August 20, 2008 22:47 +0000  |  Activism Politics Public Space The Toronto Public Space Committee Toronto Transit 13

In 2006, Jane Pitfield, one of Toronto's mayoral candidates had mentioned the possibility of selling naming rights to subway stations as a way to help fund the system. As insane as it may sound to some, this idea did gain traction among some supporters in council and the media. At the time, I'd toyed with the idea of creating a corporate-sponsored subway map to raise some awareness around this woman's position, but as it became clear that she was unlikely to win, my interest faded.

However, the idea didn't die with Pitfield's campaign. Toronto City Hall has continued to toy with the idea of selling off the naming rights of public spaces to corporations, so Jayme Turney and Jonathan Goldsbie from the Toronto Public Space Committee started work on a campaign called City for Sale -- an advocacy campaign to raise awareness about the result of this line of thinking as well as push council on considering other options. When I heard about this, I contacted Jonathan to let him know that I had a fun idea in mind that might help them out, and after roughly a week of off-hours toying with Inkscape, and lots of help from the City For Sale volunteers with logo acquisition, "The Wrong Way" was born:

June 27, 2008 07:52 +0000  |  CCTV Drupal Employment Family The Toronto Public Space Committee Work [at] Play 0

I'm trying to post more here lately as it would seem that since moving to Vancouver, my posts have been more and more sparsely scattered about the month. To that end, here's a quickie post regarding my relatively good day:

I had my review today. Good news: they like my work, and they're giving me a raise (w00t!) The only somewhat negative thing the boss mentioned was how I didn't know enough about Drupal yet. I can understand her position really, I mean, a large portion of our legacy code is in that horrible framework, so it only makes sense that as a senior developer, I know my way around it. I guess I'll just have to take a deep breath, bash my head in with a crowbar, and work from there. ^_^

Anyway, aside from the good review, I found a new sandwich shop in the area that serves giganimous sandwiches, and then discovered some left over birthday cake in the office fridge. This, coupled with the fact that I got a big chunk of work done today (and documented!) made me happy with my current form of employment.

I also fielded a 1hour call with a University student out of Windsor, Ontario to give him some background on the TPSC's CCTV campaign back when I was running the show. That was a bit of nostalgic fun -- kinda like talking to the press, but you can be a little more candid since you know that you're not talking to the uninformed public, but rather a well-read academic.

And then, to top it all off, I came home to a clean apartment AND new groceries in the fridge! Butthead had been hard at work and it showed. Having a roomate might not be so bad after all ;-) He's making a lot of progress with his own life lately though. I'm really quite proud of him.

March 20, 2008 22:02 +0000  |  Public Space The Toronto Public Space Committee 0

I may not be in Toronto anymore, but I still get the newsletter from the TPSC and I thought that the Toronto folk reading this blog might wanna know about a fun activity running tomorrow:

Tomorrow, Friday the 21st of March, Art Attack will take to the streets to explore new angles of our common spaces. We shall reflect upon urbanism, springtime, and diversity by promenading downtown with mirrors.

We also intend to re-imagine adverts with reflective materials, covering the faces of photo-shopped models, etc., thus allowing people to contemplate themselves instead of idealised and unrealistic portrayals of beauty.

Time and Location: 3:45 p.m., College & University, on the northeast corner, opposite the massive shiny arc of the OPG building:

Details are available on the Facebook event.


  • A sense of adventure
  • Mirrors of varying sizes
  • Mirror balls
  • Unwanted CDs
  • Reflective and adhesive materials
  • TTC fare
  • ...and your ideas

I especially like the bit about putting mirrors over the model faces. If any of you go, lemme know what it was like eh?

January 25, 2008 23:47 +0000  |  Activism Public Space The Toronto Public Space Committee Vancouver Public Space Network 2

I remember saying to myself that I wasn't going to get too heavily involved in public space issues when I returned home. I wanted to expand my involvement into other community stuff, most notably homelessness given that Vancouver requires some serious work in this area. Things may still go that way, but I'm afraid the Vancouver Public Space Network has me rather excited about the prospect of working with them.

Much like the TPSC, the VPSN fights against the corporatisation of public space, and CCTV, as well as promotes pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, and green space. They have a guerrilla gardening faction, but the also grow food and their event coordinator sorta doubles as Vancouver's version of New Mind Space. Lara will dig this: they're going to hold a Pirate Party on the Seabus!

I went to their annual planning meeting last night (TPSC folk might want to read that sentence again and take note of the phrase annual planning meeting... it's a hell of a concept ;-). Andrew Pask, the coordinator of this now 3yearold group, was amazing, navigating the group through a multi-phased process in which we first identified what we liked and didn't like about public space in Vancouver, then to how we might theoretically fix it, and finally onto a "dot-ocracy", a system that allows each member of the group to vote 6 times for as many or as few of the suggestions made as they like. It sounds complicated, but so is public space and I really feel that we charted a good course for the year.

A lot of the ideas that came out of the mix last night were excellent, but the one I'm most excited about is a move to actively create public spaces within the city either by way of a public non-profit Public Space Trust or by making deals with local land owners (as the gardeners have in the past). There was also mention of advocating the position that binners (people who sift through garbage for containers which they then return for deposit) should be supported in our community as they're providing a public service at little or no additional cost, and an ambitious online (and maybe offline?) mapping project that tracks everything from public transit (based on an open API from Translink) to good places to eat, to free wifi, dog parks, pedestrian malls etc. etc.

I went out for drinks with a few of them after the meeting and was surprised at the number of Torontonian expats we had in the group. Of the seven of us in the bar, there were 4 Toronto folk there if you include myself. Two others were born and raised here, and the last guy was from Iran. Obviously, this isn't a scale subset of the group, but the circumstances were funny nonetheless.

Thanks to the book Stephen gave me, I'm beginning to understand just how Sustainability has to be managed. You can't run it from the top-down, and it can't be haphazard either. Local groups have to build urban gardens, build pedestrian infrastructure and even Green power on their own because our leaders are either too afraid or too stupid to know how to do it themselves. I honestly think that this group has the right idea.

August 21, 2007 04:14 +0000  |  CCTV The Toronto Public Space Committee 1

In an effort to draw some attention to the CCTV problem downtown, my campaign did up some street theatre where we murdered a blow up doll complete with fake blood. It was fun. Here's the plan, as laid out in our Facebook event:

We will gather at the Tim Hortons, discuss the plan, then leave separately to our designated starting locations. Shayla the blow up doll will wander up the street when the rest of the "suspects", dressed similarly, converge on her.

As everyone passes her, we'll burst a plastic bag of red (water-based) paint will burst on the doll's chest and Shayla will scream: OH MY GOD! MY BLOW UP DOLL'S BEEN STABBED! (complete with flagrant hand gestures etc.)

The suspects will continue in their original directions spraying more water-based paint along the sidewalk showing their direction until they move out of view of the camera (either into an alley, or a crowd.)

While this is happening myself and other interested volunteers will be handing out pamphlets designed by our brilliant graphics guy explaining what's going on and directing people to the website.

Lastly, the "real murderer" will make a confession on Speaker's Corner explaining what's just transpired, directing viewers to our site as well.

Shayla in Mourning

Well the grand plan didn't work out exactly as I had intended, but it was fun nonetheless. Firstly, there were fewer people around than I would have liked, but it's what you can expect on a Saturday I suppose. Secondly, my choreography sucked and our use of less-damaging Silly String instead of paint meant that a lot of the colour of the thing didn't work out. Lastly, I printed up the wrong set of brochures so what was distributed was the version with the draft copy instead of the properly proofed copy and it showed.

With the negative stuff out of the way though, it was still fun and we may still make a valid point. Shayla (the mourning friend) was fucking amazing. Her screaming and improvised (yet high-larious) cries had me laghing my ass off. We'll have to request the footage from the cops and see if anything was really captured and then do another press release explaining how the cameras couldn't have prevented this even if it was a real killing etc. I can't wait to hear if we get any fun press around the Speakers Corner bit. That'd be nifty.

Anyway, if you haven't seen them yet, here's some snippets of what happened. Stephen took some great pictures with his shiny camera and posted it all in his Flickr account, and Torontoist did a story on the whole event:

...and that pretty much marks the end of my career with the Toronto Public Space Committee. It's been amazing and dare I say, "life changing" experience. It's a hell of a feeling being able to engage City Hall and tell the mayor to his face that he's doing it all wrong. Sometimes they listen, most often they don't, but sometimes... you make the world better. ...and that's hard to beat.

August 09, 2007 15:35 +0000  |  CCTV The Toronto Public Space Committee 0

A couple weeks ago, EYE's editor came out on the side of CCTV and I bitched them out for it in a letter last week. They've published it in this week's EYE as the first letter (yay!) but sadly, there's no online version so I can't direct you to any links. I will however include it here for my own records though this version won't include their edits for length:

I'm really surprised that EYE would take such an unfortunate position on CCTV in our public spaces. You claim that there is no difference between being seen in public and watched by police camera, but I would beg to differ. We know from the experiences of other cities that CCTV can and has been used to persecute "undesirable" citizens like panhandlers and protesters, and now The Independent is reporting that London, the most camera-saturated city in the world has begun restricting access to tube stations and air ports based on political affiliations no doubt supported by police cameras. How can we claim to foster democracy while we're openly attempting to trade our freedoms for a false sense of security?

While arguably there is a difference between a bunch of independent cameras and a district-wide, centralised, police-controlled system that can read the labels on a soft drink can, how can anyone claim that recording acts of violence makes anyone safer?

Since this pilot program began, there have been shootings directly in front of CCTV cameras and not only did the footage provide absolutely no leads, but the victims have had to limp to hospital for lack of support from groups like the police who would seemingly prefer to watch people get shot on TV than prevent the shooting in the first place.

If the "test" for this program's effectiveness is in fact this recent shooting within the view of a camera, then I would suggest that the project is already a failure -- unless we've collectively decided that the role of the police is not to protect, but to prosecute.

Update: 2007.08.10

Looks like I was wrong. Jonathan found the online version.

July 26, 2007 22:57 +0000  |  CCTV The Toronto Public Space Committee 1

I just sent this to The Toronto Star. If it gets printed, I'll let you know:

It is wrong for the Toronto Police Board to claim that every aspect of its budget is vital to the longevity of this city. The CCTV camera project currently being run in the Entertainment District, Jane & Finch and Malvern is running at a cost of $2 million for the pilot alone and we have plenty of research that proves that these cameras do nothing to prevent crime. In a time when the city is hurting financially and the people do not want a reduction in officers, why is this expensive and ineffective project not on the chopping block?

Daniel Quinn
Coordinator, Cameras in Public Spaces Campaign
Toronto Public Space Committee

July 22, 2007 16:14 +0000  |  Blogger Geek Stuff Imager Melanie Money Moving Riptown 'Round-the-World The Toronto Public Space Committee Travel 2

I've not been posting a lot lately, mostly because I'm just stupid-busy. I'd forgotten what an incredible hassle it was to move my life 4349.9 kilometres away in the first place and doing it again is generally un-fun.

For starters, the cost of moving is ridiculous. Most moving companies will only accept a minimum of 1000lbs (they charge by weight, not time), and since I live in a bachelor, that's typically an aweful lot of extra space. On top of that, I have to pay for storage (since I'll be in Europe for a couple months before getting to Vancouver) and insurance, and movers. My latest quote was $2429.54!

Clearly, I have to keep looking, but time is running short.

Once I have a mover, I need a moving day, and since I'm not likely to leave Toronto 'till September 11th (yes, you read right, it is the cheapest day to fly), I could be living at Melanie's out of a suitcase for nearly a month.

Then there's the flight itself, I've been working with a travel agent and the routing is insane. I want to visit these places:

  • Stockholm
  • Berlin
  • Amsterdam
  • Geneva
  • Prague
  • Rome/Vatican City
  • Seoul

So one would imagine that the cheapest (and most efficient) option would be:

  • Toronto » Stockholm
  • Rome » Seoul
  • Seoul » Vancouver

But sadly, because of the way the airlines work, not only do I have to use Frankfurt as my entrance & exit for Europe, and route my Seoul trip through Singapore, but in order to get home, I have to fly back through Europe!

  • Toronto » Frankfurt
  • Frankfurt » Singapore
  • Singapore » Seoul
  • Seoul » Singapore
  • Singapore » Frankfurt
  • Frankfurt » Vancouver

This trip is about $3500. I can't be the only one that thinks this is insane. Obviously, I can get a direct Seoul » Vancouver flight, but that costs roughly $600 more and a RoundTheWorld pass is nearly $5000.

I may still take the more direct route, if only because it means I'm not in transit for 26hours on my last leg, not to mention the environmental implications of adding so many more kilometres to my trip. I'll also be buying carbon credits, but somehow, that doesn't make me feel any better about it all.

I'm also leaving my life in Toronto, of which Melanie is a big part. She's going through a rough spot in her life lately, and sometimes I feel like I'm not helping enough because of all of these other complications, not to mention the fact that I'm likely to make it worse when I leave. Even though we both knew this was coming the day we met, it doesn't make things any easier.

I have responsibilities as coordinator for the Camaras in Public Spaces campaign of the TPSC. I have yet to find a suitable replacement. We have a big event coming up for August, but someone will have to be here in October to field questions from the press when the pilot project is over and the one I had in mind to replace me doesn't appear interested. Stephen has expressed interest, but he's always got so much on his plate, I wanted to bring in some fresh blood to run the show, but I'm not sure who that would be at the moment.

Then there's my job. I don't have one lined up in Vancouver just yet, though my current boss has been kind enough to look into available positions with Riptown's Vancouver office. Whether there's a spot for me there or not, I'm not too worried about finding work in what I understand to be a competitive market, but that spectre of joblessness is still pretty scary.

Lastly, I've started re-coding my site using the new techniques I've been learning at my current job. The new site (still in development) will use a true MVC system and include nifty stuff like Ajax and JQuery as well as a Modified Preorder Tree Traversal algorithm for storing the hierarchical sorting structures in my Imager. This is mostly in preparation for when I'm in Europe and want to remote-blog and upload images -- I want the site to be better equipped.

So that's all for now. Wish me luck I suppose. If my heart & brain don't implode from the pressure, those of you reading this from Vancouver should see me in a few months.

June 25, 2007 15:43 +0000  |  Public Space Published The Toronto Public Space Committee 3

The Metro published a story today about the Toronto Public Space Committee's Guerrilla Gardeners and I'm quoted in it as a first-timer (until last Friday, I'd never been on a plant). Naturally, when I came into the office (and before I knew about the story), Jenn had already cut out the article and left it on my desk, and Anne came over to read the whole story to me aloud.

What a nice way to start a birthday.

For those who are interested, the Guerrilla Gardeners work throughout the Spring and Summer digging up nasty-looking patches of grass (and sometimes gravel!) and replanting them with pretty flowers. It's really quite fun and rewarding, so if you have some time, check out the web page and contact the organiser in your area.

Update: 11:45:11

The guy who did the story works for the Canaidan Press, and so the story is national. Here's a longer version in a Montreal paper.

May 23, 2007 03:54 +0000  |  Activism Public Space The Toronto Public Space Committee 1

A mermaid instead of an ad

The TPSC's Art Attack! exploded tonight with a mass-deployment of art posters targetting a single ad installation: Astral Outdoor's "Info Pillars".

Essentially 7' tall, illuminated ads scattered around the city masqurading as information kiosks, these ad pillars are going to swell in numbers thanks to City Hall's new deal with Astral for the purchase of street furniture in the city. Given that the decision on this contract will be made tomorrow, it seemed only fitting that Art Attack's target this year would be Astral's iconic waste of space and energy... and it was fun.

I put a few of my shots up on Flickr (none of them are really good enough to include in my own collection, but they give you an idea) and I'm hoping there will be others. If you live in Toronto, look for the ad pillars and see if our art remains.