I don’t mean to overload our readers with similar posts, but I thought I’d add another one about street furniture since I was at City Hall yesterday. Below is what I tried to depute about to the executive committee, but I hate reading speeches, so I went off topic a little and didn’t get to say as much as I wanted. I fixed it up and sent a similar version to the Globe’s John Barber, who has a column criticizing the position I and other public space activists took on this contract.
The RFP states that the furniture will not exceed current levels, and the contract bases this on square footage. Size and space is the major thrust of this contract. When we found conflicting numbers that were supplied in the RFP and pointed them out to City staff, they changed their tune and focused on the reduction of pieces/units of ads on street furniture.
But the ad industry measures things in square footage. A thousand 1 square-foot ads are not nearly as effective as one 1,000 square-foot ad. I just think it was disingenuous of staff to change their tune when it was discovered a major mistake had been made. City staff will say they did not make a mistake, but we have agreed to disagree on this subject. But if City staff had admitted they screwed up on the numbers massive lawsuits from all bidders would surely be issued. I do not believe there is any back room deals or an intent to mislead council or the public, I just think it was sloppy to use *estimated* numbers instead of the *actual* numbers.
What bothers me the most is the idea that Torontonians are getting something for free. Some members of the executive committee (come on down, Glenn DeBaeremaeker!) do not seem to recognize that taxpayers and consumers are the same people. We pay for it, but now we will pay for our garbage bins and info pillars and benches through buying products instead paying for it through taxes. In order for this contract to succeed, rampant conspicuous consumption has to be maintained in order to pay for our infrastructure. That kind of culture is why we have such monstrous garbage problems, and possibly why we are entering an age of climate crisis. Only councillors Gord Perks, Janet Davis, Joe Mihevc, Pam McConnell, and Adam Vaughan seem to understand this irony.
Lastly, the city just awarded a contract to company that flouts signage bylaws and ignores the city’s requests to abide the law. We only have three examples of ad-funded street furniture and two of them were massive failures (EUCAN silver boxes and the Megabins). I don’t understand how staff can have so much confidence in this working out when the track record is spotty. Astral will comply with the bylaws *now*, I’m sure of that, since they have a $228 million contract in hand. But they have been poor corporate citizens in Toronto’s public realm.
Depending on your outlook, there could be one positive thing to come out of this: a desire from the City and councillors to go after runaway illegal billboards. I don’t think this a philosophical decision — it’s very pragmatic. If you reduce runaway illegals billboards on buildings, you drive up the price of ads on street furniture. The city wins out by looking like it cares about the visual environment, and it receives a greater amount of revenue from the contract.
With only 5 minutes to depute it is hard to give an intelligent, well-argued response to what I see as a flawed, multi-million dollar contract.