The Information-Free Info Pillar
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The Information-Free Info Pillar

Why the City's new "InfoToGo" pillars contain no actual info.

Side view of the information pillars; this one is near the southwest corner of King and Jarvis.

Over the course of the past few weeks, new sidewalk accoutrements have been installed on many downtown streets. They’re called “InfoToGo pillars,” but they contain very little information—at least, very little pertaining to the city.

Every single pillar is supposed to feature a neighbourhood map, right on the skinny part that faces the sidewalk. The maps were part of a deal struck between the City and Astral Media Outdoor (the company that provides the City’s street furniture in exchange for advertising rights) during the summer.

And yet at the moment, all the pillars offer the public are advertisements for the services of a certain large telecommunications company whose name rhymes with “smell.”

The side of the pillar intended to be informative.

The maps are the “info” in InfoToGo. So where are they? Fiona Chapman, acting manager of street furniture for the City, says they’re coming. But she doesn’t know exactly when.

“I find it regrettable that the pillars are up without the actual wayfinding elements,” Chapman told us. The maps, she said, still need to be printed and installed. “Those should be done by November 21,” she said. But, she added, “I’m not convinced I’ll see all of them by then.”

Public-space advocates are decrying the presence of the pillars. In an article last week, Spacing called them not “really a pillar at all, but rather a billboard whose primary focus is the ad space.”

The pillars have also been criticized for their tendency to crowd out pedestrians and cyclists. They loom over space that could otherwise be used for walking, and in some cases Astral’s crews are removing bike rings during installation. Chapman told us her section has been working with Astral to reposition pillars that impede walking. (The City is paying for the repositioning.) The bike rings, she said, will be replaced.

Council approved the pillars in July as substitutes for an earlier, failed InfoToGo design. Astral is obligated to provide 120 of them. Twenty of them won’t have advertisements. Chapman said the City is working with local Business Improvement Areas to install even more ad-free pillars—ideally, one for every pillar that does have the ads. Those wouldn’t be covered by Astral, and would have to come at least partly at the City’s expense.