The monster garbage bin project is dead! Well, almost.
This week, the City’s Works committee agreed to begin the process for a fat-ass street furniture contract. Bundled into that decision was a report on the Monster Bins.
Some of you may remember that back in January a report was submitted to the Works committee on the public’s perception of the billboard-garbage bins. The results were very mixed — online respondents hated it, phone-in responses were favourable, and a few on-street interviews were poorly collected. EUCAN, the creators of the monster bin, twisted the findings and used the comments of the 200 street surveys (there was a total of 5,000 respondents) to say Torontonians liked the bins. “83% of street survey respondents approve of the new bin. Ordinary people interviewed on the street by City staff like the MegaBin. While a vocal minority continue to oppose the installation of better bins, ordinary citizens of Toronto have said â€˜yes’ to more recycling, â€˜yes’ to an improved design and â€˜yes’ to the MegaBin.” I personally called EUCAN liars in this post: “This kind of manipulation by EUCAN is another clear indication that the people running the Megabin program are completely out of touch with the needs of the public. If City staff needed another reason to turn this pilot project down, this is it.”
The works committee rejected the report as flawed in January and asked that the data be re-examined. This week, the report came back — the committee agreed with the majority of respondents and has recommended to council that the pilot project be cancelled. This is a great victory for any of us who think that a garbage can should be a garbage can. The functionality of our street furniture far outweighs the needs of outdoor advertisers. The downside is that we probably have those stupid bins on our streets for the remainder of the contract which expires sometime in 2009.
So now we have to turn our attention to the street furniture RFP the city is going to tender (bus shelters, newspaper boxes, benches, etc.). The Toronto Public Space Committee has some serious concerns, and rightly so. Toronto’s record of dealing with outdoor ad companies has been very, very spotty. To give one example, Spacing and the TPSC did a report in our Summer 2005 issue on billboard companies — we examined the permits of billboards in Ward 21 and found that nearly 50% were not legally approved by the City, with another 25% of signs did not even have paper work. Some permits were granted before WWII and had not been under any kind of scrutiny since Germany was the arch enemy. City staff knew nothing of this until we brought it to their attention.
But over the last two years, excluding the EUCAN debacle, city staff have begun to pay close attention to the effects of ad creep into the public realm, particularly on street furniture. I do not share the same concern as the TPSC that this RFP will create more pieces of street furniture with ads on them. Everything I’ve read and every question I’ve had answered indicate that staff, and a number of councillors, want to reduce the amount of ads on the streets. Reading the City’s “Vibrant Streets” report it is clear that staff got the message — functionality before anything else.
I have been in about 15 meetings with City staff about the upcoming street furniture RFP over the last 18 months and have seen a marked shift in attitude towards how they treat our street furniture and the elements that clutter our sidewalks. Now the RPF is out of the hands of staff and enters the political arena where councillors have their own ideas and agendas to push.
The process of who is selected to build our street furniture will be interesting. Personally, I’d like to see our street furniture have no ads on them at all because it devalues them and turn them into cheap trinkets. I doubt my wish will ever happen because even our closest allies on council will claim that the cash-poor City needs to take in as much money as they can, no matter how it is done.
But I believe we’ve collectively had a fantastic impact on how the City deals with street furniture. Your emails, blog posts, survey answers, and committee deputations are having an impact. Hopefully, our elected officials are aware of the shit-storm they will face if they screw this up, too.
We have an election coming up in November — this is a good time to press councillors and candidates to make promises. I hope all of you will ask those people looking for your vote where they stand on this issue.