|Commemorative stamp featuring Edmonton's Harbin Gate (source: CTV News)|
In defence of the rest of the world, however, it should be noted that Edmontonians have, until recently, not done a particularly good job dispelling this notion. The latter half of the twentieth century saw the Alberta capital fall asleep at the wheel as its downtown core died, its stature as a transportation hub faded, its once vibrant community of corporate head offices disappeared and Calgary became the uncontested economic engine of the province. All the while, Edmonton's notoriously self-deprecating denizens failed to trumpet the city's enduring treasures - its festivals, orchestras, green spaces, universities and research institutes, world-leading construction companies etc. - and as such Edmonton became Canada's Lost City of Atlantis, somehow just off the map.
Fortunately, the Edmonton zeitgeist has changed dramatically since the dawn of the Mandel era in 2004. Edmonton's downtown is vibrant again, the airport is booming, the city's architecture is bolder and more imaginative than ever, public transit is at last being prioritized and the economy continues to thrive. Nevertheless, Edmonton's dream of becoming a global trade and logistics hub continues to be hindered by the city's lack of global profile. People simply don't know who we are as a city.
There are many things we could be doing as a city to change that, some of which might seem frivolous on the surface. One possible tactic would be to expand current our sister city partnerships. While many cities have numerous city twinning arrangements, Edmonton has only four such partnerships, specifically with Gatineau, Quebec, Nashville, Tennessee, Harbin, China and Wonju, South Korea. Of these, Edmonton's partnership with Harbin, the economic hub of China's northeastern Heilongjang Province, has proven the most economically fruitful, with the two cities signing a tourism and business cooperation agreement in 2011.
What other cities around the world would befit a sister city arrangement with Edmonton? Here are six suggestions.
1) Adelaide, Australia
With the notable exception of its famously sublime climate, Adelaide, the capital city of the state of South Australia, is arguably the world city that most closely resembles Edmonton. Its population is virtually identical to Edmonton's, as is its status as Australia's fifth largest city. It also serves a similar transportation and logistics role to Edmonton as the main air gateway to Australia's vast mining operations in the country's geographic centre. Want more parallels? It's also home to a thriving arts and culture scene, including the biggest fringe festival in the southern hemisphere. And as I pointed out in my recent post on Edmonton's airport predicament, it's also a city that has faced some of the same hurdles as Edmonton in building connections with the outside world. Adelaide - it's more or less Edmonton in the subtropics.
2) Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine
3) Concepción, Chile
While it scarcely compares to the city's Ukrainian contingent, Edmonton's 3,000-strong Chilean community, most of whom came as refugees during the early Pinochet years, maintains an outsized presence within the city's Latin American population. Chilean accents dominate Spanish-language radio in Edmonton and empanadas and ceviche share shelf space with perogies and kubasa in the city's 'ethnic' grocery stores. Which Chilean city would be the best fit with Edmonton? The southern city of Concepción, with its metro population of just over one million, its renown as a "university town" (it's home to 15 universities) and its thriving music scene, would be a strong candidate.
4) Astana, Kazakhstan
5) Pasig City, Philippines
6) Juba, South Sudan
Edmonton's increasingly diverse citizenry includes around 3,000 immigrants from the recently independent republic of South Sudan. The vast majority came to Canada as refugees in the late-1990s and early 2000s during the worst of Sudan's torturously long and cruel north-south civil war. As a relatively new contingent from a country still beset by instability and destitution, Edmonton's South Sudanese population retains a strong vested interest in their beleaguered homeland. Some have even returned to South Sudan to help set up infrastructure, while others continue to lobby on behalf of the country's people, which last month faced renewed unrest. A sister city partnership with the capital city of this young nation, especially one with strong ties to Alberta, would send a strong signal of solidarity to a country still struggling to survive.