Nuit Blanche deserves every penny / by Tim Querengesser

One night a few years ago, downtown Edmonton was transformed into a city you wanted to walk around.

In place of the rush-home silence bureaucrats and corporate workers create downtown when they clock out by 5:30 and drive to their homes outside the core, there was people. On their feet. So many people, in fact, the sidewalks so crowded, the humdrum so deep and rich, that I overheard more than one person say, "This suddenly feels like Toronto."

And it did.

That's what Nuit Blanche did for downtown Edmonton. And city council, pondering how to spend a surplus created in large part by Mother Nature not dumping snow on us this year, should stop its hand-wringing and admit it desperately needs to save a bit of face when it comes to its downtown-building projects.

I'm neither pro or anti arena, as I see all angles of that shiny barn, but I am most surely pro downtown, and on the evidence, the arena — which all our money funded to a huge degree — has created a downtown as theme-park sort of vibe. 

And it isn't working the way many hoped. 

Undeterred and committed as it is thanks to hundreds of millions in investment, Edmonton is building more parking for downtown visitors and we're being told it had better accommodate larger trucks this time, despite downtown having far more than enough parking for all to attend arena events. 

If motorists in Edmonton were only willing to walk a few blocks. 

Nuit Blanche was the antithesis to this view of how to build a vibrant downtown. It was downtown as spectacle, as place of discovery, as chambers of whimsy. Most importantly, it was downtown to be discovered on your feet. Fifty thousand people agreed. Here a pedway filled with giant balloons. There a hockey arena filled with a steamroller crushing mediocrity. All of it you walked to (full disclosure, my group, The Edmonton Wayfinding Society, provided wayfinding to help you do that).

Did anyone complain about parking? I can't remember hearing one word about it.

Nuit Blanche was when Edmonton felt like it wanted to shake off all its boring conversations, a place Lorne Gunter was probably allergic to. But sadly, Nuit Blanche's request for funding was denied in the last council budget exercise.

City council should fund it without a moment's delay.

© Copyright 2017 Tim Querengesser. No reproductions without license. Image: Flickr/IQRemix.