Travel Through the Solar System in a Few Short Blocks
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Travel Through the Solar System in a Few Short Blocks

Artist creates installation of astronomical proportions.

Running along Grace Street and Gore Vale Avenue on the stretch from Bloor to Queen—hidden in plain sight—is a map of our solar system. Masquerading as a set of municipal street signs, Walkable Planets is a self-guided planetary tour that has been integrated seamlessly into our urban landscape. And it’s quite the treat for those attentive enough to spot it.

These sneaky signs encourage pedestrians to take a stroll across the solar system—or rather, the solar system at a scale of one-to-five billion. Boasting educational tidbits about which familiar objects the planets would be the size of at that scale (Jupiter, for example, would be the size of a tennis ball), the signs have been placed so as to proportionally reproduce the planets’ actual distances from one another in space.

Created by neighbourhood artist Jode Roberts, Walkable Planets is a participatory guide to the sun and eight planets in our solar system (sorry Pluto). Roberts hoped to recreate the kind of experience he’d had during a trip to Germany, when a five-year-old cousin excitedly led him on a similar trek featuring sculptures and plaques that stretched through the entire town.

Initially, Roberts wanted this project to involve a series of bronze sculptures in City parks—or the creation of a large-scale map using city landmarks (SkyDome=sun, and so on). But he was thwarted by budgetary and bureaucratic restraints. Inspired by local sign-based intervention artists Time and Desire, Roberts adopted the “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” attitude—and he hopes forgiveness will be granted, because he’d like Walkable Planets to be used by local schools (and by locals in general) as a tool for education, conversation, and inspiration.

Walkable Planets made its debut on June 7 as part of 100 in 1 Day, a nation-wide celebration of citizen-driven action. Unlike most of the other 173 interventions that spanned the city, Walkable Planets has had (and will, we hope, continue to have) some longevity. It’s a sad fact that creating publicity for interesting interventions like this can also lead to their hasty removal, so we encourage you to enjoy this walk sooner rather than later. But don’t fret if you miss it: Walkable Planets will soon be sneaking into different neighbourhoods and bike paths across the city. So keep your eyes peeled—our street signs are not always what they seem.