Maybe you've seen the posters telling you that you are Toronto. "We Are Toronto," actually. They're part of the Toronto Branding Project. The city seems to think the posters are a good way to enhance civic pride. Unfortunately, the city also seems to think they're a terrible idea, being posters and all.
"We're in complete disarray," says Councillor Howard Moscoe. He's referring to the outcome of the March 7 meeting of the planning and transportation committee.
After five hours of deputations and debate, the committee, seemingly by accident, passes motions recommending council pass an anti-postering bylaw that may or may not be legal and, according to Moscoe, is "completely unenforceable."
A quick look around Queen West seems to confirm that postering won't be going away any time soon. The proposed plan sees the city spending an estimated $1.3 million a year to try to stop postering through removal and fines.
It's all of questionable legality. In the 1993 Ramsden case, the Supreme Court deemed Peterborough's similar postering restrictions unconstitutional. The ruling does stipulate, however, that cities can regulate notices' size and location and the length of time they can be posted.
So why is this meeting happening? It's not clear. The proposal itself is in a state of flux throughout the afternoon. In the end, it's decided that 4,000 designated poster-friendly poles will be allocated on a ward-by-ward basis in consultation with each ward's respective councillors.
Why those in the burbs should be allocated any poles at all never comes up for debate, but the 4,000 number is hardly a large enough canvas for activists and groups that rely on postering to get their message out to the grassroots. Some estimates put this number at a mere 2 per cent of all poles.
Alison Gorbel, who lived in Guelph when that city began erecting plastic collars to enable street postering, doesn't think the bylaw will be enforceable.
"I'd have had to come back every 20 minutes to put my poster up again," she tells the committee. "There was so much competition for the poles that people just gave up and started postering everywhere again."
Like the recent anti-squatting bylaw, this will some day be cherished by a future right-wing mayor. While city staff aren't currently prepared to scrape away perceived urban blight, police will be perfectly capable of picking up the slack in tickets and fines. I wonder whose posters they will deem the most bothersome clutter - bluegrass bands' or activists'?
And if all else fails, there's always good old dystopian science fiction. Urban development services will look into non-stick substances to spray on poles.
Moscoe moves that one year from bylaw enaction the city consider a program requiring electronic stamps on all posters. Staff armed with barcode readers would then know which posters were approved by the politburo and when they will reach their expiry date. The stamps would only be available pending submission of an application and photo ID, thereby making TTC fare hikes seem comparatively fun.
Why all the noise about 93.5 square inches of pulp? Well, some consider postering a gateway drug. It may start with just one or two posters, opponents say, but soon you'll start throwing up graffiti murals. Before you know it, you're tossing babies through Wal-Mart windows and calling it an art installation, hence the "broken window theory" of urban blight.
Councillor Bill Saundercook asks avowed posterheads if they also do graffiti, or if postering might encourage them to do so. He's met with blank stares.
Poster prohibitionists also believe posters are a major cause of traffic accidents.
Both deputants and councillors cite the distraction they cause motorists.
"But it's this same council that keeps approving video billboards at intersections," points out activist Judy Rebick during her submission.
David Meslin of the Toronto Public Space Committee strikes a similar note, asking why those hunting blight aren't looking at corporate billboards.
"If 81/2-by-11-inch posters have to be 100 metres apart, then 10-by-20-foot billboards should be 1,000 metres apart" - 2,500 metres, actually, but then, he doesn't have a calculator.
Meslin points out that most corporate postering and plastic signs - of equal concern to most grassroots posterers - are already illegal under current bylaws.
The biggest worry seems to be that widespread use of posters will ruin neighbourhoods. Deputant Jim Allan believes posters make Toronto "junky and cheap." Councillor Cesar Palacio feels they "are destroying the spirit and character of our neighbourhoods," a spirit apparently embodied by grey poles.
Nevertheless, from independent artists to babysitters and dance instructors and kids who get summer jobs postering, there's a widespread economy based on postering.
And that economy is part of a greater ecosystem; friendships are made or made stronger during the course of a postering run. Conversations are struck up between posterers and passersby. And through it all, those involved get to know their city better. You've never truly seen your neighbourhood until you've looked at it as a potential collage.
Many others rely on posters as a quick way to dive into local culture.
"I don't think people come here to look at our pristine telephone poles," says David James. He points out the irony of debating the bylaw right after Canadian Music Week. A musician, he knows well that all those acts that brought hundreds of journalists and fellow songsters to the city rely on posters for their livelihood.
"This is what I do with my life," says Michael Comeau, who works at a studio designing silkscreened posters. "This is what I do with my hands. This is what I do with my heart."