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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

EVENT: Town Hall on Reining in the Billboard Industry, May 5

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What would you say if I told you that Toronto could adopt some of the toughest rules for billboards in Canada, then put a charge on all of the remaining billboards  to pay for better enforcement of Toronto’s new sign laws, as well as for public art and beautification of the public realm?

That’s exactly the proposition the Alliance, a coalition composed largely of artists and public space activists (myself included), has brought to city hall. And city hall is listening. A new sign by-law and a proposal to put a charge on billboards to generate up to $52 million per year is scheduled to make its way through city hall’s committee cycle in June and end up on city council’s July agenda.

With endorsements from 40 organizations in Toronto, including Spacing, and Toronto Arts Council, the Alliance is getting ready for an epic fight with the outdoor advertising industry.

Having seen what Tim Horton’s did to thwart an attempt to make coffee cups more recyclable, the Alliance isn’t going to sit back and hope that city hall reins in the outdoor advertising industry on its own. With only a month left until the Alliance’s proposal hits Executive Committee,, in conjunction with Youth Action Network‘s Youth Week, has organized a town hall meeting for May 5 to inform people about its proposal and provide volunteers from all over the city with the tools to organize support in their communities and get that support heard at city hall.

Event: Town Hall

Location: Toronto City Hall, 100 Queen St. W., Council Chambers

Time: 6:30-9:00pm

Contact: or

RSVP: Through the Facebook event page (optional but helps organizers plan).



  1. Myself, and the Toronto Public Space Committee, had previously been highly skeptical of the Beautiful City Billboard Fee, worrying that it could inadvertently lead to more, not fewer, billboards. I am now confident, however, that if brought in alongside a depoliticized variance process (that is, having variance applications be considered by a quasi-judicial committee or tribunal composed of citizens, rather than the current practise of sending variances to community councils) that the billboard tax would be a wonderful thing that would achieve all of its intended objectives. I plan to recommend that the TPSC reverse course and formally endorse it at our meeting next week (unfortunately scheduled for the day after the Town Hall).

  2. also endorses to billboard tax (actually they are calling it a “Third Party Sign Charge” at City Hall) but only if it comes with a depoliticized variance process.

    A tax on billboards with no changes to the current variance process for third party signs will end up in chaos at the Community Councils and will entirely undermine the intent of the by-law process. The tax and changes to the variance process must go hand in hand.

    Fortunately, City Staff were directed by Planning and Growth Management Committee to examine alternative methods for variances at the most recent meeting.

    The Third Party Sign Charge as envisioned by City Staff will have the effect of causing the removal of marginally profitable billboards that were only built in the first place because billboards have been evading their tax obligations to municipal authorities for years. It should also raise at least $16 Million per year.

  3. Maybe if there was someway for the city to raise money from spray paint Toronto would tackle its graffiti problem.

  4. If you are not able to make it to the town hall meeting, you should at least check out the beautiful city website ( since they have an online petition. I think this is a great proposal and hope that it is adopted!

  5. This is a very misguided initiative from the get go. Another City bureaucracy when they cannot mannage what they already have under current rules. Another tax called a “fee” that will punish the good guys and fail to get the bad guys. Another feel good, nanny state nimby initiative by downtowners that is irrelevant to 90% of City residents who are simply trying to get through bad times.

  6. If you follow the work that Rami has done its hard to find any good guys in this story anywhere (except him).

  7. Hi McD, actually the alliance has organization members from across Toronto (see list at ) and under the use of revenue proposed, the benefits would clearly help people in many different wards. There is actually a priority on spending a big chunk of the money outside the core. At staff estimated, mid-range revenues of 18 million per year from the billboard charge the following would be possible:
    – An historic 53% increase to the annual municipal funding available to all artists, festivals and arts institutions.
    – And, close to $100 000.00 dollars for public realm improvement for each Toronto ward including projects such as greening every year.
    – As well, as over $300 000.00 annually for each of the 13 priority neighbourhoods to fund accessible youth arts programming.
    – Topped by hiring 17 dedicated officers to enforce the new billboard bylaw and collect fines.

  8. Here is a question I would like feedback from the spacing community on: if a gallery, museum or institution makes admission free, does it then become a public space? Does it turn the work into ‘public art’? Does it depend on if the institution makes an effort to be exclusive or inclusive? I would hazard that it falls in a grey area similar to Dundas Square?

  9. Grey, because the rules are still different than outside. We considered Libraries grey as well, tho free and open. You could not hold a political protest in a library (though you could probably get away with it longer — and the library itself might hold material that informs the protest).

  10. Re: Shawn:
    – Cool so in a way we will be not only expanding public space (the grey ones anyway) but enhancing it.

    Re: Glen
    Not really, that is what the Toronto Sign Bylaw Project is recommending. The 17 staff would be needed to first create the inventory (i.e. count / locate all of them) make it public then enforce the bylaw, collect fees, direct removals etc. Toronto has alot of billboards.