Big Attendance

There is no denying that as a big city we must play on the big stage of the small screen, and that means dealing in the big messages that are sent by small images like this from our good mayor:

That throng was yesterday in Edmonton, as the Women's World Cup debuted at Commonwealth Stadium in front of the largest crowd ever to turnstile its way into the seats to watch a national side sporting match. In fact, Edmonton broke Edmonton's record, going back a few years to a men's soccer match against Brazil. Nicely done, hometown. Yes, the trees of Norwood have witnessed crowds of trembling size.

But it's not the whole picture.

Here's another soccer image from yesterday:

On the other side of the Glenora School fence, watched, tweeted, and retweeted by an audience of exactly no one, 10 or so middler-agers were in a pitched battle of their own. Evidently, no one wanted to play goal, because the players had planted hockey nets in front of the soccer goalposts, a clever innovation that also forced more communication and footwork and passing, I suspect.

The Norwood scene was world-look-at-us powerful; the Glenora scene, out-of-sight-grassroots lovely.

The Glenora scene is a reminder of how we can choose what we see, and how what we see looks into us.

Because, whether it's women's soccer at Commonwealth in June,

or Crashed Ice in the river valley in March,

or all the other events the city hosts in between, the validation-by-attendance impulse is embedded in us. Maybe what it really is, though, is a stubbornly unique Edmonton strain of the focusing illusion. When we choose between options (including, importantly, and, essentially, whether we think our own city is beautiful or not), we are prone, as Charles Montgomery teaches in his book Happy City, to key in on "one or two glaring differences between those choices—things we can see or picture, such as weather—and we ignore or underrate less conspicuous but powerful details…"

Now, the  focusing illusion and weather in Edmonton is the work of a lifetime here. :) For now, it's enough to consider whether Big Attendance falls into that same category.  I think it does. That is not to say that a half-full Commonwealth is the same as packed Commonwealth, or that the Glenora game boosts Edmonton's international standing in the eyeballs of the world. Indeed, nobody from TSN is there to praise a city that hosts a pick up game of soccer on a sunbaked west end school field. And there's not a lot of economic multiplier action going on on Stony Plain Road when friends get together to kick the ball around.

Size does matter.

And it doesn't.

It matters if it convinces someone who hasn't heard of Edmonton (from Toronto or Beijing) to say, huh!, I didn't know that city is so full of people who would rather watch live football in the north end than hockey televised from just outside Cuba.

It does not matter if Edmontonians themselves use the big number to see that this place, its people, its love of soccer are beautiful. The unseen players in the schoolyard have already shown us that.


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