Lisa Rochon has written so well here. I can't add a thing, she's spot on.
Lisa Rochon has written so well here. I can't add a thing, she's spot on.
Great article, thanks for posting. This and public transit will be Toronto's next big issues and it's only time before the general public becomes 'aware' of its inferior, dispiriting public spaces and shamefully inadequate subway system.
The challenge for Toronto will be to (re)learn to think collectively and on a bigger scale than we are used to where several generations of us have been conditioned to think incrementally and myopically as self-interested fractions, the sum of which is unfortunately in no way greater than its parts. Toronto needs to get back a little of its post-war collective optimism and ambition and this needs to enter the political dialogue and be reflected in our civic leaders. An entire cultural shift in focus is required which happily already seems to be happening with the recent cultural infrastructure renaissance and waterfront rejuvenation. Lets hope it keeps growing and Toronto will totally kick ass!
It doesn't help that a lot of Torontonians are aging baby boomers who really couldn't care less about this as long as they have their own house and car.
For the record, I do not own a car, I ride my bike, walk, take TTC and have a huge beef over how this is not encouraged in this city because of its current infrastructure. I think the attitude you speak of unfortunately spreads across more than one demographic.
I think it's more a case of technocracy gone wild. I doubt any City Planer really though "let's screw some pedestrians by designing ugly street furniture." It was probably more a case of some bureaucrat somewhere coming to the conclusion that all garbage bins must have some capability of shell replacement, and the current design best fit that need. Aesthetic considerations be damned. It's a recurring theme here. We can't have street food because it violates health bylaws. We can't have laneway housing because it violates some fire bylaw. You can't build a restaurant there. If someone wants to spend their own money to build a car-less condo, that violates bylaws. It's just the result of an opaque bureaucracy that has way higher than healthy "we are smarter than you" attitude. It doesn't have any inherent pro or anti anything bias.
Insofar as the City Council intervenes, they tend to do so in symbolic ways (building an odd green roof here, painting a bike lane there) or totally NIMBYistic ways ("a bistro?! here?! why don't you just start selling crack?")
*Give me convenience or give me death*
Why does everything have to have advertising on it? Benches with advertising, garbage bins with advertising, bus shelters with advertising, etc. Don't they know that with everything with advertising, it will be ignored. If you want advertising, it must be isolated from the other advertising. Why have advertising on a garbage can when there is advertising in the store window behind it?
Sometimes you can create an image that advertises itself by its own design.
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W. K. Lis
In the case of the new street furniture, I believe the advertising pays for a significant portion of it, so it comes at a lower cost to the city.
The City didn't pay a thing for the new street furniture, Astral pays 100% of it in exchange for the Advertising deal; and on top of that gives the City a cut of the revenue worth 9 figures over 20 years (that's over a hundred million)
An environmentally conscientious, libertarian inclined, fiscally conservative, socialist.
Designers should be called in to make it attractive. Attractive doesn't mean it needs to cost a lot to build, it means we should hire the right designers.
Yeah, some of the stuff she writes is good. It's hard to argue with her comments about the ugly garbage cans. Still, I take exception to some of what she writes:
Urban planners have been boasting for decades that "We now know the fundamentals of what it takes to make great cities." Sixty years ago it was tall towers set amidst lush parkland. The idea that there's a magic formula of wide sidewalks and pedestrian-only streets that make a vibrant city is deeply flawed. If that were true, Sparks Street would be the most vibrant and bustling street in the country. Queen Street or St Laurent with their narrow sidewalks and space for cars would be deserted. "Time" Square was just as filled with people when it was also filled with cars. It's just not that simple.We now know the fundamentals of what it takes to make lousy or great cities. Build more highways and see how quickly the roads fill up with cars and increasing commute times. But build wider sidewalks, and create pedestrian-only streets, as is the case in Madrid, Copenhagen, and the area around New York's Time Square, and watch them fill with people
It's the same mentality that drives planning strategies like Transit City. "If only" we had this one thing (in this case a streetcar line), we'd magically have bustling and thriving pedestrian-oriented neighbourhoods just like Queen and College. After all, they have streetcars too. Surely they must be the cause.
It's not just about streetcars, though. City governments have been plagued with these quick fixes for decades. They've become progressively more modest as "small is beautiful" has come more into vogue and civic ambitions have been diminished, but they're no less wrongheaded or at the very least insignificant. In the 50s we shot off our arms to get rid of a hangnail in that we tore down entire neighbourhoods because they happened to have a few residents who were prone to crime or poverty. Now we feel that an entire neighbourhood will be magically transformed just because we turn a street from one- to two-way and we widen a sidewalk.
Unfortunately, the areas that planners have gotten their hands on and implemented most of these theories haven't turned out very well. The neighbourhood with the widest sidewalks in the city is the Cityplace/SkyDome neighbourhood, but that hasn't made it a pedestrian's paradise.
None of this is to say that we shouldn't build nice wide sidewalks or care about streetscaping. Quite the contrary. It's just that we shouldn't expect a magic transformation.
Last edited by unimaginative2; 2009-Oct-13 at 20:01.
But that's just it. It isn't just an absence of cars that draws people. I could close Sheppard to cars tomorrow and there wouldn't suddenly be a flood of humanity pouring down the street. There has to be some reason for them to be there, whether it's shopping, restaurants, scenery, museums, or civic institutions. Of course once you get a critical mass, you do attract people who want to people-watch or just be around a crowd, but you're not going to get to that point just because there's more space to walk.In Bogota, about 25 kilometres of major streets are closed to cars every Sunday. Imagine the flood of humanity that could be showcased in Toronto and across Canada with a similar gesture.
I'd say that the biggest problem with our streetscapes isn't bad intentions--it's bad maintenance and a lack of awareness of what most people actually find attractive. If you asked for the vast majority of people to name a beautiful street, they'd name something like the Champs in Paris or the Ramblas in Barcelona. They're beautiful because they're immaculately maintained and they have big and lush trees and lawns. Here, pedestrian areas are overwhelmingly made of concrete. Trees are encased in tiny concrete slots for fear that they might grow and devour the neighbourhood. None of this is helped when the carefully chosen granite pavers are replaced with asphalt whenever maintenance is done, or when trees are left to die.
Last edited by unimaginative2; 2009-Oct-13 at 20:16.
I agree with some of the points in the article, in particular about the wide sidewalks thought of as parks in their own right rather than strips along the sides of roads. However, I disagree with the criticism against the new street furniture itself.
Financially, it was an amazing deal for the city. Not only do we not have to pay for it, we don't have to pay to maintain it, Astral is under obligation to keep the furniture in a good state of repair and we'll end up getting nearly $100M in ad revenue over the course of the contract. Now THAT's a deal!
Furthermore, these new bins are more friendly to the street than the mega bins that have occupied our sidewalks for a decade. Those were designed as an ad space first, a litter receptacle second. The new ones don't have ads at all. They're designed to be efficient garbage and recycling receptacles first and foremost, and they're engineered so that their shell can be easily replaced.
That last item is the one I like the most. The look of the bin can change with time as they're replaced due to vandalism or simply wearing out. They're grey and green now. They can be switched to a darker colour or a metallic shell to better deal with the tagging and grime that I've been seeing on many of them lately.
In addition, there seem to be a lot more garbage bins now. I've been emailing and calling Kyle Rae for years about putting a bin at the bus stop on Queen + University. There was always litter on the ground and along the Osgoode Hall fence simply because there was no garbage bin in such a high traffic area. There are now two.
The shelters are an incremental improvement over what we had before, which I already liked anyway.
The community postering boards? I agree that they don't work. It was clear that they'd get cluttered by the regular hydro pole postering people. That's fine. Take them down or keep them up and create a bylaw against postering on hydro poles with the defence that the city isn't impeding free speech because they're providing for places to poster.
I love the new benches which are appearing in places where no benches were seen before.
The InfoToGo posts? They do no harm and are positioned in places where tourists will usually appear. They're not really meant for us, but that doesn't mean they're not important.
The newspaper corrals and multipublication boxes are awesome. The multi colour, misaligned, chained, rusting and vandalized newspaper boxes cluttered sidewalks in major pedestrian areas. These new items will remediate that problem.
Finally, we have a consistent design for our street furniture city wide and each can be customized to suit the look of a particular area.
There is still work to be done on the city's appearance but the street furniture can be checked off that list. Now let the next mayor deal with coordinating construction on sidewalks so they never stay asphalted over, the trees so they can grow into maturity, the bicycle lanes so they don't have to worry about parked cars, the hydro poles (bury the wires) and so on.
Last edited by MetroMan; 2009-Oct-13 at 23:48.
There's nothing really wrong with our street furniture, it's just so utilitarian.
That's my beef. And the fact that the city can't seem to figure out how to grow trees in an urban setting. Anyone else tired of the anorexic tree?
One thing I noticed in Vancouver (can't remember if this was in Yaletown or Gastown) but they stamp the base of all the trees with little leaves in the sidewalk. It's a small thing no doubt but it's a nice thing. Even the tree gates are ornate and differ depending on where you are in the city.
Toronto's public realm really lacks 'detail' which brings me back to the whole utilitarian thing.