Today Tue Wed
It is forecast to be Rain at 11:00 PM EDT on July 28, 2014
It is forecast to be Chance of Rain at 11:00 PM EDT on July 29, 2014
Chance of Rain
It is forecast to be Chance of a Thunderstorm at 11:00 PM EDT on July 30, 2014
Chance of a Thunderstorm



Public Works: Manhole Art

A small way to make our streets nicer.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.


Manhole covers have traditionally been functional: a fast route for City workers (and urban explorers) to get underground. As street fixtures, they’re appealing in a steampunk kind of way, but generally not pretty or interesting.

Other cities are changing that, by using their manhole covers as canvases for street art.

Japan has led the way. The Japanese began rethinking the manhole cover back in the 1980s and today some 95 per cent of Japanese municipalities have taken advantage of the idea to brighten up their landscapes. The arted-up covers range from the cartoonish to designs representing more serious aspects of Japanese culture (for a great overview, check out the Flickr page Japanese Manhole covers).

While the Japanese have pioneered the art form, the concept has caught on elsewhere. From historical themes in Trondheim, Norway to First Nations designs in Vancouver and Seattle, cities around the world are taking this small step to making streets more interesting. (You can see these and a few others in the gallery above.)

The trend has yet to spread to Toronto, but our walkable city would lend itself to neighbourhood specific designs: musical themes to celebrate the rock and roll heritage of Queen Street West; culturally themed covers for China and Koreatown, in Little Italy and Little Malta; cartoonish brawling douchebags in the Entertainment District. Maybe we can use some of that billboard money for public art to pay for it?


  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    How do they hold up against the stresses of winter ploughing and salt?

    • blearghhh

      Well, they say there’s some in Trondheim. Isn’t Norway at least as cold and salty as us? They don’t have the bits of colour in them, so it’ll probably last as long as any other cast steel cover.

      Also, shouldn’t it be “Maintenance Hole Cover”?

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        I saw the Norway reference, that’s what made me wonder (but I didn’t look very closely at the examples in the gallery).

        • Eric S. Smith

          Manhole covers have long had interesting patterns cast into them; they hold up fine. I suppose that the worst that could happen to the colourful ones is the coloured substance (concrete? polymer? enamel?) would chip out, leaving a more traditional look.

          If the coloured areas can be made rough and grippy, you could justify their inclusion on safety grounds, regardless of appearance. Even if they only last a few years before reverting to bare metal, it’s better than nothing.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            It isn’t the patterns I was curious about, as it stands to reason they’d hold up fine if they’re made of the same stuff, but the colours.

      • the_lemur

        Cold yes, salty no.

      • Rico_Featherbutt

        With all this “equality” going around, I still don’t see women going down them. Part of that double standard they force on everyone.

        • Melissa Campbell

          Whatever, whiner, I’ll go down that manhole. It’s not like those companies hire women, either. Doofus.

          • Rico_Featherbutt

            LOL I wonder why they don’t hire women.

    • treptower

      Does it really matter? The urban realm in this city is so fucking cheap and ugly that i don’t think a few sewer covers will make any difference.

  • arkwild

    Vancouver has them too….one for storm water and one for sewer

  • Mochi

    Many of the bigger cities in Japan (Tokyo, Osaka) actually have different cover designs for different neighbourhoods. Imagine having something like this in Toronto.