The park was a nice place for riffraff to strut their stuff and sell their drugs - until "the suits" started piping in musical repellent.
Now, as gentle strains of Pachelbel and Schubert waft through Beaver Hills House Park on the summer breezes, there is a palpable edginess to the drug dealers who mill around this infamous eyesore."Man! They're playing head games with us," spits out Chuck, a self-confessed drug pusher who makes his trade in marijuana, hashish and LSD. "But, man, it ain't gonna work on us."
Without fanfare, local businessmen, with the blessing of Edmonton City Police, have set up an outdoor sound system that sends non-stop classical music throughout this green oasis on the downtown strip.
Its purpose is nothing less than to drive away the undesirables and give the park back to the people.
"It works on the principle that listening to something (you don't like) all day will drive you nuts," said Constable Neil Dubord, who regularly patrols the park on foot. "I know it would drive me nuts."
It has long been accepted that background music can alter a person's mood. During World War II, music was piped into factories to ease workers' war-torn nerves and increase production.
Now, sound engineers, the people who provided the world with such cultural milestones as elevator music, are taking another leap forward in their mastery over human behavior: They're customizing crowds.
"We can attract any kind of people or drive them away," said Jerry Reske, vice-presidnt of Pacific Sound Inc., a Seattle-based studio that is one of the leaders in the field. "It's really just a question of choosing the right kind of music and playing it the right way. Some people have begun publicizing this as `teen repellent.' But you could just as easily call it `adult repellent' because we can gear it to anybody."
Reske said there is a big demand for his music, which he says can have an enormous impact on the type of clientele a company attracts.
Slow, mellow music can attract a middle-aged or older consumer who will be encouraged to linger.
A heavy, quick beat is a magnet for younger shoppers and encourages impulse buying as well as a greater turnover in restaurants.
Conversely, music can be chosen to repel certain segments of the population.
Reske's music is already in use by the 7-Eleven convenience-store chain, which is irked that its outlets and parking lots often are transformed into teenage hangouts. Now, whenever teenagers linger too long at a number of 7-Eleven stores in Victoria, British Columbia, the hired help turns up the volume on Reske's canned music, which features instrumental versions of such songs as "Born Free" and "The Way We Were."
"Apparently, this turns the teenagers off; it brings them into a downer situation," Reske said. "Pretty soon they leave and they might not even be able to tell you why."
At Beaver Hills House Park, a half-block that was once a parking lot, the concept is getting one of its more unusual tests.
Gerry Gerling, general manager of Seeburg Music Inc., the company that volunteered to wire the park for sound, said he knows of no other place in Canada that is using music as a form of crowd control.
While perhaps not as hard on young ears as the golden oldies, the park's classical music is ideal because it serves two functions, he said: It attracts office workers during lunch hour and serves as a subtle reminder that the park is going upscale.
"The park was built to make the downtown more beautiful, and then all the bums crammed into it," Gerling said. "Now we're trying to set another mood."
In the sound system's first few days of operation, the effort appeared to be paying off.
"I heard there were drug dealers all around here, but we're really very impressed," said Lynne Hallonquist, a visitor from Vancouver who sat reading a newspaper on a sunny afternnon. "I would recommend it to anybody. Bring your lunch."
But between the drug deals that take place every few minutes on the sidewalk fronting the park, the people the police want to drive away are wondering whether their constitutional rights are being violated.
"Like, I thought parks were for everybody, man," a 21-year-old said. "Anyway, what makes them think dealers are all head bangers and heavy-metal fans who'll split because they don't like the music? When I want a rest, I go sit in the sun and listen to the music, too. It's not so bad."