It took the executive committee four hours of debate on Monday, April 30 - capping a year-long process - to approve, pending council's assent, selling Toronto's public spaces to billboard company Astral Media.
The passion over the 20-year contract, which goes to council later this month, must confuse some: in addition to the new shelters, bins, benches and pay toilets, the city will get $21 million a year in cash from the ads (which will only appear on shelters and info pillars), and be absolved of maintenance.
Much of the money will go to a new Pedestrian Realm organizational unit responsible for improving sidewalk spaces, and which, says urban design head Robert Freedman, will make the city "more legible."
Any way you look at it, this has been a teaching moment.
Activists, for instance, learned that uncomplicated, straightforward idealism doesn't translate in the business world.
Turns out it wasn't strange at all for Bob Millward, former city planner and current consultant, to advocate before community council for a bylaw variance for an Astral billboard after the city hired him to run the RFP (request for proposals) process that Astral eventually won.
Advert activist Rami Tabello of IllegalSigns.ca tried to stir up a tempest about that, but fairness commissioner Coulter Osbourne noted tersely that the various selection juries were insulated from Millward's role, and that Millward's a consultant anyway, and this is hardly eyebrow-raising stuff for "people who know the industry.'
Council, meanwhile, learned that meeting with the public about a two-decade, multi-million-dollar deal involving public property is strictly optional.
When staff ran savvy consultations last year to find out what people thought of the pedestrian realm, the only near-universal opinion was that street furniture shouldn't include advertising.
Some have asked why the city didn't hold a public competition for local artists that could have netted multiple creations rather than saddling us with a centralized style that loses emotional currency two blocks from Bay and King.
But that would require long consultation by a body invested politically in public service, not a firm investing financially in a quickly approved deal. This is business, not civics.
In fact, even council now has little control over the design. When Janet Davis asked if the security cameras could be removed from the info pillar design, transportation services' Andy Koropeski worried that it could "affect' final negotiations. And I'm sure that by "affect" he didn't mean "terminate cleanly, affably and non-litigiously."
So the city hands over the design and ownership of a sizable chunk of our streetscape to a company now facing two charges of erecting billboards in contravention of city bylaws and an investigation of 23 possible other infractions.
"Essentially, what we're doing here is legalizing bribery,' said Dave Meslin at the April 30 meeting. "Give us $400 million and we'll completely ignore our own bylaws.'
The program would remove the last remaining barrier to anti-postering sweeps, providing a handful of "community kiosks' and funding works staff to remove posters or follow up on infractions; new furniture will also be paste-resistant. This will begin a more serious attempt to rein in illegal billboards - no small feat. But, all told, we'll see an increase in the square footage and prominence of corporate advertising (but a decrease in the number of individual ads in any one locale), and a decrease in community postering.
At least there'll be new recycling bins for the posters to go into. And we'll finally be able to afford enough litter bins for all the disposable crap being sold by the advertising we're using to pay for the bins. The system works.
In truth, though, there don't seem to be many cheerleaders besides Mayor David Miller and perennially chipper councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker.
"I feel really torn," Joe Mihevc told me before the meeting. "It's not small dollars, and I don't think any responsible politician can just say to hell with it. But everything is telling you, 'Consume, do this, do that,' and folks are starting to say, 'Enough, I'm a person first, a consumer second. '"
Still, no one went up against the mayor. Anyway, say supporters, ads are already everywhere. And it's true - and it was true when that reasoning was used to justify the ones we're using as justification now.
What will this new slew of ads have justified 20 years from now?