Today the first snow in Edmonton; waking up to a layer of snow, though less cold than it seemed to be yesterday.
Reading Ottawa-born & raised Elizabeth Smart’s journals from her time in Edmonton as writer-in-residence here [referenced, too, in my “anticipating Alberta” piece]; why did she hate her experience so much? I mean, apart from the fact that her youngest child, Rose, had killed herself six months earlier… is she complaining abt the provincialism of the city or using that as her target, unable to process Rose any other way?
To think! I was going to enrich their lives & I find myself poverty-stricken. A desert within, a desert without. Needing them—if only they’d take pity on—where can I find it—where is it hiding—the passion & the life.How different from her By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept; did you ever read that book I told you to?
Instead of the garden, what? (I’d hoped for the Wild)
Instead of friends? (Kind acquaintance? very different)
Instead of big resolving tension drinks? ( a civilized sip, stopped before one gets anywhere?)
Why is this Hell--& how shall I get out of it?
These terrible high-rises & fearsome geometry—not the breathtaking arrogance of N.Y. skyscrapers--& the muddy (but dried mud) parking lots--& the dominance of cars & the endless flat pavements, wide uneventful roads.
It stands to reason, there must be a pulsing human life somewhere, here as elsewhere, there must be. Does it take place in their homes—visiting back & forth, tiny exchanges, boring each other for a purpose?
O where for me shall my salvation come, from whence arise? (September 12, 1982)
Last night sitting at the Garneau Pub, I read two paragraphs in Linda Goyette and Carolina Jakeway Roemmich’s Edmonton In Our Own Words (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2004) that explain a bit of the car/mall culture of the city (triggered by yesterday's visit to the mall, my first in nine years), something I’ve been wondering about for a few years:
From the beginning West Edmonton Mall attracted international tourists and startled debate among Canada’s architects and city planners about the evolution of urban space in a materialist culture. Commercial enterprises and their customers began another exodus from the city’s downtown core; homebuyers followed them to the new suburban housing developments in the city’s southwest corner. West Edmonton Mall eventually employed 23,500 people directly and thousands more indirectly in the local hospitality, tourism and construction industries. The mall put an overwhelming commercial stamp on Edmonton’s urban identity. With a reputation as a shoppers’ paradise, the city became a testing ground for North American retailers who built some of the first and largest big-box stores in Edmonton and huge retail parks on acres of asphalt parking lots. Thousands of visitors came only to shop in Edmonton. The local reaction to the phenomenon was definitely mixed. People in Edmonton loved or hated Canada’s largest mall and its concrete offspring, but they soon learned to live with the galumphing elephants in their midst.
Huge shopping malls were the consequence of rapid suburban growth in post-war Edmonton, not the cause of it. More than half of Edmonton’s residents lived in suburban neighbourhoods. Long before the Ghermezians arrived in town [the brothers who originally built the West Edmonton Mall], Edmontonians had embraced Westmount Shopping Park, one of Canada’s first prototype shopping malls, and Southgate Mall, the largest mall west of Toronto when it opened in 1970. The city redesigned itself to serve drivers and their cars, not pedestrians or bus passengers. Public transit did not keep up with suburban growth. Suburban residents became impatient with Edmonton’s limited public transit to their neighbourhoods, not to mention winter waits at outdoor bus stops. They preferred to drive across a wide city to indoor shopping malls where they could park for free. (p 330)