Wednesday, May 09, 2007

05-07-2007 – the 18th floor

The view north through the window of somebody else’s office: vast fields of real-estate stretching out toward the hazy brown band on the horizon, the worrisome dirty halo from which pour riches.

Nearer by, just across the avenue, is the construction site for what I’m told will be a Sobeys, a downtown-revitalizin’ foodmart to take the pressure off the Save-On where the post-work rush hour requires full-time traffic control and one can line-read both People and Real Simple in the time it takes to get to a checkout.

I can’t see it from this angle, but I know its there – mostly there, for now -- on the plywood hoardings surrounding the site: impromptu guerrilla artshow, sixteen artists, sixteen pictures, flash-organized by the manic Sheri Barclay and slapped up in the wishin’-Lord-that-I-was-stoned early hours of Sunday morning. Illustrated nursery rhymes and pop-culture iconography, notional space flags and curated Elvis tapestries, the streetshow actually lasted 24 hours before the builders culled their first piece, a shocking pink celebri-collage featuring Bill Cosby. I can’t see that, either, but it’s been blogged

Behind me, muted by two or three layers of the padded grey burlap that defines our Team’s habitrail, a coworker mutters emphatically into his telephone, working his real-estate deals. This is a trick lots of people are picking up, the art of keeping one’s voice down while maintaining something of the go-go, for-sure-for-sure confidence required to wheel n’ deal, a necessary survival skill for Edmontonians playing Condominium Tycoon on company time.

“We’ll make the fi--… we’ll get the fif--… no, yeah, no we’ll get the fifty back in… in less than two weeks, no, yeah, no, right, absolutely.”

Even streety slackers are talking property these days, pierced n’ baggy Whatever types walking down Whyte, shrugging noncommittally about flipping condos. Sixty per cent of all conversation taking place in Edmonton at any one time is about house prices, round-robin comparisons of how many thousands in how many months, and through it all the one thing every Edmonite knows for certain: if you’re renting, you are retarded; you are completely retarded; it is retarded to pay rent.

No kidding. Questions of equity aside, the life of a renter in Edmonton is the life of a fugitive, chased from building to building by the advancing forces of condominimization, or squeezed hard if you stay put. The notice doesn’t come from your landlord or building manager, either: one day you simply find the shit-eating grin of a realtor slipped under your door, offering you the exciting opportunity of buying your shitbox bachelor suite for a quarter-million dollars, and a week later the lobby and hallways fill with loudmouth suits actually rubbing their hands as they discuss the money they’ll be making while you’re scrambling for yet another round of deposit/first month/hookups.

And the elevators fill with graffiti:

thanks for making me move AGAIN

I hope your happy

I hate you mother fuckers

Given these feelings everywhere, given a climate where even the bought-in moneymakers are getting scared shitless – “Sure, I could sell this place for three hundred grand, but what then? I still have to fuckin’ live somewhere, man.” – and a new fear and loathing overtakes traditional beer and loafing, it’d be easy to read a construction-site artbombing as some kind of antidevelopment protest. But that’s exactly what it’s not! The name of the project – “Make It Not Suck” – says it all; it’s about making this shit easier to look at. Makeup, if not a mask, for the skungy plywood Face of Progress.

Or a blessed weekend giggle, at least; these are getting fewer and farther between. Edmonton long ago lost its status as a Slacker’s Paradise – this used to be the Reverse New York: if you couldn’t make it here, you couldn’t make it anywhere -- but even as it becomes less and less possible to keep it together in Browntown without working like a slavedog while swinging mortgage deals on your bathroom breaks, we’ve got to honor our heritage as laughing dilettante stoner art punks… even if we can only honor it on slow Sundays.

It’s either that, or flee to Winnipeg


Anonymous said...

Edmonton used to be Slacker's Paradise? What world have you been living in? If anything, this town has some of the hardest working people EVER? Also, reverse New York? It certainly isn't New York, but it does have its virtues. Man, get real. I thought you liked this town?

Anonymous said...

Anon, you've got me all wrong.

Edmonton does indeed have some of the hardest working people EVER. My "Slacker's Paradise" label (a term I took from one of Barclay's posts on connect2edmonton) was in reference to the low cost of living (rents, etc.) we enjoyed relative to quality of life: it used to be much easier to scrape it together as an artist (or as simply a lazy person) in this here town. Not as much anymore.

My "Reverse New York" comment ties in to that, and is in reference to the lyric in "New York, New York: If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere! In this context, NY is held up as a test, a place that might eat you alive, a trial of ambition and will over a tough city.

As the reverse of that, I hold up Edmonton as not an obstacle but an enabler: the low cost of living and the engaged, supportive, yet somehow quite casual cultural environment meant that if you got eaten alive by Edmonton you had problems that went deeper than your choice of city. Again, the realities of boom-and-bubble are making this less the case.

So, yeah. I -do- like, even love, this town. In my art-hoser ethos "Slacker's Paradise" and "Reverse New York" aren't insults, but badges of honor I hope Edmonton manages to hold on to.

If she doesn't... Winnipeg!