Courage required to make Red Deer remarkable
When construction of the Eiffel Tower was completed in March of 1889, many Parisians decried it as an eyesore on the face of the city.
Even during planning and construction, architect Gustave Eiffel and his colleagues were met with fierce opposition from political opponents, as well as the city’s artistic and literary elite.
But thanks to the extraordinary courage, vision and perseverance of a handful of individuals, the Eiffel Tower went ahead. It stands today as one of the most recognized — and profitable — landmarks on the planet.
True innovation often requires both bravery and a willingness to think outside the box, which is why recent events in Red Deer leave me questioning the future direction of our growing city.
Last month, Red Deer city council quickly folded in the face of public controversy over their bike-lane pilot project.
The lanes were painted in early August and by mid-September, some were being removed — a knee-jerk reaction, to say the least.
The city received overwhelming feedback, including 3,000 surveys responses, letters, petitions and emails both supporting and opposing elements of the bike lane pilot.
Personally, I had no strong feelings on the bike lanes. I’m not an avid cyclist by any stretch, but I was encouraged to see the city tackle a project that demonstrated a bold commitment to progressive urban planning.
It was disappointing to see the close-minded cynics among us win the battle with such ease.
This isn’t the first time the Red Deer naysayers have quashed inventive new ideas.
In 2008, the City of Red Deer hired a consultant to study the idea of building a canal system in the Riverlands area. Proponents of the idea suggested the canal system and related development could provide Red Deer with a major tourist attraction on the same level as Banff and Lake Louise.
The canals project was widely dismissed as a preposterous notion and eventually beaten to death by cynics.
Even the Ross Street Patio, introduced last spring, had to overcome petty complaints about parking space on its way to becoming a popular downtown attraction.
Earlier this week, council voted to dismantle the patio with no guarantees of a return next spring.
As a community, obviously we can’t go chasing down every zany, pie-in-the-sky idea that comes our way, but we should at least be prepared to listen and consider.
When faced with difficult decisions, the easy out is to just vote, ‘No’ and maintain the status quo.
At some point, in our ongoing pursuit of a stronger city identity, we must step out of our comfort zone and take a few risks — both financial and philosophical.
No pain, no gain, right?
As Apple visionary Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and follower.”
Granted, our city council hasn’t been approached with anything as monumental as the construction of a 324-metre iron tower, but if recent events are any indication, big ideas like that don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell around here.
Leo Paré is the Advocate’s online editor. Contact him by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LeoPare