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2005 05 02
Microserfs and Macroturfs
image A few weeks ago, I attended a concert put on by the Toronto Public Space Committee, a small political action committee headed by Dave Meslin. (I believe they're related somehow to Spacing magazine, best known in the city for selling those cool subway-stop lapel buttons.) The purpose of the concert was to raise money for, and draw attention to, a number of campaigns they're putting on, most of which focus on reducing the amount of public space devoted to advertising.

Whether you agree with their politics or not, I found it interesting that there are people out there who are concerned about even some of the smallest points of how the city is designed. Among their many campaigns (ten listed on the site) is one to stop city council from putting in new recycling bins with visual ad boards, another to remove unsightly and unfriendly chain-link fences from people's front yards, and another to perform "guerilla gardening" around the city (recon: my back yard could really use some grass seed).

I also found the group's central critique entirely valid, even though I'm more of a realist about these things. Commercial advertising is one of the least-planned design features in any city, and where it's unregulated, it will pop up just about anywhere. A few weeks ago, I met a girl who had helped develop the Virgin Mobile "The Catch" campaign that saw red faux-police-tape put up all over downtown, and huge red-and-white text signs on subway platform floors and pillars. It was a fairly brilliant low-budget campaign, and one she told me they had no problems executing. But can you imagine if five other companies did the same thing? Wall-to-wall-to-wall-to-wall...

Having said that commercial design is generally unplanned, I have to tip my hat to Brown and Storey, which designed the Dundas Square space. I'm fairly new to Toronto, but the first time I saw it, it evoked a Times Square or a downtown Tokyo for me. That said, part of the reason was the overwhelming amount of signage, video billboards, etc. that it contained. To be fair, the Square is outside a mall, and its other charms are certainly considerable. But I would be very curious to know how much the Dundas design was integrated with its surrounding ads.
[email this story] Posted by Jeremy Keehn, The Walrus Magazine on 05/02 at 05:28 PM

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