“NO ONE IS SUGGESTING YOU CAN CONQUER GAUL BY DEADLIFTING 4 PLATES”

I attended the City of Toronto’s public consultation session at Metro Hall on 2006.03.06. (See photos.) The session was part of a lengthy and multi-step consultation on the topic of “street furniture,” which refers to nearly everything city-owned that is positioned on a sidewalk, including transit shelters, garbage cans (“bins,” including megabins), light standards, and more.

Instead of bringing a computer and typing for 2½ hours straight, I handwrote notes. This form of 19th-century liveblogging resulted in nearly the same arm pain and increased the actual transcription time needed. Most items below are accurate paraphrases, very occasionally completely reworded so I could maintain the sense yet get something down.

I will not bother retyping the comments we made during the “breakout sessions” (each held with ¼ of the attendees), as those are due to be summarized on the Web site, no doubt in clueless formats like PDF. I will note that I mentioned two things during that breakout session – one on bad type (where I did a lousy one-minute presentation); another about using advanced accessibility technologies, like talking signs, that other cities have not rolled out because they, unlike us, have not had a chance to do a city-wide rollout (a much better presentation).

David Nagler, Toronto public-consultation coördinator, opened the 7:00 session at about 7:07.

Deputy Mayor Sandra Bussin appeared in head-to-toe black leather. (I like my deputy mayors to look like Roger Corman starlets.) Street furniture includes many items “and all those boxes that you see for the newspapers.” This project is Mayor Miller’s “brainchild,” the Roundtable on the Beautiful City. “It’s like having a closet where you keep adding more shoes, clothes, jackets, [and black-leather outfits] and never figure out” where everything should go. Wants to see results – and soon.

Robert Freedman, director of Toronto Urban Design, then presented. Why are we doing this? “Because we want to make the city look better.” Street furniture today “doesn’t really fit together all that well; it’s expressed in different ways by different people.”

The Official Plan discusses beauty of the city.

19:14 hours: First mention of Jane Jacobs.

“Streetscape enhancements have a very modest budget” and include patterns of paving materials, trees. Six or seven projects a year “of this nature across the city.”

Runs a PowerPoint presentation that is, of course, completely illegible and washed out, but at least was intended to look nice. Compares a street to a room; the buildings that line the street are the walls.

Avenues Program: Shows an illegible map. Shows computer projections of the streetscape at Queensway and Islington [complete with new buildings that nobody can force developers to construct and absent existing buildings that nobody can force owners to tear down].

Mentions comments “reported in the paper.” Shows Chicago, Paris, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Dundee street furniture.

Placement of furniture: It cannot obstruct pedestrians. Items today “are placed in not necessarily the best order,” showing things smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk on College and at King and Bay.

Bob Millward, project director, R.E. Millward & Associates (which has no Web site I can find), then spoke. He shows us a mission statement and then a list of goals, one of which I missed and all of which are paraphrased:

  • High standard of civic design and innovation
  • Enhance public use
  • Accommodate all users (i.e., people with disabilities)
  • Be economically viable

Shows a set of illegible tables of street-furniture items that would be included in the upcoming RFP (request for proposals) and others that could optionally be considered.

“We’re listening. We’re not coming telling you what we’ve decided.” Has these meetings, meetings with “design community,” BIAs, City Hall committees.

Design issues: “The strong message is that design matters.” Companies that bid on the contract must “understand that design is a very important objective.”

Advertising: “We’ve heard a lot. We’re looking for a balance in the public domain between things in the public domain that can have advertising and other things in the public domain where it can’t and shouldn’t…. Advertising is part of the economic reality.” A “balance” of advertising would result in high-quality street furniture [i.e., if we want the latter, we must have the former].

Questionnaire on the Web site is forthcoming [and needs to be better designed against ballot-stuffing than the megabin questionnaire, or else Eucan, Viacom, and Pattison on one side and Spacers on the other will do exactly that]. There’s a dedicated phone line [416 338-1066].

There will be two documents: One for design and policy, another a streetscape manual. The latter is more “technical” and deals with, for example, placement of objects. (“They seem to occur haphazardly and sometimes incompatibly with just the normal flow of pedestrian movement.”)

“Some of you are aware there are a few pilot projects going on now.” Mentions litter bins and a third of the audience boos, followed by scattered laughs. Man says “When do we get a chance to speak?” Millward mentions information pillars, to further boos. Woman says “Disaster.” Millward, not hearing the woman: “We’re kind of mindful of that.”

After those two documents “are digested by Council through a very public process,” then they’ll issue an RFP. Mentions a city requirement for public-service advertising.

Issues:

  • Contract “structure” and length. One contract or contractor or more than one?
  • Translation of design principles to finished product.
  • Appropriate method of adjudication [of what does or does not meet the design principles].

Are leaning toward a single contract with several specialty subcontractors.

Consultation steps:

  1. These consultations: February to March.
  2. Guideline and policy consultations: February to March.
  3. Streetscape manual for design brief: December 2005 to March.
  4. Report to Council: May.
  5. RFP issuance: Summer.
  6. RFP submissions: End of year.
  7. Council decision: Early 2007.

Criteria:

  • High and superior quality of design and functionality that reflects Toronto’s character. (Not necessarily made or designed here.)
  • High and superior quality of materials, with operation and maintenance plan.
  • Lots of design, construction, and maintenance firms involved, based on the Toronto and California experiences.
  • Familiarity with large-scope projects.
  • “A public compensation plan that stresses guaranteed over projected compensation to the City.”
  • Design and financial “importance”: How do you review and acknowledge quality design against other criteria, including financial proposals? They could “isolate design before finances.” Also includes adjudication, selection. Only those proposals that met the qualitative criteria could have their financial “envelopes” opened, for example.

Nagler: “We’ve already heard a great deal of feedback on two particular items of street furniture.” Mentions Lisa Neidlauer from R.E. Millward and Associates, whose name I am probably misspelling.

Q&A

Most answers came from Robert Freedman, but I have no notations beyond recalling that.

  1. Q. from man: Impressed about directing this toward an RFP rather than “the sale of our city’s streetscape to a single large corporation.” Where did the concept of an RFP even come from?

    A. This phase is about receiving input on quality, accessibility, functionality. Advertising component: “We’re not there. We don’t have a solution or a model, but we do know what the existing models are.” But street furniture is not cheap.

    Q. It’s illusory that something big has to change that could only involve Pattison or Viacom.

  2. Q. Total dollar cost to install and maintain the street furniture?

    A. For transit shelters, we have 1,000 new ones. Manufacturing and installation cost is $20,000 each. Stainless-steel garbage bins [not megabins, the old ones] are $5,000 each, and there are 4,000 of them. So just using 4,000 shelters and 4,000 bins, costs are “massive” [$100 million]. And suppliers must maintain, repair, clean, and provide every level of service.

  3. Q. About the new big square boxes with advertising on them. [Apparently referring to new Pattison posts.]

    A. [Answers under the impression he was talking about info pillars from Astral.]

  4. Q. Are all the photos [shown in the room here] on the Web site?

    A. from Nagler: Not all. We didn’t want to give you a presentation here that you had already seen on the Web.

  5. Q. from Alison Gorbould, Toronto Public Space Committee: What I’m about to say may be a complete lost cause, but has the decision to be advertising-funded absolutely been made?

    A. Council would decide that.

    Q. There are a million and one things we don’t ask to fund themselves, like roads. I don’t own a car, yet roads are still paid for out of [my] tax dollars. There’s a reason why we don’t ask everything to fund itself: That’s because we get crappy public amenities if left to advertising companies. The very existence of info pillars is not based on a city need. Is this whole consultation based on the premise that it will be ad-funded?

    A. The goal is to elevate the quality of design and functionality. So I think there is a motive other than increasing advertising revenues. The City is not funding bins, shelters, and most benches, in the right-of-way. How can the City deal with that as a priority without ad revenue?

    Q. It’s in all the presentations that that decision has been made. I think we need to admit that.

  6. Q. Publication boxes end up used as rubbish bins, and they aren’t replaced when they’re lacking paint or damaged. Simply outlaw them; Montreal did. The streets there look tidier and cleaner.

  7. Q. Enforcement of maintenance contracts: Street names were not put on bus shelters for several years till the contract was updated. Same with the silver bins. What’s the city’s recourse in cases like these?

    A. You’re absolutely right about the street names on the transit shelters. They should have been put on much sooner than they were.

  8. Q. You said a goal was to represent the character of Toronto for visitors and residents – residents second. I’ve lived in all the cities you showed except for Dundee, and all the comparisons like these always show the Loop in Chicago or Hollywood and Highland in L.A., not anyplace a mile away from those. you don’t have to go very far before you see a diminution of the design. This process is not just for the tourists and where the white people live.

    A. The new shelters, 1,000 of them, have been installed in every area of the city.

  9. Q. When did public consultation begin?

    A. Have met the pedestrian, cycling, and accessibility committees at City Hall. Two previous community meetings, one more coming.

    Q. Not many people here tonight. The City should make a broader effort to disseminate. There are new objects I’ve never seen before, some with hats or appendages to make them seem friendlier, that are really just new advertising methods. There’s too comfortable a relationship between advertising and public space, and I don’t think we’re going to get real public space out of that relationship.

  10. Q. There’s an Info-to-Go pillar in my neighbourhood on a corner where there are no tourists. One of them has an ad for Cuba.

  11. Q. from woman: Urban Outdoor Solutions? Anybody heard of them? (Holds up flyer she received in E-mail.) The large size of these items leads to community-safety concerns, especially for children darting out from behind them. Has community safety been addressed?

    A. It’s certainly one of the top priorities. We’re not looking to put in garbage cans… that are solely billboards.

    (Woman reads from the flyer.)

    A. We’re not advocating anything at this point. Safety is definitely a concern. For example, the bylaw on newspaper boxes specifically mentions positioning, not blocking street corners, etc.

  12. Q. from Dorothy: Want to applaud you for this; it’s absolutely tremendous and overdue. The pictures do not reflect what it really looks like. Every piece of furniture in my downtown neighbourhood is absolutely covered with graffiti and posters. We should prohibit that. It seems that was never considered in designing parking meters.

  13. Q. How would this be coördinated with different neighbourhoods with different identities?

    A. I don’t know. At least “a common thread through it, a Toronto theme.”

    Q. Why not let the neighbourhoods [he actually kept saying “communities”] decide what they need?

    A. There is no money in these programs that the city has [available] to distribute to the communities.

    Q. I don’t see where you don’t have the money. It’s just a question of allocation.

    MAN: It seems like you’re saying you don’t have a budget for public space.

    A. I’m not saying that.

  14. Q. Multi-publication newspaper boxes?

    A. There’s a report coming out in May.

  15. And now a question from what appears to be Dave Meslin, given David Nagler’s addressing him by first name. If so, this is apparently his A-game when it comes to “derailing the process entirely.”

    Q. Enforcement: Our experience is that things are not enforced, including from your own office, sir. Even a city councillor’s complaint was ignored.

    $20,000 per shelter? Should a four-sided box cost as much as a car? [Lots of back-and-forth with audience about what it really costs to build one of these things. “Ever built a shower?” a man asks.] That figure represents Viacom’s entire annual cost to run a business. You can’t use that as a viable number; it’s misleading.

    You’re using the same model as before. We want good furniture that works, yet we’re allocating zero dollars. Tell me how that is supposed to work. If you put furniture in place in and then make money on ads, sure. But this is really bad math. The whole premise is flawed.

    A. If the furniture is coördinated, every element doesn’t need the advertising. We know there is value there. But the City doesn’t pay a cent for these objects, and revenue goes toward other programs.

    Q. You don’t know what the true cost is.

    A. I have no reason to doubt—

    Q. You have no reason to doubt Viacom?

  16. Q. When did this advertising start? When was the first contract? I don’t remember it when I was a teenager.

    A. 1970s for bus shelters, mid-1990s for bins. This is the problem with one-off programs.

  17. Q. Why don’t we build our own furniture and sell the advertising to fund it? I don’t want any advertising. Vancouver’s doing that and getting $47 million over 20 years.

    A. We would be creating another city bureaucracy just for that purpose.

    Q. That’s what the city’s for.

    ([Freedman then tells us there is a $1.2 million annual construction budget that only manages to cover a couple of blocks in the city.] It does not give you a lot of beauty. It would be wonderful if people like you spoke up at budget committee, because even though you all appear at meetings like this one, you don’t appear at budget committee, which then never hears that urban design is important. We don’t get our budget increased; in fact, we lose budget.)

  18. Q. from Alison about consultation: Eucan did the same thing, ignoring the survey responses it didn’t like.

    A. There hasn’t been a permanent decision on those large bins.

    Q. The staff did say they would ignore the survey results and that they were not representative.

    A. Come to Works Committee on May 3 and depute.

Nagler points out that negative feedback is particularly helpful.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.03.07 15:55. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2006/03/07/furniture-notes/

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