Category Archives: Whose Space is Public Space?

If a billboard falls in a forest… Part 1

[note: this is cross-posted on the spacing wire]

Bathurst and Davenport cross each other just below the steep shoreline of ancient Lake Iroquois. The intersection is lush with greenery and steeped in history.

On one corner lies the TTC Hillcrest Yards, where our streetcars have been repaired and rebuilt for ninety years. A recent makeover has transformed the landscape adding new shrubs, trees, interlocking brick and public benches to the corner.

TTC yard_WIDE

Across the street is a public park, the home of Toronto’s historic Tollkeeper’s Cottage museum.

tollkeepers park

Just steps away you’ll find the Wychwood Park neighbourhood, a former artists’ colony and the first residential zone in Ontario to be granted heritage status. Walking north on Bathurst, you’ll find yourself in a picturesque Toronto scene with large trees leaning across both sides of the wide street casting a broken leafy shadow on the streetcar tracks below.

And then suddenly, like one musical instrument terribly out of tune with the rest of the band, something sharply interrupts the thick green grove of trees. Steel structures protrude from the maple branches, inserting two massive commercial billboards into the scene.

two_billboards

Someone might ask themselves “Who would possibly allow billboards like this to get a sign permit?”. It turns out the answer might be: nobody would, and nobody did. In fact, I have been told by City Staff that they do not have any records of permits for these signs. This is not an isolated scenario.  It’s quite possible that dozens of billboards across Toronto, if not hundreds, are illegal signs without any proper permits.

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Drivers for Jarvis • Moving beyond rhetoric

Last year, Toronto City Council voted to remove the bike lanes on Jarvis Street.  This was done without any public consultation, without the support of the local Councillor and against the advice of City Staff.  It was a political move that puts the safety of hundreds of cyclists at risk. Luckily, the bike lanes have not yet been removed.

I’m working on a project, with Cycle Toronto, called ‘Drivers for Jarvis‘. We want to show that the debate about Jarvis Street isn’t about cyclists vs drivers.  It’s about safety vs rhetoric.  It’s about sharing the road vs hogging the road.  It’s about common sense. Continue reading

Location, location, location!! Strategic Placement of LED Bilboards

I’ve written a couple of of blog posts recently that are critical of the Monster LED Billboards that have been proposed for Toronto’s highways and residential neighbourhoods.

I don’t like to always be negative, so I’m going to write something positive today: Continue reading

Five Weeks at Fourth Wall • Adapting to the life of a tour guide (photo gallery)


It’s been just over a month since the Fourth Wall exhibit launched at the Urban Space Gallery, and I can’t tell you how inspired and amazed I am by the public response.  I knew that a handful of municipal geeks would be into it, and some long-time urban activists… but I didn’t expect a non-stop flow of students, civil servants, politicians, journalists, etc.

I’ve been leading tours through the exhibit, almost daily.  And each group brings with them a different point of view and different suggestions/questions.  And no matter what their age, or background, or career, they all seem genuinely interested in the subject matter – even the students who are forced to be there!

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Monster LED Boards • Public Consultation December 14 at City Hall

Two months ago I wrote the following:

When Dundas Square was proposed, and public concern was raised about the proliferation of annoying LED billboards in the city we were told not to worry.  “This is ONLY for Dundas Square”, we were told.  “We won’t allow huge electronic billboards in other areas of the city”.

Well, guess what?  Once again, the incremental intrusion of the Outdoor Advertising industry is about to take a huge leap forward – and it’s NOT in Dundas Square.

A report is going to the Planning and Growth Management Committee at City Hall tomorrow, proposing SEVENTEEN new LED screens in Toronto, at ten locations.  These locations include many residential areas – including the neighbourhood I grew up in – York Mills and Leslie.

The next day, a small group of citizens went to City Hall and spoke to the Planning and Growth Management Committee, asking for the opportunity for proper community consultation.  The Committee agreed, and a public meeting has been set-up.  This is your chance to speak out against the growing commercialization of our public spaces.  Please write this in your calendar:

Monster LED Boards – Public Consultation
Wednesday December 14th, at Toronto City Hall
6:30 to 9:30pm

Additional information: Sign Bylaw Unit
416-392-8000   signbylawunit@toronto.ca

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Great News! Toronto City Manager evicts ‘info pillars’.

NOTE: November 18, 2011.  I just received a very polite phone call from the City’s Strategic Communications office, asking me to revise this post to make it clear that this is indeed satire, and NOT about an actual letter from the City Manager.  So, to be very clear: The City of Toronto is NOT evicting Astral’s clunky sidewalk billboards from public space.  They are only evicting our most engaged and optimistic youth.

Original (satirical) post:

“In a stunning turn of events today, City Manager Joe Pennachetti sent out eviction notices to Occupy Toronto and to Astral Media.  The residents of the Occupy camp have been asked to dismantle their tents, and Astral Media has been asked to dismantle their so-called “Information Pillars”, both for the same reasons.  This is a huge step towards reclaiming our public spaces from improper use.

Read Pennachetti’s full eviction notice here.” (Note: THIS IS SATIRE. I have added ink stains and oil spills to obscure any City trademarks or references to City staff)

Ten simple reasons to join the bike union


10) For those who ride bikes, we know how dangerous our streets feel each day.  Only with a unified voice can we create safe space and transform the city.

9) It only costs $2.50 per month.  Is your health and safety worth the price?

8) Starting last week, bike lanes were being removed by constructions crews on Pharmacy and Birchmount – against the advice of city staff. Jarvis is the next scheduled removal.

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The Fourth Wall • Transforming City Hall

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Alert: Monster LED Billboards about to appear across Toronto

(Note: I did an interview on CBC about this issue on Oct 7.  Listen here)

When Dundas Square was proposed, and public concern was raised about the proliferation of annoying LED billboards in the city we were told not to worry.  “This is ONLY for Dundas Square”, we were told.  “We won’t allow huge electronic billboards in other areas of the city”.

Well, guess what?  Once again, the incremental intrusion of the Outdoor Advertising industry is about to take a huge leap forward – and it’s NOT in Dundas Square.

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STAR: Why fair debates matter in Ontario



This is an op-ed I wrote for the Toronto Star.  Read the original version here.
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As a teenager, I would occasionally become enthralled by televised sports. I wasn’t particularly interested in wrestling matches or hockey playoffs, but my eyes would be glued to the screen for hours as I watched a true blood sport: elections.

I remember watching poll results late into the evening with my father and I recall being particularly fascinated by leadership conventions. It was amazing to me that political control was decided not in a backroom, but live on TV.

During one of those conventions I became so impressed with a particular candidate that I pinned his election sign to my bedroom wall, hanging between posters of Pink Floyd and Def Leppard.

I tend to lean to the left side of the political spectrum but this election sign did not belong to Broadbent, Clinton or Rae. My political hero was Garth Turner, a leadership candidate for the Tories in 1993 – my last year of high school.

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