ROM tries to move hot dog vendors “blocking Crystal view”

I just returned from a museums conference in Ottawa and was just sorting through my notes to post soon on a few of the surprisingly positive public space approaches that were discussed there, when my usual cynicism about the commercialization of museum spaces was restored by the following news item: ROM wants city to move street vendors from view of Crystal.

It reinforces perceptions of snobbery and elitism that come with opening an empty starchitect-designed building and charging $20 a pop for people to simply walk through its spaces. Though the museum has filled up a bit more since June, it’s still largely empty, possibly in part — I’ve been told by sources in the know — because its pricey rooms are not adequate to maintaining delicate archival materials.

I will post soon on those more positive things I heard about museums and public spaces, but this is not one of them. It was bad enough when a private institution like Ogilvy’s in Montreal tried to ban a similarly folksy “spoons” player from its front-facing public sidewalk (as reported in a past print issue of Spacing), but when a supposedly public institution attempts it, it’s just that much uglier — good architecture or not.
Forget the Star Wars battles out front, maybe we should try for a Dark Crystal theme next time.

photo by Sam Javanrouh


  1. Actually, this is just the usual for institutions and those with money. They don’t want to be sullied with low-lifes and the hoi polloi.

    For example: There are no bicycle stands in front of the new opera house. And I made a request to the city last year for bike stands at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church on St. Clair, after the church had removed its own bike stand. The result: City bike stands on the blocks west of the church and east of church, but none at the church itself.

  2. This is depressing to hear. One need only watch Whyte’s famous Life of Small Urban Spaces to realize that food is a major attractor of foot traffic in a space, traffic that is desperately needed to activate that dreary, barren, windswept emptiness along Bloor St.

    Our event was an attempt to activate this space, for which the ROM graciously looked the other way, but this latest news disturbs me – do they actually want it to be empty, sitting on the corner of Bloor and Queen’s park like a dusty relic in its own collection?

  3. “…in order to accommodate an unobstructed view of the new Royal Ontario Museum entrance and facilitate access to the Queen’s Park entrance for tour groups and school excursions.”

    Apparently the ROM expects me to believe that a street vendor takes up too much room on a sidewalk that is wider than my bachelor apartment!

  4. I object to this. All the cheap sources of food for poor University of Toronto students in this area are disappearing to make way for more luxury condos. The Pizza Hut and the Mr. Sub have already closed, and the McDonald’s is probably going to go pretty soon as well. Can we at least have a cheap place to buy food at this end of campus so that we don’t have to suffer with the campus monopoly (which has terrible hours and is expensive)? Hot dog stands serve a valuable service for students.

    Stupid snobs that ignore that poor university students need somewhere to eat.

  5. Let’s not forget this is the same organisation that encroached on the sidewalk with their Crystal overhang and then didn’t want to have to pay the fee any other property owner would have to for essentially using public airspace.

    (Does anyone know how that ended up? I remember them offering school tours in lieu of cash at one point)

  6. David > I didn’t know about the bicycle stand thing. That’s really sad. Thanks for mentioning it.

  7. “I object to this. All the cheap sources of food for poor University of Toronto students in this area are disappearing to make way for more luxury condos. The Pizza Hut and the Mr. Sub have already closed, and the McDonald’s is probably going to go pretty soon as well. ”

    Replace the word ‘cheap’ with the word ‘unhealthy’ and that would be more like it.

    If you want cheap fare, there’s still the great stuff on Bloor west of Spadina, Baldwin, Spadina throughout Chinatown and Kensington Market. Beside UQAM and maybe NYU, U of T students are probably the luckiest students on the continent when it comes to cheap food flanking their campus. You don’t have to waste your OSAP eating hot dogs and McNuggets.

  8. Mark, Adam Vaughan got the ROM to trade the couple grand a year in encroachment fees they would have paid in exchange for several spaces in the ROM March Break camp for Alexandra Park residents.

    I think that’s the right kind of deal to make. Though the ROM is absurdly expensive to enter, it’s still a building of public interest and the value of years of children having the opportunity to have an experience they wouldn’t otherwise be able to is one I value.

  9. Re: Bike Stands

    I’ve noticed this before in some places — but I wondered if it was a fire-code thing in front of big buildings. Like, the truck needs access or somesuch.

    So I’m not ready to condemn it yet, without full information.

  10. That would be 5 spaces at March Break Camp. Pretty small. I don’t why they could not have got 300 free passes….that would have got more kids through the door.

  11. I work across the street from the ROM and I find the sidewalk in front of the ROM to be totally lifeless and kind of gross. Kevin Bracken’s “dreary, barren, windswept emptiness” pretty much nails it. But maybe it will get better when the warmer weather returns.

    On another (somewhat related) note, this brand new sidewalk has already been ripped up by one of the utility companies and patched with ugly black asphalt. I find this infuriating. Couldn’t they have coordinated their construction schedules just a little bit?

  12. I would like to see a giant pyramid of hot dog vendors blocking the view of that big pile of jagged vinyl siding and glass.

  13. Has anyone ever really looked at the front-facing expanse of sidewalk in front of the ROM? It’s an unbroken slab of concrete, with no greenspace or life at all. It’s probably one of the ugliest pieces of the city, and the building behind it does nothing to counteract it. Sure, it’s great for rolling out a red carpet, but it’s not designed to be anything but a parking lot.

  14. @ Leonard: Andrew’s exact words were “Can we at least have a cheap place to buy food at this end of campus so that we don’t have to suffer with the campus monopoly…?”

    I must have missed the bit where he asked for a lecture on his eating habits.

  15. Adam > I think the Museums and Arts Pass program is great, but it’s just not enough. The museums have to step up and follow the library’s example of a commitment to public access to public resources — not expect the library to do the work of access on their behalf.

    And concessions from the ROM for something they should provide already – affordable access for all – is not impressive to me.

    As I’ve pointed out in past articles for the Star and NOW, there are a huge range of equity options the ROM rejected, from “suggested donation”-style entry fees to one free day or evening per week. There is much improvement to be made here.

    This is especially true coming back from a conference where many museum and gallery reps asked “where is the audience?” without acknowledging that economic barriers could be a factor, and where certain critics snubbed Nuit Blanche for being “too popular with suburbanites.” (NB had plenty of problems, but financial access and attracting interest were certainly not among them.)

  16. Leah, I agree that the ROM could and should do far better to serve the people that have and continue to provide the institution with so much of its money through government subsidies.

    However, Scott made a suggestion about giving out 300 passes, which, conveniently, is about the number of family passes that are currently available through the partnership with the Library. Is that enough? No. Is it better than nothing? I think so.

  17. Please. Give me a break. Those hot dog/ice cream stands are hideously ugly to look at. It’s a disgrace that they are in front of the ROM.

    Put them to the side or move them down the street! Hot dogs should not even qualify as food! They’re full of nitrates and carcinogens. At least cities like New York have fruit stands selling actual food on street corners.

    Those ugly eyesores have no place in front of a one of our most beautiful buildings, and an international tourist attraction. Move them please!!

  18. Janet > Who gets to decide what is ugly and what is not? Are we now going to divide our public streets and people’s livelihoods by individual aesthetic preferences? Or should we urge hot dog vendors to keep their spots as long as they can find something in by Gehry or Liebeskind to redesign their carts to?

    Many people find the new ROM ugly but enjoy hot dogs. Does that mean the ROM should be moved? No. The ROM finds hot dog carts ugly but does that mean the carts should be moved? No. It’s the nature of a city to be heterogenous. And it’s the ROM’s attempt to deny that heterogeniety that is problematic.

    Adam > I was going to check on the number of MAP passes, but as you note it’s around 300, I still say that is not enough in a GTA of 3 million (or in an Ontario of many many more). It isn’t better than nothing. It *is* pretty much nothing, proportionally speaking. A sad statement on what passes for “accessibility.”

    Maybe if the museums promoted the passes at their front entrances — or were doing more to promote equity in other ways — I could feel a little differently, and applaud them on the MAP. But that’s not the case. I ain’t seeing it.

    Also, poor and low-income people do not just live in those areas served by the MAP-distributing libraries.

    To reiterate, public collections belong to the public – why must we pay $20 to lay eyes on them? Why can’t at least the permanent collections be free, with touring exhibitions given a fee? Ridonkulous and sad.

  19. It still won’t be enough but I’m told that in 2008 the MAP program will be expanded to all 99 library branches so the passes are available to people in every neighbourhood.

  20. Good lord! Do you see hot dog carts in front of the Louvre or the Tate or the National Gallery of Art or the Hermitage Museum or the Guggenheim or the Uffizi??!! If there are going to be vendors in front of the ROM, then at least let them be artists, like in front of the Met in New York!!!

    Only a city as provincial as Toronto would be having a feud over hot dog vendors in front of its most important museum. Honestly! There are a gazillion other places more appropriate for a hot dog cart in this city. Please Toronto, it’s time to get your head out of the sand and grow out of your little mediocre “Hog Town” mentality.

  21. Would it really be that hard to move the carts across the street near Club Monaco, or just around the corner to the east side of the building? Moving them to near the subway entrance is a bit drastic, but surely there’s a compromise here. Do they really need to be right on the sidewalk in front of the entrance?

    And I agree with the comment about whether other museums would do the same. Hot dog stands in front of the entrance of a major cultural institution represent a city with low self esteem.

  22. Tyler and Janet >

    There is an important matter of principle here regardless of your personal views and tastes:

    Can public or private institutions in Toronto force small businesses to move from an appropriately zoned public space simply because of their own aesthetic tastes and perceived markets? If we give the ROM the right to move them “around the corner”, what will be next?

    For example, if museums were more accessible admissions wise, perhaps the hot dog stands (and, one presumes, the more diverse street food which is to join them next year) as a plus. But because of the ROM’s values, it’s viewed as a negative.

    I have well enjoyed the Met and Tate in my visits away from Toronto, but mainly because of their inclusivity — the Tate, for example, has affordable food service on most levels of the museum, as opposed to the basement, which is the case at the ROM. And the Met is open by suggested donation.

    Both of you object that hot dog stands are chintzy, and presume that I should be able to see that as an absolute fact.

    But it is actually a relative fact.

    For what I see is that the ROM’s inherent elitism (with a pricing structure that underlines museums are only for those with certain incomes) is much more chintzy, much more ugly than any little “stand.” That is the kind of ugliness that arises out of your presumption that to “raise Hogtown to greater heights” means eliminating any inkling of our lower-and middle-income real life from its doorstep.

    Though that kind of ugliness — the ugliness of exclusion — is harder to see, it is no less real.

  23. Adam > I am glad to hear the MAP program is expanding, and again applaud the libraries in this regard with their continued commitment to public access.

    But again I must see action from the museums themselves at their front gates, rather than making those of lesser means jump through several geographic hoops to receive the access that is their public right.

    I think you and I will just have to agree to disagree on this one.

  24. Janet > FYI, I bought a pretzel from a cart in front of the Met just last year.

  25. Adam – I appreciate your point and I’m sure from the Public Library’s point of view it’s nice to get a new partner.

    However, I am leery of organisations being able to parlay deals to avoid payment of direct taxes to the city in respect of impacts to the public realm and allow the city to decide where they go.

    Other organisations might say “well, I don’t want to pay into the general pot either, as a road contractor I’d prefer to pave an extra 100m of street for free”.

  26. Mark, the TPL partnership with the ROM has nothing to do with the encroachment deal. As a result of the encroachment there are now five spots in the ROM’s march break camp. Apologies if I conflated the two.

    But on the whole, I don’t have a problem with these sorts of deals, as long as they benefit the public interest. The public interest, of course, is subjective so we have elected representatives that (most of the time) look out for us when a deal is in the works.

    Though we do have rules that govern scenarios like encroaching on public space for a reason, if a deal can be reached that is more beneficial to the public interest, I think it is perfectly reasonable to take it. Why wouldn’t the City use its leverage to enhance the quality of life for people who need it?

    Also, this isn’t just the ROM saying “here’s what we’ll do,” as you suggest a construction company might do. This is a mutually agreed upon deal. If it weren’t good enough in the City’s eyes then they would walk away and take the couple thousand bucks that it has the right to charge.

  27. I don’t really like these carts at all.

    They look tacky and the food quality is terrible.

    I hope that the City will finally allow a greater variety of food and carts to grace our streets.

    Those awful French Fry trucks in front of Nathan Phillips square should be removed too.
    They make the entrance to City Hall look like a Flea Market!

    That being said our new opaque Crystal is pretty brutal and ugly…..I think that in 5 years no one will consider it a very remarkable bldg.

  28. We should have fruit and vegetable stands in Toronto, like in Manhattan. The food is healthy and the carts are actually quite lovely to look at. Streets such as Yonge Street or Queen Street should be closed off on weekends during April – October and be made into farmers markets. Instead we have carcinogenic hot dog and french fries carts all over our ugly city.

    We would be doing the citizens of Toronto, as well as OHIP and Health Canada, a huge favor by taking these toxic foods off of our streets and out of our schools/museums etc. There should be public outrage about that!

  29. Leah: “That is the kind of ugliness that arises out of your presumption that to “raise Hogtown to greater heights” means eliminating any inkling of our lower-and middle-income real life from its doorstep.”

    Honey, I did not say get rid of these hideous carts, there are tons of places that are appropirate for them in our ugly city. They do not however belong right in front of the entrance to our most important museum. If there are going to be vendors there, then let them be artists, like in front of the Met.

  30. Seriously,

    The carts were there first, they are part of the landscape. The ugly “crystal” faà§ade will be gone with the next renovation, the street life will remain.

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