I let slip yesterday that after leaving my job as managing editor of Metro Edmonton, I had contemplated all sorts of things, including a move to another city.
"You can't leave," said the older gentleman I was interviewing for a story, catching me off guard.
"We need people like you."
He then grinned.
The comment is one I've heard several times in Edmonton, and probably the best part of this place. It made me reflect on a conversation I had earlier in the day at a systems-thinking lab I attended. A government employee from Vancouver and I started chatting about how we were both transplants to the city, how we missed a lot of the places we move here from (I came from Toronto), but how, after a few years here, we didn't want to leave.
The why behind this then came up.
"Vancouver never made me feel like it wanted me," she said.
"Toronto never made me feel like it wanted me, either," I replied.
Edmonton, for all its many faults — ones I'm attacked for by the ever-prevalent cult of insecure Edmonton boosters, whenever I point these faults out too passionately — wants me.
Four years ago today, I boarded a plane in plus 10C spring weather in Toronto bound for a high-latitude city that was facing yet another March blizzard. I landed and two conflicting things: A sinking feeling that the urbanism I'd come to see as central to my happiness in Toronto wasn't going to be here, and another, far more compelling feeling: I can do something here.
Over four years, I've failed in some ways during my Edmonton experiment. My magazine writing has been somewhat mediocre compared to the field-based writing I was doing in the Northwest Territories, Africa and the Yukon. That's been a hard realization to look at. And it's being addressed.
I'm going back to writing from the field.
Outside of that, though, in four years I've become part of a community of people who try to build Edmonton into a better city. And somehow this has given me something I didn't feel I had in Toronto: meaning. Purpose, even.
I can't help return to that realization the woman from Vancouver and I had about feeling wanted. It's a very powerful thing, that. Edmonton — its ugly, concrete brutalism and its deference to car thinking, its inability to manage big projects on a level with other big cities and its annoying insecurity and too-frequent suggestions you "just leave" if you want to see things change — wants me here. It recognizes it needs people who want to do things rather than expect them to be done for them.
It's why I've stayed for the past four years. It's the single best feature of this city. It wants to keep growing.
© Copyright 2017 Tim Querengesser. No reproductions without license.