Cities rise and fall. Currently in Canada, Calgary and Edmonton are bursting with commerce and energy as a result of the construction boom in the nearby Oil Sands. However, events can pass a city by more easily than might seem possible. The story of Venice presents a cautionary tale.
Let me tell you a little bit about the history of Venice. Around 1300 A.D., the good citizens of the city carried out a construction project that ensured their prosperity for the next 500 years. They improved the Brenner Pass through the Alps. This meant that almost all of the goods that were traded between the Far East and northern Europe, beginning with Austria, passed through Venice. As a result the region became fabulously wealthy.
Two hundred years went by. The major trading families of Venice grew rich. But then daring and dauntless explorers – I’m trying for breathless narrative here – such as Vasco de Gama, started sailing around the tip of Africa, by way of the Cape of Good Hope. For maritime traders, this became a cheaper route to transport goods from Arabia, India and China to cities along Europe’s northern coast. Brussels, Amsterdam and eventually London took over from Venice as the western world’s major trading hubs.
What did Venice do? The people of Venice still had incredible amounts of money. Their answer was to party. They extended their Carnival. Pre- and post-events meant that Carnival season eventually comprised approximately one-third of the year. Pretty quickly, everyone in Europe knew where to go to have a good time. Tourists and partiers flocked to Venice from all over the world. Venice was the Las Vegas of its time. To paraphrase, what happened in Venice, stayed in Venice.
The good times eventually started winding down. Hundreds of years of spending money, accompanied by little mercantile risk-taking, took their toll. The city could no longer afford to defend itself, not even with paid mercenaries. In the early 1800s, Venice fell to Napoleon without a shot being fired. As the opening paragraph states, cities rise and fall.
Now, due to another special circumstance, the present is a golden moment for Calgary and Edmonton. In their case, prosperity hangs on proximity to Tar Sands oil in northern Alberta. For the sake of all Canadians, those two centres have to be allowed to have their time in the sun. It will be over soon enough. It’s an old phrase, but it certainly applies in this case – there is a limited window of opportunity.
The world is being forced to move away from fossil fuels. I’m no energy technology expert and, therefore, I’m just guessing, but oil and gas may well be superseded by some other fuel option relatively soon, say by 2040. Time, in technology terms, is much more compressed now than in the past. Calgary and Edmonton must reap as many rewards as they can, while they can. Afterwards, they can “retire” and enjoy the spoils of their success.
Is is settled then? Remembering the example of Venice, do we all agree to let the good times roll on for the next twenty or thirty years in Calgary and Edmonton? After that, it is expected those two cities will become party central for the rest of Canada.
Another playful approach to economic matters can be found in the story, The CAB Nations and their Rogue Currency.