Landing : Athabascau University
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  • Thanks Mary, thanks Caroline!

    I hope my remarks did not come across as critical of the town or its people, Mary - they were not meant that way. I, too, very much want Athabasca to thrive and I do appreciate its charms. Those well tended gardens, neat and friendly neighbourhoods, and kind, self-reliant people are really quite delightful, and the surrounding countryside is pleasant (give or take the odd biting insect or large carnivore!).  And it is far less remote, run down, and threatened than other towns further North, though I'll stick by my claim that there are visible signs of a very worrisome downward spiral, and I find it hard to see a place that is two hours away that can only be reached by driving there as particularly close to Edmonton. It's all relative, I suppose, but that's half a day of mostly unproductive travel to get there and back, and it's a risky venture at some times of the year. It would be hard to attract too many hipsters right now, though the Athabsca Hotel is a great start (love that place). If I ruled the world, or at least the region, and I wanted to increase the vitality of the place, I'd subsidize regular and fairly frequent public transit. It would never pay for itself and would often run empty, at least at first, but it could make a big difference in the long term. Connection matters.

    I'd prefer to see a virtual end to Athabasca's central organizational role in the university hierarchy, though it has great value as a symbolic centre. We should not physically base ourselves in Edmonton, either, or anywhere else for that matter, though decent facilities in different areas are not a bad thing: exam centres, book storage, labs, studios, server rooms, spaces for visiting researchers, etc still have value. Notwithstanding the need for some physical space, we are and must be digital natives, and geographic clusters inhibit our capacity to innovate and grow our online communities. I like Coates's take on it, though I'm sure it needs refinement here and there. His proposals make far better use of our physical presence in Athabasca by focusing on what value a physical location can provide: links with indigenous folk in the region, partnerships with colleges, links with the local school, the development of a regional research centre, etc. That could make AU campus into a quite divergent and partly separate branch rather than an administrative hub. Innovations could feed back from there to the rest of us, and vice versa because it would be different. It would be good for the region, too, because the focus would be on developing and sustaining the surrounding community and the local environment, rather than pretty much anywhere and anyone else. Plus, it would make it more worthwhile to live there: people would be involved with their community through their work and would feel greater connection as a result. And, of course, those working more in the mainstream areas of the university with worldwide outreach would be better placed to do so because we would, simultaneously, be greatly improving our ability to work online and at a distance. Seems a winning idea for all, at least in principle. Might even draw in a few hipsters :-)

    Jon Dron 2 days ago

  • Having trouble filling all the requirements to post here ;-) I have posted unsuccessfully a few times.

    Regardless, I love this post Jon!  I have circulated it to FHD because few of our faculty appreciate The Landing. Your depth of perspective shows your real committment to AU. Thanks.

    - Caroline Park

    Anonymous June 23, 2017 - 8:11am

  • Great post, but I have to disagree with your take on Athabasca. I grew up in a similar town west of Winnipeg (where I spent most of my time after the age of 17). The home town felt pretty desolate to a young person at that time, but it has now been "discovered" by the upwardly mobile, who have deposited culsters of McMansions in various natural beauty spots. I don't like the idea of Athabasca being discovered in quite that way, but it is probably inevitable for such a beautiful setting so close to Edmonton.

    Now approaching retirement, I find my garden and all the things I can do here--mostly as a result of AU's presence--the best things in the world. IMO, we should be working much harder to attract bright young hipsters here to live in Athabasca, open businesses, work at AU, and create an environment that attracts more of their kind.

    And the desolation of the main street is a matter of perspective. Now it feels comfortable and authentic to me. I would not trade places with my relatives living in ridiculously overvalued condos in the heart of Vancouver although I like to visit. Athabasca is a livable place, a place to set down roots and be part of a community.

    Mary Pringle June 22, 2017 - 9:38am