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Concrete Sidewalk Planters Get Some Guerrilla Beautification

If you keep your eyes to the ground as you walk, you might notice something different about some of the City’s concrete sidewalk planters this weekend. They’ve been vandalized! Except, beautifully.


On Bloor Street, a little east of Lansdowne Avenue, there’s one particular box that until this week was a planter in name only: it was full of garbage, including a few empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cartons. Artist Karen Abel removed the cartons and spent hours carefully folding them into red, white, and blue flowers, which she then reinserted Saturday, after laying down some topsoil in the planter and giving the whole thing a fresh coat of white paint.
The cardboard floral arrangement immediately began to attract the interest of neighbours. It could well have been the first attention paid to the planter in years.
Further west on Bloor Street, a crack in another concrete planter has been repaired with Lego. On University Avenue, sod spills through gaps in some planters, out onto the sidewalk. Other planters on Bloor Street have had their fissures decorated with variegated gold leaf.
All told, about two dozen planters have received similar treatment this weekend. Many are clustered around Bloor and Lansdowne and Queen and University, but there are others in different parts of downtown, and a few in North York. The City gave no authorization for any of this; to a certain way of thinking, it could all be considered vandalism.
While the project was a collaboration between about a dozen different artists and activists, it won’t come as a surprise to long-time readers that the idea originated with Sean Martindale. He’s an artist known for his street-level public space interventions. Two summers ago, he created planters out of advertising posters. Last summer, he helped lead a citywide takeover of street advertising columns and billboards.
“We want to draw attention to these planters,” said Martindale Saturday night. Many of the concrete boxes targeted were in poor condition, but, Martindale added, his goal is not “to point fingers at the City.”
“It’s more about getting people engaged in their city,” he explained.
The project was financed with the help of a $1,000 cheque from FEAST Toronto, a new organization that provides small grants to artists and designers.
Martindale said at least one person unaffiliated with him has already started making modifications to planters of their own volition. He’s happy about it.
“That’s exactly the type of results I would hope for,” he told us. “It exceeded my expectations that it happened in such an obvious way, immediately.”
Photos by Remi Carreiro/Torontoist.

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