Taking Back the Streets: Info-Pillars Hacked By Urban Activists In Toronto

John Smooth/ Cartography/CC BY 2.0

Everybody in Toronto hates the Astral Infopillars, part of a deal where the city sold advertising rights on bus shelters and garbage cans, and allowed these so-called infopillars that have a bid of info on the ends, but are basically big billboards blocking the sidewalk. Our ever-vigilant city council approved them, apparently not looking too closely; note how they are so street-friendly in this submission by Councillor Adam Vaughan, who tried to get them removed.

City of Toronto/ Adam Vaughan/Public Domain

In early July, a group of artists, operating under the name cARTographyTO took their secret screwdrivers and took over the infopillars. They explain:

This weekend, cARTographyTO replaced ads in Astral Media “Info” Pillars with art-maps created by Toronto residents and local artists. This site-specific art, donated by over 30 concerned citizens (and supported by many times more), offers new possibilities for these spaces, and information about the surrounding neighbourhoods. This is a response to sidewalk billboards, and the erosion and privatization of public spaces.

Jon Smooth/CC BY 2.0

A spokesperson for cARTographyTO stated, “These structures are billboards masquerading as sources of useful public information. When you look at the pillars, it’s hard to find the maps, and this goes against the City’s own public space guidelines. How could City Hall allow this to happen?

Jon Smooth/CC BY 2.0

Beyond mere visual pollution, these pillars are a safety hazard. And Astral’s influence on our city is a public insult and embarrassment - more power has been given to those who already have the loudest voices, to the detriment of all who use these spaces.”

Jon Smooth/CC BY 2.0

Artist Sean Martindale was more blunt, telling the Grid:

“[The signs] are making our city look like shit, they’re a pedestrian obstacle, and they’re a line-of-sight hazard,” he explained before adding, “privatization of public space is one of the biggest issues we’re facing in the world, because it’s part of the larger, unsustainable consumer culture.”

Jon Smooth/CC BY 2.0

The mayor was not amused, nor was Astral Media. They complained:

Astral deplores the acts of vandalism committed this weekend against the InfoPillars in the City of Toronto. The Toronto Street Furniture (TSF) program is a world class project that provides important services to residents of the City - including transit shelters, litter bins and public benches. It also creates revenue that is exclusively directed for reinvestment in city streets

Really. a "World Class project."

Jon Smooth/CC BY 2.0

What an embarrassment all round; Congratulations to cARTographyTO. See Jon Smooth's collection of photos here, and MartinHo's set on Flickr.

Tags: Cities | Toronto | Urban Life

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