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Astral not interested in redesigning ugly info pillars

Posted by Chris Bateman / March 21, 2012

Info Pillar RedesignLate last year, council, in conjunction with Astral Media, started rolling out redesigned information pillars at locations around the city, purportedly to help visitors navigate the streets with maps and local information. In reality, the new pillars are large, obstructive advertising boards bolted to a pole and have proved pretty unpopular with road users and pedestrians alike — one at College and Bathurst got a make-over in January in protest. The most common complaints talk of blocked sight lines and sidewalks even though the ad space is technically an "international standard," whatever that means.

As Dylan Reid at Spacing pointed out last November, some of the new pillars were positioned in potential violation with another council directive, the Vibrant Streets Initiative, and at least 8 have since been removed as a result. As stipulated in the city's contract with Astal, a total of 120 pillars are planned — almost half of which have already been installed.

Info Pillar Comparison ImageAt the February meeting of the city's Design Review Panel — the group that advises council on important design issues — members discussed the problem with Elyse Parker from Transportation Services, and the minutes of that talk have just been made available. Surprise, surprise Astral Media is not interested in revising the design until at least 2017 (per the contractual agreement) but has hired IBI Group, an architectural and design consultants, to look at the sight line and obstruction issues.

Perhaps that's a glimmer of good news, but it'd be tough to fault someone for being skeptical about the prospects of real improvement here. That said, new installations are on hold and at least some of the planned pillars could be shifted to positions more suited to their size. As the DRP points out, subway stations would be ideal because they are areas where you're more likely to find tourists or people needing directions.

What are your thoughts on this? Most dislike the ad creep into public space, but they're also just ugly structures to begin with. Members of the Design Review Panel point out the fact they weren't consulted on the appearance of the current pillars and doubt those already on the street will make it to the end of their 20 year life cycle.

The DRP wants "a design that satisfies all parties, not just the ad company." Any ideas?

Lead photo by Scott Snider, comparison image from



JD / March 21, 2012 at 05:05 pm
Dear Taggers of Toronto, I know I've said some negative things about you in the past, but please do us a favour and use your powers for good. Tag the sh*t out of these things.
steve / March 21, 2012 at 05:06 pm
hate them worst idea of have in invasive advertising. When I see them I will not buy any products from a company advertising on them. Good bye bell
cultureshot / March 21, 2012 at 05:18 pm
Toronto's street furniture in general is pretty bad, not just these. Thanks, Astral!
cathy / March 21, 2012 at 05:25 pm
The problem is that they don't look like information signs. I see them everywhere and when I stop and think about it I know what they are, but generally I dismiss them in my head as a billboard. If I were a tourist, or even just in an unfamiliar part of the city, I would never think to look at one for information. What's the point of them then?
meanjean / March 21, 2012 at 06:09 pm
in conjunction with.
Andrew / March 21, 2012 at 06:34 pm
I very much agree with Cathy.
Bob dylan / March 21, 2012 at 06:38 pm
Astral has not kept many of the promises theyve made, like speedy garbage bin repairs, more benches, more newsstands, "millions" in ad revenue. Did anyone really expect anything better?
Asstral / March 21, 2012 at 07:47 pm
Welcome to the world of privatized public space.

Something to consider the next time some politician says, “We’re going to be outsourcing everything that is not nailed down.”
Sean / March 21, 2012 at 09:54 pm
I hate this terrible pieces of garbage as much as the next person, but a contract is a contract. If Toronto was had better negotiators, this wouldn't have been a problem.
Chino / March 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm
I work in advertising and I despise these f#ck#ing things.
Julian / March 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm
They'll all be Bell ads soon.
Marie @ MoOt / March 21, 2012 at 11:27 pm
I guess it was a bit naive to think a private media company would be interested in informing the public about things other than products to sell. I agree with Cathy & Asstral.
TCP / March 22, 2012 at 12:03 am
This is better than just blank..and yea It will all be bell soon
auditorydamage / March 22, 2012 at 08:40 am
I'd rather they be blank than trying to shovel more useless memetic garbage into my brain. The pillars along the Danforth have no useful information whatsoever. The city has been ripped off by Astral.
Adam / March 22, 2012 at 08:58 am
(More, relentless) constructive vandalism is the only solution unless/until Astral redesigns them.
Brendan / March 22, 2012 at 09:10 am
Big up Shan Dubs. Nice chalk work, girl.
Jacob / March 22, 2012 at 09:51 am
Bell is buying Astral.

Expect these things to get even more invasive.
geg / March 22, 2012 at 10:10 am
My personal suggestion is to pull them all down with a truck
skube / March 22, 2012 at 11:21 am
What the heck?! Who's city is this anyway? No one likes these stupid barriers.

It's sad that some TTC shelters have been reduced to barely providing shelter due to supposed sidewalk space and access restrictions, yet these behemoths are allowed to blatantly go on blocking.
Alex / March 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm
People should just keep vandalizing them over and over again until it becomes more costly for Astral to keep replacing/cleaning them than the ad revenue they generate.

BUT, I do like the one on the right in the picture above of them. I've seen one of those on the street and they are a perfect size and have tons of good info. If they just replaced all the crappy ones with those good ones I'd be fine with it.
Tanya / March 22, 2012 at 12:34 pm
I'm pretty sure the signs on the Danforth have ABSOLUTELY no information on them. There's no map at all, just ads. I am a law abiding citizen and I want to punch those info pillars right in the face.
mop replying to a comment from Alex / March 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm
You're talking about the old ones, they're the ones that are being replaced. They were huge eye sores and really chunky, but they had touch screens and dispensers for pocket-sized maps, at the very least.
turtelle / March 22, 2012 at 03:10 pm
everyone go get some chalkboard paint.
Tom / March 22, 2012 at 07:50 pm
I have to admit I've harbored thoughts of driving into one of these things except that would be bad, get me in trouble and make a mess of my car. Whatever bonehead working for our City missed the part where Astral was going to get the right to block off 4' of the sidewalk (or thought that would be OK) really needs to do some deep reflection. The old ones were ugly too, with that stupid little roof protecting the advertising. Please in 2017 could these all just go away.
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