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Mediocrity is in the eye of the beholder

By: Jared Milne

  |  Posted: Saturday, Jun 07, 2014 06:00 am

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In the May 8 edition of the Edmonton Journal, David Staples talked about Edmonton’s seeming obsession with what he called “Big Shiny Thing-itis”, the obsession some Edmontonians have for building huge, fancy buildings, many of which taxpayers are expected to pay at least some of the costs for. Against critics who complain about taxpayers having to open their wallets, supporters like Edmonton city councillor Scott McKeen say they “make no apologies for wanting to build a dynamic building”, declaring that Edmonton is a city “too used to mediocrity”.

This, apparently, has something to do with making Edmonton attain “world class city” status, whatever that means. Other cities around the world have invested large amounts of money in trying to attract the Olympics, various cultural festivals, building large transit systems, and more. All of this, of course, tends to cost money. Montreal taxpayers were on the hook for 30 years’ worth of debt after the 1976 Olympics.

One thing I’ve repeatedly noticed is how so many boosters of these types of projects tend to attack their critics as small-minded, suburban, accepting of mediocrity, having a “small town” mentality, and similar insults. Apparently there’s now a set of stringent criteria that exist for a community to qualify as “world class”, and otherwise you’re mediocre.

Too often, it seems as though people who advocate for the festivals, buildings and transit systems that somehow make a community “dynamic” or “world class” tend to look down their noses at people who would prefer to see their tax dollars focused on things like pothole repair and garbage collection. As you might expect, the people who prefer to see their money focused on these things feel they’re being insulted. This doesn’t help foster discussion on where our tax dollars would best be spent.

In my opinion, mediocrity is in the eye of the beholder. I fail to see what’s wrong with quiet suburbia or living in a small town, particularly when the quality of life can easily match anything in a larger community. St. Albert’s roads have far fewer potholes than Edmonton’s. We have our own unique arts traditions with entities like the annual Children’s Festival and St. Albert Children’s Theatre. People here are as open-minded and friendly as any I’ve ever met. These are just three examples of things that give our city a unique flavour all its own.

Is St. Albert, and indeed many Canadian cities as a whole, somehow mediocre and second-rate because its institutions and buildings don’t meet a set of arbitrary “world class” standards? What does such a status mean for most of the people who actually pay for and use the city’s services every day? Does it make life more comfortable for lower-income residents? Does it ensure that that the garbage is picked up? Does it mean that people feel safe walking the streets at night?

Those are the real indications of a city being world-class, far more than any fancy buildings, international festivals or arbitrary design standards.

Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.


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