I think there is a betrayal of the true simplicity of art when the art is somehow driven by ambition and ambition looks always to what’s bigger and better. I have to say that for people who are ambitious, bigger often ends up replacing better and that’s a tragedy. But there are people who think in terms of fame as opposed to art.
Executive Director, TheatreWorks in Hartford, CT (2001)
I decided to look through my journals that litter my room, joining the empty cans and coffee mugs on the various surfaces. I found this gem of a quote in one of the first journal books I kept from my time as an intern in Hartford, CT during Jan-May 2001. I love quotes. I wish I could come up with some witty and wonderful ones myself. I suppose my thoughts just aren’t meant to be condensed to a few lines, or perhaps I just love writing too much to want to keep things short and compact.
I bring this quote up now in light of a few things happening in this “great community” of Whitehorse. There seems to be a growing trend that bigger is better in this city, without much thought going into the consequences of the actions. I’ve already mentioned one of them recently, the Heritage Village project (which, in my opinion, is quickly developing into a joke with some of the recent letters in the papers), but the Canada Games project is right up there as well. Now there’s all the new development going on around Walmart, the new plans of the Northern Vision group, the condo development downtown, and probably several other things that I’m unaware (for instance, Yukon Soccer had hired a consultant to help design a soccer centre up by Takhini Arena or FH Collins field several years ago- not sure if those plans are still going on or not).
I’m all for entrepeneurs, especially in northern communities such as Whitehorse who could quickly become stagnant and disappear, but I also believe there has to be more consultation going on with the residents than there is now. Much of what happens in this city, big or small, effects the whole community. The effects themselves can be minimal, like what you see as you come into the downtown core, or major, like the effect a Staples or Walmart has on other businesses.
Here’s a brief example of a minimal impact. Let’s contrast the two main ways into downtown from the Alaska Highway, the Robert Service Way (South Access) or Two Mile Hill. Coming down RSW, you’re heading right for Grey Mountain. You pass a large log cabin (Skookum Construction’s Headquarters), then make a large turn and come down looking at the dam and Yukon river. Go past Robert Service campground, then turn onto a bend to go along the river while seeing the S.S. Klondike sitting there, mountains in the background, and you feel really good about coming into this city (I’ll ignore the ball diamonds and the dirt bike track). Coming down Two Mile Hill, you have the post office, Takhini Arena and Grey Mountain again. It’s only once you get over that initial hill that you see the ugly of Whitehorse – the industrial area, Walmart, car dealerships, some junky businesses on the outskirts before going past the Westmark Klondike and McDonalds. In several months, we’ll have a larger Canadian Tire building to stare at (the backside most likely, even) and another car dealership (that’s what it appears to be at least). We’re going to be pushing people further into downtown towards Main St. by necessity to escape all the ugliness.
Maybe this stuff doesn’t really matter to the residents who drive past it every day, but I have a feeling it does. The majority of Whitehorse are people from “the outside.” There are very few who were actually born and raised up here. I start to wonder if the people doing all this construction and planning around the city lose fact that Whitehorse isn’t meant to be a Calgary of the north. It’s supposed to be something unique and that’s what brings people to this place in the first place. People are sold on the scenery first, the community second. Surely we don’t move here because of Whitehorse has a Canadian Tire and Superstore. We’re not living in the early 1900s or during the 1940s when buildings were put up based upon demand for a building in that location (they needed warehouses along the riverfront to build the paddlewheelers, or they needed a maintenance camp covering the northern part of the city to house the US Army).
It’s a community now. More thought needs to be placed on space usage and how that effects the year-round residents.
With my job, I get to hear from a lot of tourists. The thing I hear the most are compliments about the service in the city, the food (Georgio’s and Klondike Bar and Grill are the best in the country to some), and the scenery. Many people love being able to go for a walk or run along the river, and I think they’d be shocked to learn that you couldn’t really do that five years ago. I also drive into the city from the south, and I tend to get thrills seeing how much that area gets used. People standing around talking at the viewpoints, guys in their hipwaders out in the river fishing, all the dogs and baby carriages that go along the path. It’s wonderful to see.
The city could be taking lessons from the city planners of New York City or Regina when they were planning out the roads and city systems. Central Park was blocked off from development back in the 1850s when NYC was still small (compared to its current population), and Regina’s Wascana Park had a similar treatment in the early 1900s. Both started out as large, unlandscaped parks, but they turned into jewels as time went on. They’re certainly the pride of those communities and can be quickly identified with those cities. Whitehorse has the opportunity to do the same with its waterfront, on both sides of the river. The river trail and footbridge was a good step in the right direction, and the small train has been growing in popularity as well. Now they just need to take the initiative and fix up the rest of the riverfront, in a thoughtful and smart way.
This is not about building a legacy; this is about building a community.
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