour of a downtown arena and more focused on their downtown. "Everybody (in Calgary) goes downtown to work. They hate the traffic, they hate the drive, but it is downtown-centric for commercial reasons."
As for Edmonton, its businesses -- refineries and manufacturing -- tend to be on the edge of the city.
"No question that Calgary is going to say that downtown is more important because they live and breathe and eat there. Most Edmontonians do not use downtown."
There's an old Edmonton story that goes: An Edmontonian sells his business for $100 million. He says nothing. A Calgarian sells his business for $100 million. He stands on the corner and announces to the world he sold it for $200 million.
So what is Calgary's source of its boundless self-regard?
Mandel says it might have something to do with Calgary's primary business.
"Calgary is Big Oil. What does Big Oil sell? 'I'm Big Oil. Got the big hat. From Texas."
The survey explored exactly which cultural institutions in both cities were key to civic pride.
At the top of the list in Edmonton, far, far ahead of anything else, was the University of Alberta, which 82 per cent of Edmontonians deemed to be "very important" to civic pride.
Calgary had two big sources of civic pride, the University of Calgary, with a 67-per-cent "very important" ranking, and the Calgary Stampede, deemed very important by 68 per cent.
Many Edmontonians have long felt their comparable summer festival, Capital Ex, the midway carnival formerly known as Klondike Days, paled in comparison to the Stampede. This was certainly reflected in the survey, which found just 12 per cent of Edmontonians felt the Ex was "very important."
When it comes to summer fun, Edmonton's Fringe Festival scored better, with 32 per cent deeming it very important.
Even in the world of hockey, Calgary inched ahead, with 49.7 per cent of Calgarians saying the NHL's Flames are very important to civic pride, compared with 46 per cent for the Oilers.
There were a few places, though, where Edmontonians took more pride, such as the respective universities.
There was also the Canadian Football League, where 25.3 per cent of Calgarians felt the Stampeders were very important to civic pride, compared with 30 per cent for the Eskimos.
Fort Edmonton Park was also deemed very important by 37.1 per cent of Edmontonians while Heritage Park got the nod from just 17 per cent of Calgarians.
LaForge says he's bored with comparisons between Edmonton and Calgary. The key, he says, is for the cities to work together with every other place in the province, as the real competition is the rest of the world.
"I think the continual comparison with the other great city in Alberta, the other great Canadian city, is kind of silly.
"We think that sometimes just being one rung up the ladder higher than Calgary on any factor makes us better, when in reality, it doesn't. We have to compare ourselves to the global world."
The study might help Edmontonians focus on its priorities, Mason says. Right now, there's less agreement in Edmonton than in Calgary on what makes a great city and how to proceed in building one.
One result from the survey showed that Edmontonians are keen about a casino being part of any new downtown arena project, but don't care if affordable housing or arts and culture facilities are part of the arena development equation.
"I must admit I was disappointed to see Edmontonians weren't in favour of arts and culture. I didn't necessarily think it was a good thing that Edmontonians wanted a casino with this. But that's what they said. There's nothing I can do about that. But that's why you do this type of research."
For his part, Mandel says the survey asked an important question about the city's self-esteem, one that goes to the heart of Edmonton's self-perception. But one year from now, if a survey were to ask the same question, 80 per cent of Edmontonians would say this is a world-class city, Mandel believes. "I just think there is a new sense of pride in the city, a new sense of accomplishment."
Nonetheless, he's not expecting Edmonton to become a city of braggarts any time soon.
"We're a different kind of a city. We're not a city that goes out of its way to brag, or do the kind of things that would show off. We're the kind of city that is like meat and potatoes.
"We're a city that has got a great heart, and we go about doing the everyday things that make cities great. And when you do those kind of things, it's like the family that raised their two kids and takes them to baseball and dance and works hard and makes a good living, and you don't notice that they're great. But they are great.
"And that's Edmonton."
© The Edmonton Journal 2008
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CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.