The Toronto Public Space Committee last night Art Attacked every single Astral pillar in the city. Photos are here and here, with more to come.
The revulsion with which Torontonians responded to last week’s sudden advertising invasion got us wondering: If that’s how the public reacted to forty street-level ad structures in place for two days, how will people feel about the one hundred twenty new “info pillars” that will be in place for twenty years? Under the “Coordinated Street Furniture Program,” being debated by Council
today Thursday, Astral Media will get to multiply their current inventory of ad pillars by sixfold over the next few years.
When dealing with the public and City Council, Astral calls them “INFOTOGO” pillars; when dealing with potential advertisers, however, they call them “street columns” and “MegaColumns,” putting them in the same boat as the pseudo-Parisian ones they operate in Montreal. Toronto, at present, has twenty of the regular columns and five of the MegaColumns, all but three of which are on land under the jurisdiction of Parks, Forestry and Recreation—the same City department that last week so passionately denied any prior knowledge of or involvement in Audi’s scheme; in fact, the “info pillars” were a response to an RFP [PDF] put out over three years ago by that same department. This means that despite the assurances of last week, yes, advertising is allowed in parks. (Of the three that aren’t in parks, parkettes, or squares, two are illegally on the University Avenue median, and one is legally on the north side of Dundas, just west of Yonge, by special request of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism. The one hundred twenty to be installed under the “street furniture” plan would, like these three, be in the pedestrian rights-of-way.)
So it was in the spirit of a last hurrah of sorts that the TPSC tackled all the “info pillars,” from the Beaches to the 401 and everywhere in between, covering up (for a day, at least) the ads with art. This is something that would likely not be possible with the new “info pillars,” in which Astral plans to include “security eyes”—cameras which would presumably have a live feed to Astral’s “central control,” allowing them to dispatch police or private security as they see fit.
At the Executive Committee meeting in April [PDF], Councillor Davis motioned that that feature be removed from the design. Along with all other “street furniture” motions made at that meeting, her request was referred to staff, who today delivered to Council a report on the viability of the various motions [PDF] . Most of them (including attempts to hold Astral to account for their illegal billboards) were dismissed by staff, and all it says about the cameras is that “the matter of security eyes in the info-pillar element is discussed in Confidential Attachment 4″—the contents of which, of course, are secret.
So much for the public realm.
Jonathan Goldsbie is a campaigner with the Toronto Public Space Committee. Photo by Art Attack Coordinator Amanda Rataj.