Despite David Miller's happy ascension to the mayor's chair, the Toronto Public Space Committee (TPSC) isn't about to kick back and relax. Not while Calvin Klein has a stronger visual presence in our city than local artists. Not while garage bands get harassed for putting up posters to advertise their gigs. Not while there's still work to be done. "A lot of progressive councillors supported these things," says TPSC founder David Meslin, or Mez as he's known, speaking at the group's annual general meeting at the Cecil Community Centre last week. "These things," according to Mez, include David Miller's (yes, that David Miller) support a few years back for Torstar-owned OMG Media's bid to mar the cityscape with ad-festooned garbage bins. He also mentions former councillor Jack Layton's vote for driver-distracting billboards on the Don Valley Parkway and Kyle Rae's backing of the unsociable and corporate-dominated Dundas Square.
"I don't know if getting more progressives on (council) will change any of that," Mez says. That's why the TPSC - known for such forays as guerrilla gardening and covering corporate ads with art - has to remain eternally vigilant. And it's why the group is busy designing fresh campaigns like the one they're starting to get neighbours to take down the fences that divide them. They're also putting some of their creative juices into publishing, launching a new urban landscape mag called Spacing on December 4, 9 pm, at the 360 (326 Queen West, $10.)
They're also into what TPSC types call Variance Vexation, a catchy name for a dull job. It involves going to community council meetings at City Hall and opposing corporate applications for exceptions ("variances") to bylaws that regulate the size, brightness and location of big billboards.
City bylaws actually make video boards - which I'm sure you've seen around town - illegal. "We've actually won on a few occasions," says Mez, who explains that city council routinely rubber-stamps these exceptions, even over objections by city staff.
At the AGM, speakers from a number of like-minded groups talked about their strategies to take back a city dominated by marketing and, well, poor taste. "All the grey brings down your spirit," says Duncan Walker of the City Beautification Ensemble (CBE). The nattily attired CBE are three art school friends who colourfully spray-paint city furniture - sidewalk squares, ring-and-post bike lock stands, etc.
Public space folks hope that, despite some of their unorthodox methods, they will be able to work with the city even if councillors don't come through. "We actually have a lot of allies among city staff," says Mez. "They're often a lot more progressive than councillors."