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The Scourge of Window Film

Skeezix

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I exaggerate with the word "scourge", but only a bit. ;p

Increasingly, retailers are covering up ground floor windows with signage adhesives which effectively transform the windows into walls. It generally has a negative effect on the streetscape, turning planned groundfloor animation into opaque walls or billboards. It is a suburban/big box design solution, being transplanted into urban, pedestrian-oriented areas. Like many things, it can be inoffensive/non-problematic in moderation, but some retail and service tenants are going to town with it.

The issue came up this morning in the Shoppers Drug Mart thread, and I posted this photo of the SDM in Regent Park on Dundas Street East. This building was designed, and obtained site plan approval, on the basis that there was fenestration along much of the ground floor, allowing people to see inside the various shops and services. SDM has now transformed a good portion of those windows into signage:

Shoppers.JPG


It doesn't help that its standard imagery which SDM uses on many of its stores. In addition to helping kill ground floor animation, therefore, the window film is also undermining the sense of place. This could be anywhere. Although I suppose yet another SDM outlet may largely accomplish that in and of itself (I have no issue with SDM, BTW), window film aside.

On the flankage of the store, SDM has installed window film with historic photos of Toronto druggists. Again, no windows facing the public square next to the building (with all the potential impacts that entails), but it's certainly a step up from the bland photographs on the Dundas side.

2shoppers.JPG

Once you start to look for it, you really begin to notice the deadening effect it having on the streetscape. SDM is by no means the only offender. It's all over the place.

One of my "favourite" bugbears is the Rabba on the SW corner of Charles E. and Jarvis. X2 brought some much needed urbanity to that corner, only for its retail tenant at the corner to cover all of its windows with opaque film. Some of the film closer to the Charles Street corner of the building is slightly less opaque than the rest, but only slightly.

Rabba.png
Rabba2.png

(Rabba Photo Credit: Google streetview)

It's not the end of the world. And the public art largely hides the impact as one drives by. But it does have a negative effect. Thank God for the pizza and coffee shop next door which appear to have opted for a more transparent, friendlier approach to the sidewalk and street.

I don't fault retailers. They want to maximize their floor space, with as much flexibility as possible, and window film allows them to put shelving, storage, etc. right up against windows, with no need to think about how it looks. It also assists with everything from branding to promotion. I get it. Absent any controls, I don't blame them. They have to defend a bottom line, not impacts on ground floor animation.

I do think that the City of Toronto needs to get off its ass and introduce some controls, either through the City of Toronto Act and/or the Planning Act. Planning staff are expending all this effort on ensuring an appropriate relationship between developments and the street, which includes fenestration and other ground floor animation elements. If the windows all get covered with signage, those efforts are to an extent being undermined. I wish Planning would worry a little more about how buildings read from the street, and how to secure that, rather than all the hand-wringing about height and what buildings look like from drones.

Anyway, that's my two cents.
 

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Tuscani01

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Honestly, without the city over-reaching into how the interior retail space is laid out, the film is 100% necessary. You will just have ugly peg board and uprights to look at if window film was banned or discouraged.

I'm sure the people frequenting the Rabba at X2 would also prefer greater product selection than see-through windows. It's hideous, I agree, but the other options aren't any better for anyone either.

The only real solution to this problem is the property manager of each building, as they can control how the exterior of the building looks by banning window film and creating restrictions on signage. When I lived at Luna in CityPlace, property management was very active at enforcing it's signage requirements, even going so far as to order a realtor to remove listings that were hung in front of the window within the unit, and ordering another business to remove decals from the windows. Mind you, this made the businesses hard to spot. The live work units at Luna are far less successful than the ones in Parade which has far less strict restrictions, and has managed to attract a greater range of businesses that liven up the street more than those at Luna.
 
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Skeezix

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City Planning has been studying how condo/apartment housing in high-density communities can better accommodate the needs of households with children and youth. They released draft guidelines this month, which look not just at housing units (number of bedrooms, storage, etc.) and community amenities (parks, libraries, etc.), but also at building complete communities (which, according to the draft guidelines, include an active street life with a fine-grained retail spaces).

One of the recommended guidelines is that the non-residential ground floor of new residential buildings "be animated by limiting the at-grade frontage of large stores and lifestyle graphics that obstruct the windows." (emphasis mine)

It's nice to see the City slowly waking up to this issue, and I hope it also takes the next step and starts controlling window film through its Planning Act and City of Toronto Act powers.
 

Avenue

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Maybe they shouldn't be so cheap and try to go for some sort of public art installations instead of crappy stock images.
 

Skeezix

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Maybe they shouldn't be so cheap and try to go for some sort of public art installations instead of crappy stock images.
They kind of did that at the Shoppers in Regent Park (see photo above). Certainly more interesting than the usual air-brushed headshots of happy Shoppers shoppers.

Some window film is not the end of the world. But at the end of the day, most windows should function as windows, contributing to ground floor animation. Enough billboard walls.
 

Avenue

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Frankly, my objection to window film is that it removes life from the sidewalks and removes the 'eyes on the street'.
Yeah but it's sort of inevitable for SDM type of retailers. 'Eyes on the street' isn't compatible with 100% of our current street economy. That's why I'm suggesting art installations.
 

Skeezix

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Yeah but it's sort of inevitable for SDM type of retailers. 'Eyes on the street' isn't compatible with 100% of our current street economy. That's why I'm suggesting art installations.
I don't agree with that all. Retailers will adjust. They shouldn't get to diminish the public realm so as to maximize floor space flexibility. The whole point I am making is that it is not inevitable, and a street economy consisting of long stretches of blocked windows is not one we should be striving for.

Some limited use of window film, particularly on parts of flankage windows, might be appropriate in some cases. And, yes, in those limited circumstances public art would be preferable to advertising/branding.
 

ShonTron

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I don't agree with that all. Retailers will adjust. They shouldn't get to diminish the public realm so as to maximize floor space flexibility. The whole point I am making is that it is not inevitable, and a street economy consisting of long stretches of blocked windows is not one we should be striving for.

Some limited use of window film, particularly on parts of flankage windows, might be appropriate in some cases. And, yes, in those limited circumstances public art would be preferable to advertising/branding.
What is needed are podium plans that provide the space needed for larger chain retailers and restaurants, but with as narrow streetface as possible (the majority of the store in the rear), with smaller units - like coffee shops, independent stores, etc. taking up the rest of the main streetwall. That would maximize the transparent, lively front, and minimize the number of the same four or five Shoppers Drug Mart stockpeople.
 

Skeezix

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What is needed are podium plans that provide the space needed for larger chain retailers and restaurants, but with as narrow streetface as possible (the majority of the store in the rear), with smaller units - like coffee shops, independent stores, etc. taking up the rest of the main streetwall. That would maximize the transparent, lively front, and minimize the number of the same four or five Shoppers Drug Mart stockpeople.
Agreed. Very good point, and one proposed by the draft guidelines mentioned above. Although when even smaller users like Rabba and hairstylists are liberally using window film, the City still needs to start using its regulatory powers to ensure that windows remain windows. And no one wants flankages to be dominated by SDM stock photos either.
 

Tuscani01

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I had to place an order for some custom window film for one of my project stores and thought about this thread as I was filling out the spec sheet. It almost killed me that I was contributing to this. haha
 
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