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Edmonton
November 18, 2019

#YEG: A Bridge Too Far

Not every idea is worth getting behind.

Illustration Jasmine Abbey

A tiny alien swimming alone in the sky, the single Kongming lantern traced its path over Gallagher Park on the opening night of Folk Fest 2014, drawing upward the eyes of thousands.

Serene and magical, it was an idea – something quietly made in Edmonton. Yet that little candle connected a great crowd to the ephemeral, even to those who have left us behind. And then, tracelessly and perfectly, it was gone.

Meanwhile, upriver, “Pimp My Bridge” continued oozing its banal screensaver greens and purples, loud-buzzing stupidly at the valley. Nightly, the inevitable rainbow light-cycle intrudes upon a place of former stillness and peace without tact, or even the sense of event found in Peter Lewis’s neglected waterfall. The gushing Great Divide was a terrific symbol of Edmonton’s refusal to accept even geographical limitations; but, like the Toti mural on Whyte, it was just sandblasted away. Famously, we keep doing this.

One observer’s Talus Dome is another’s Light Up the Bridge, to be sure. But like the gorgeous Neon Outdoor Sign Museum or the spectacular Star Trek ’66 revamping of Borden Park, the infamous silver balls created a brand new place out of nothing where kids skateboard and wedding parties do selfies. 

This was rather unlike “improving” our landmark bridge, the largest architecture in the city visible for kilometres, into, well, nothing visually unavailable almost anywhere else, including a number of local Camaros. The magnificence of Axe Music by the NHL rink, for example, does it. Or you can take a five-minute walk to the identically light-shifting HUB Mall. Walterdale 2.0, just 600 metres away in the other direction, had plans for a similar light scheme – and years ago.

The few of us who financially backed this small-town-goes-Vegas plastic surgery were successfully pied-piped into believing we were part of some artistic grassroots movement, while the team-building, corporate culture that actually paid for it, and was also paid to install it, learned the valuable lesson that the river valley is now, finally, symbolically open for development.

The sacred river valley which everyone name-drops is being altered for big money to lure and suit outlying tastes. Those of us who have loved this city all along currently feel a little under siege by the hashtaggy, I YEG wave of opportunists who come off as slightly insincere in that what they really love about this place is the fact they can utterly destroy and rebuild it, often for great heaps of cash.

As we crest this boom, let’s remember a lesson in dignity from that little floating lantern, so far above the colossal, sadly less magical, pimped-up bridge: Not every idea is worth getting behind.  

The art critic of the Edmonton Journal, Top 40 Under 40 alumnus Fish Griwkowsky is an award-winning filmmaker, photographer and journalist specializing in stereoscopic photography. The High Level Bridge, which he shot on a $100 webcam in 2010 for Trevor Anderson, played at Sundance, Cannes, TIFF and won an award at AFI Fest in Hollywood. 

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