bus shelters provide a roof, but the uncomfortable benches are designed to keep homeless people from sleeping on them. Inside, you're targeted by ads. Is that the whole point? "I remember when the purpose of shelters was just that -- shelter," says Megan Brown of the Urban Beautification Brigade (UBB). "Now it has totally shifted. It's just another place for ads."
When it comes to urban planning, most city residents feel they have no input. Things are simply developed all of a sudden, and that's the way it is. The UBB are trying to design their own city in a small way -- and to plant seeds of inspiration in other people's minds -- by decorating bus shelters and other grey areas.
UBB's other half, Barbara Bluestein, came up with the idea several months ago while shopping in an old wallpaper store where she came across a pile of circa-60s vinyl paper. She wanted to put it up somewhere and had noticed some ugly stuff around town that could use imaginative and eye-pleasing redecoration.
Soon, the UBB hooked up with another group of artists, the Urban Beautification Ensemble (UBE), who've been independently active for close to a year painting sidewalks and bike racks, adding colour to the cityscape.
Inside the brighter, prettier, homier bus shelter that UBB has wallpapered at the corner of Bay and Queen, passersby can contemplate the value of our public spaces that are slowly being ceded to private interests without our consent.
The excitement in these actions is in their anonymity and unexpectedness. People feel the element of mystery and magic when they just happen upon a UBB/UBE artifact.
Reactions are mostly positive. People seem curious about these short-lived actions; they want to know who's doing them and why.
Now that subvertising has been co-opted by the advertising industry itself, many artists and activists feel there's no point in attacking specific ads.
"That's almost acknowledging that they're having some kind of effect on me," says Bluestein.
"What the Urban Beautification Brigade is all about is radical acts of the imagination. We're challenging you to think about your space differently."
The UBB is planning a southern garden party. The idea is to build a structure decorated with curtains and fabric on an unused patch of grass by the highway.
Says Bluestein: "Free your space and your mind will follow."