City letting advertisers take over our sidewalks

Questions whether this is good for city hall or for Astral Media which sells the ads

By Jayme Turney, Toronto Public Space Initiative

Toronto may be looking at 120 “‘sidewalk billboards” this fall. On July 14th, City council approved a modified design for the new InfoToGo Pillars by Astral Media. The original InfoToGo pillars were designed to help people explore Toronto by providing community information such as a map, public transportation routes and areas of interest. Unfortunately, only 5 were put up by the spring of 2010 with the other 115 left in storage.

In the opinion of the TPSI the new information pillars have more advertising space and less community information, detracting from their original purpose. “These new info pillars clearly serve advertisers more and serve the public less, if at all” notes Jayme Turney, of the Toronto Public Space Initiative. “It looks like an average person might need to bend down to the ground to see some of the information on the low end of the pillar.”

Noting the schematics of the new design, Turney said “These are like billboards on the sidewalk with some information put on the supporting pole as an afterthought to try to justify them.” And “This change does a bad job serving the public, tourists, and communities. It’s about grabbing a bit of extra money by selling more ad space instead of actually providing a decent service.”

Commenting on the prominent billboard display, Turney said “Advertisers don’t like it when the public has control over their exposure to advertisements. This is part of an aggressive trend to put more ads in public space, where you can’t turn them off or easily tune them out. With this design our sidewalks will have mini billboards.”

TPSI also questions the financial benefit of the new arrangement. The city report suggests that the new pillars will potentially increase revenue generation via advertising by $1.2 million annually. However, given that the original program failed to meet its expectations, and that any additional revenue generation will be shared, new revenue claims appear speculative and the reality may be substantially less.