In the opening voiceover for his Oscar-winning animated short Ryan, Chris Landreth explains, “I live in Toronto, a city in Canada where I see way too many shades of grey for my own good health.” This line occurred to us as we attended the official unveiling of Toronto’s new “street furniture” at City Hall Monday morning, a celebration of the all-new shades of grey about to trickle onto our streets.
Courtesy of Jeremy Kramer (pictured above), who has gotten almost as rich designing grey, curvy ad structures as Daniel Libeskind has silver, jagged museums, the new street furniture is as about as bland and generic as one would expect from infrastructure created by a billboard company. As Jules Goss, the chair of OCAD’s industrial design program, told the Globe, “It is important that a city have a fairly significant sense of place, and I would suggest this furniture could be just as easily applied in another city and have exactly the same aesthetic impact.” The shelters, for example, are pretty much the same as the ones Kramer designed for Mississauga and Baltimore.
The City had originally hoped for street furniture that was modular and customizable, that could be adjusted to fit the physical and aesthetic characteristics of each neighbourhood in which it was placed. What they got was a one-size-fits-all approach in which neighbourhood uniqueness means BIA logos on washrooms and newspaper boxes, and, oh, maybe different colours. The streetcar shelters in Chinatown, for example, will be red [WMV].
We’ll have an in-depth look at the rest of the items a little later on today, but for now here are our thoughts on the garbage bins.
Available in both a three-slot model (above, top) and a two-slot model (above, bottom, to the right of Kramer), these were the items we were most curious about. As even Joe Clark admitted in his critique of the original renderings, “Frankly, I like the super-futuristic design of pot-bellied plastic. I’m sorry. I do.”
On the level of functionality, however, they have turned out to be a bust. The awesome-in-theory innovation of offering a foot pedal which opens the flaps has been revealed, on these prototypes anyway, to have been a gimmick: not only are the pedals inaccessible to people in mobility devices (e.g. wheelchairs), but they’re so hard to push down that even young children will have difficulty using them. And that’s also presuming that a buildup of snow underneath won’t, as Astral promises, interfere.
But even if you manage to push the pedal down, the flaps barely open enough for you to stick anything inside without having to cram it through (see photos above, taken with the pedal fully depressed). You can also forgo the pedal and push open the flaps manually but unlike with the current SilverBoxes, these flaps (presumably as a result of the pedal mechanism) are spring-loaded. The problem Kramer tried to solve was how to let people use garbage bins without having to touch the icky flaps; instead he ironically produced a product that requires considerably more contact and interaction with those contaminated services.
Jonathan Goldsbie is a campaigner with the Toronto Public Space Committee. Photos by Jonathan Goldsbie.