On Monday and Tuesday, the City of Toronto displayed examples of Astral’s new street furniture elements in front of City Hall. For years, I’ve lamented why I don’t like the economic model the City has chosen for the street furniture contract, so I won’t rehash it again. Maybe in 20 years, when Astral’s half-billion dollar contract is up and we can see how much the City got hosed, I can have the last laugh. But I’ll be in my 50s by then, and my sense of humour will have likely changed.
So today, let’s talk about the design and functionality.
On first glance, all the pieces look pretty much like the renderings we saw last year when the City was fielding proposals. My opinion from a year ago hasn’t changed much either — underwhelming. There is a part of me that wants to see killer designs, pieces of street furniture that are uniquely Toronto. There’s another side of me that has seen enough garbage bins and bus shelters from other cities in North America and Europe — simple, elegant and blend into the background of the streetscape — that convince me that over-designing these elements can make the items feel dated really quickly. Astral’s street furniture designs seem to fall in between my two sentiments: they are kinda attractive and kinda boring; kinda unique and kinda generic. Probably my biggest complaint comes from the lack of colour in any of the pieces — this greyness seems to fit the dour mood of city hall finances, which is what originally forced the City to enter into such a crap-shoot of a deal. Sadly, only the bench, poster kiosk, and garbage bins are new and original designs.
For instance, the info pillars are just a continuation of the barely functional design found on our streets today. According to the City, 60 info pillars will be installed in 2008 and 2009. No matter what anyone says, their main function is to get in the way of pedestrians and push ads, not maps. We can only hope the local map actually faces the sidewalk when finally installed.
The bike racks are just a sleeker version of our current ring-and-post locks. I love the ring-and-post design — a Toronto original that is copied throughout the world — but what happened to the beautiful U-shaped designs originally proposed? Up to 50 racks will be installed every year from 2008 until 2027 (an amount that is far less than needed).
The bus and streetcar shelters are pretty much the same design as the one launched in 1999 with a few minor tweaks: the next arrival will be really useful, but is still a year or two away from being implemented by the TTC. But much like the current design, shade does not seem to be a priority. A slight greenish tinge on the roof blocks a smidgen of sunlight — on days like today with the temperature reaching 30 degrees, shelters should be a place to escape the intense sun. But for the next 20 years, that may be hard to do.
In 2008, 300 shelters will be installed, 200 each year from 2009 to 2018, and another 700 between 2019 and 2027.
The garbage and recycling bins, from an aesthetic point-of-view, are a tremendous improvement on the tin-box bins now owned by EcoMedia. But the foot push-bar that opens the flaps of the bin is a really bad design decision: it won’t work in the winter when snows piles up or ice forms underneath, nor will it function for anyone who is young or disabled. It may even be a pedestrian hazard for those who pass it on a busy sidewalk. It should be noted that people can still forcibly open the flaps by pushing their waste through the holes. But all in all, this is a much more humble and useful garbage bin than the Monster Bins that graced our streets over the last few years. Jonathan Goldsbie, a Toronto Public Space Committee campaigner, has a good review of the bins on Torontoist.
There will be 1,500 of these bins rolled out in 2008, 2,500 in 2009, 2,000 in 2010 and 2011, 1,500 in 2012, and 200 each year from 2013 until 2027.
I do like the benches as they are the only element in Astral’s series that uses wood, giving it a much more humane and natural feel. In 2008, 500 will be installed, with 200 more each year until 2012, and 50 each year from 2013 until 2025.
The poster kiosk is an interesting idea that I want to get behind, since my first public space advocacy was centered around the postering issue, but there is a part of me that thinks this will be the one element that will be abandoned quickly. As we’ve seen over the last number of years, postering companies have come to dominate our lamp posts, utility poles, and construction hordings and do not adhere to the bylaws many of us fought to keep in place. I don’t see this kiosk being able to handle all of the posters a neighbourhood or vibrant urban area demands. Anyone that has walked through U of T’s campus and seen the poster kiosks will understand that these structures are abused more so than hordings. Lastly, I don’t think Astral will be able to keep them well maintained over a long period of time.
In 2008, 50 of these kiosks will be installed, with 50 more coming each year until 2017.
Finally, the newspaper boxes: I’ve been a proponent of these boxes for a while now, simply because I’ve seen too many publications drop a box at a corner with no regard for the pedestrian right-of-way. These mega dispensers will not eliminate all newspaper boxes, but will help stop the Christmas-tree effect that happens when 3 or 4 boxes ring the base of a pole. This is extremely important at busy pedestrian intersections. Something I wasn’t expecting was the back side containing ad space. From everything we’ve heard from City officials, only the info pillars and transit shelters will have advertising components. I was told last year that this ad space will only be used for City of Toronto PSAs and advertisements, but I’m skeptical it will continue to be so exclusive.
So let’s hear what our readers have to say.