Sometimes it feels like Edmonton just can’t leave the High Level Bridge alone.
Take, for instance, the Great Divide Waterfall, which sprang from the side of the bridge for almost 30 years—spouting 50 000 litres of chlorinated water per minute into the North Saskatchewan River—but was stopped in 2009 thanks to Environment Canada and was officially shut down by city council on Monday due to the high cost of repairing it.
The city had set aside $735 000 to repair the waterfall structure in 2013—with volunteers necessary to raise the remainder of the potentially $2.6 million cost—but council decided that the money could be better spent elsewhere.
However, the soon-to-be completed Light the Bridge project has stepped in to assure us that we add another gimmick to a structure that’s already attractive enough on its own.
There is an interesting irony here between bridge projects of past and present. Since support for the waterfall has finally run dry, you’d think so would the city’s patience for projects like Light the Bridge, which will ultimately mar the look of our structures. That’s just the superficial problem, though—we’ve heard little about the amount of energy this bridge will use up, as well as what the cost will be to keep it lit up night after night and maintain over the years.
The project has raised $2.5 million over the past year to put up the 60 000 LED lights, all of which was acquired through donations. Still, even though no city money was involved, that doesn’t mean citizens won’t be paying for upkeep or other costs down the line. The project turned to the city for help back in December when they thought they wouldn’t be able to raise enough funds and they could easily do so again.
Regardless of whether the money is coming from the city or through donations, we need to put more thought into the long-term implications of projects like these, and whether projects that are important to us now will be worth maintaining into the future. After all, what message are we sending to Edmontonians about the things that are important to us? Lighting up a bridge seems fairly trivial when you consider how the city is in the midst of preparing for an extremely expensive new arena and an expanded LRT system. There are also several smaller initiatives that would be a better use of time and money, such as the new Alberta Avenue arts facility called The ArtsCommon, which council approved on Monday. The city will be paying $4 million for this facility, which will arguably have a much more substantial effect on its neighbourhood than lights on a bridge will on the river valley.
When it comes to the Light the Bridge project, what’s done is done. But if we want a better Edmonton, it’s important that we learn from instances like these, and think more about what kind of future our money is buying us.