There are those who would roll their eyes at the first, gentle indicators of neighbourhood gentrification, the way a well-placed yoga studio or doggy bakery can soften a street’s rough edges, scrub away a layer or two of familiar, beloved grit.
But the thing I’ve always noticed about Edmonton’s grit-fetishizers is that while they resolutely will make their homes in an area known for its needle-riddled parks and ladies who linger pointedly at intersections, they nonetheless will coast through their down-at-the-heels ‘hoods on high-end, Euro-cruiser bikes. And they ride those bikes across town to the expensive organic markets that can be found at much more (*glower*) bougie-fied neighbourhoods, there to purchase a variety of pricey gluten-, dairy- and artificial-everything-free food they’d never find back home at the local Switchblades ‘R’ Us.
I should add that I’ve basically just described myself, but with one major difference: Never in my life would I bemoan, sneer at or otherwise deplore downtown’s gradual yuppification. One of my keenest pleasures is watching this process take place – glacial-paced though it might be – on my favourite corner in Edmonton, 104th Street and Jasper, a.k.a. “Yuppie Heaven.”
Rest assured this moniker holds no rancour and zero hipster distain. Those who would lament such fancypants retail bellwethers as obsessive-compulsive coffee brewers or olive-oil tasting bars have never known what it’s like to live without these indulgences. I’m from a pulp mill town. When Tim Hortons opened, my mother and I rejoiced because finally us ladies had somewhere “nice” to go for lunch. Yuppie Heaven, however, has no less than two of those OCD coffeeshops, two wine bars, a gloriously unaffordable boutique and a restaurant where they laugh down the phone if you ask for same-day reservations.
You got a problem with my 50-plus varieties of olive oil and excess wine bars? Listen, it’s one lousy corner in Edmonton – one splendid shrine to the good life. The grit will always be there. I grew up yearning for a place where someone wearing Japanese denim while sipping a flat white wouldn’t get chased through town and pelted with cups bearing those unmistakable rolled-up rims.
Now I can taste a differently infused olive oil every other day, head across the street for some expertly curated wine, then stagger next door to wake myself up with a little fair-trade, shade-grown somethin’-somethin’.
Edmontonians need this. This Edmontonian in particular.
Lynn Coady is the Giller Prize-nominated author of The Antagonist and senior editor of Eighteen Bridges magazine.