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City

Guerrilla art group hacks dozens of Astral info pillars

Posted by Chris Bateman / July 9, 2012

toronto info pillar hackThe city's new, redesigned info pillars that have been rapidly popping up around Toronto have made plenty of enemies: road users claim the large, flat sides block sight lines, pedestrians say their positioning blocks sidewalks, and many others are concerned about the large amount of space given over to advertisers by Astral Media, the company that designs, installs and maintains the pillars on behalf of the city.

Well, no more. A team of artists, cARTographyTO, hacked into roughly 35 of the signs' ad spaces over the weekend and installed maps, artwork and other visual displays. The group, whose leaders want to remain anonymous while the art work is in place, say they want to bring the issue to the attention of the wider public and force Astral to reconsider the design of these info pillars, something they previously said they wouldn't do.

"We found [the pillars] to be quite offensive to our public spaces," a group spokesperson told me last night. "Their main purpose is advertising - they are basically billboards masquerading as information sources."

Using special tools, a co-ordinated team of workers cracked open the poster space, removed the ads (leaving any PSAs) and installed new material. The group used security screws to seal the work in place and slow down Astral's removal of the work, which, it seems, has already begun.

toronto info pillar hack blue jaysSeveral months in the making, CARTographyTO formed through word of mouth when the first pillars were sunk into the sidewalk: concerned citizens, artists and others with a creative streak came together with the desire to reclaim the lost public space in their neighbourhoods.

But it wasn't just the cumbersome design of the pillars that frustrated cARTographyTO's members - the methods Astral used to install the structures were also a major point of contention: multiple bike posts - some with bikes still attached - and, according to the group, a tree were cut down to make space on the sidewalk. The media group's contact with the city, which ostensibly provides a public service with small local maps, is lampooned in much of the guerrilla artwork's subject material.

Where there was once ads for beer and wine, hand-drawn local maps now guide visitors and locals around nearby streets. Other installations play on the uselessness of the ad space by adding a bench or riff on the sense that the city has sold portions of the sidewalk by adding real-life bouncers and a dress code. In that sense the project recalls an earlier info pillar intervention featuring a chalk board and the more recent hack job of Astral ad space at TTC streetcar stops. Overall, the plan is to reclaim the signs for genuine public service and provoke discussion.

toronto info pillar hack college park"It will be interesting to see [Astral Media's] reaction," the spokesperson continues. "It would really be in their best interest not to draw extra attention to it, because it will just bring bad press. We haven't spoken to a single person in favour of these things, everyone has been very supportive of what we're doing."

"We hope that if these pillars continue to remain in place that the public won't stand for it and the city won't stand for it. We know that many councillors, once they saw these things, felt like they had been tricked. If they do stay, we hope that the pressure remains on [Astral]. This is an ongoing concern for us."

UPDATE: 10:40 AM

Hugues Mousseau, director of corporate communications and synergies for Astral Media, says in an email:

"Small isolated incident - no comments to make."

Apparently the company isn't concerned, but I would hardly call these ad replacements "isolated."

UPDATE: 7:30 PM

Astral Media has released a statement about the weekend's ad-busting:

"Astral deplores the acts of vandalism committed this weekend against the InfoPillars in the City of Toronto. The Toronto Street Furniture (TSF) program is a world class project that provides important services to residents of the City - including transit shelters, litter bins and public benches. It also creates revenue that is exclusively directed for reinvestment in city streets.

Only 16% of all structures in the program are ad bearing but they are essential to funding the construction and maintenance of an overall rollout of approximately 25,000 pieces. The TSF program will provide approximately $1 billion in value to the city over a 20 year contract (started in fall 2007). We have requested the Toronto police investigate these illegal acts and ensure that appropriate action is taken to enforce the law in this matter."

So, not happy. It will be interesting to see what (if any) action the police take. During my interview with cARTographyTO, they emphasized that the installation team were careful not to damage the info pillars in any way. It's probably in Astral's best interest to let this one go.

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS

astral info pillar hackastral info pillar hackastral info pillar hackastral info pillar hackastral info pillar hackastral info pillar hacktoronto info pillar hack designated protestastral info pillar hackastral info pillar hackastral info pillar hackPhotos: Lead image by emaninTdot in the blogTO Flickr pool. All others by Martinho. See more on Flickr here.

Discussion

83 Comments

Rich / July 9, 2012 at 08:38 am
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Awesome.
Mike / July 9, 2012 at 08:45 am
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Put a Dark Knight Rises logo on them anywhere and then they'd be THE WORST THING EVER.
mike in parkdale / July 9, 2012 at 08:49 am
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these are great!

It's really sad that the city is letting private companies take control of the sidewalks. Between the bus shelters (that no longer offer shelter form the elements) and the smaller, often broken garbage cans, the city sidewalks are worse now than they were5 years ago.
p / July 9, 2012 at 09:09 am
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This is now seemingly a test for our city to collectively get rid of these things.
smaedifference / July 9, 2012 at 09:21 am
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I saw a few of these around the city this weekend and not once did I realize they were in protest. Each time I assumed they were ads and looked for a logo, when I didn't see one I thought they must just be a part of a teaser campaign.

And they are. Here's the big reveal. This group has taken these spaces and used them pretty much exactly the way they were intended. They're using it to get a certain message across (poorly, I might ad), which is exactly what advertising is meant to do. You might not like it, but that is what it does. It's the same difference.

Oh wait, it's not. This group didn't pay a dime for the space. But of course, that's the point, right? Or was there one?
Arrow / July 9, 2012 at 09:31 am
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The ones which add actual info to the pillars, like big maps and local places of interest, could be seen as critical commentary. The rest that are just art and pretty pictures are vandalism fair-and-square.
Alex / July 9, 2012 at 09:37 am
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Kudos to those guys. It's unlikely, but I hope Astral gives in eventually and takes these terrible things down. Why isn't the city making a bigger fuss out of these things? Who approved them originally anyway?
Shane / July 9, 2012 at 09:40 am
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Vandalism my ass. What vandalizes the cityscape is the endless onslaught of unsolicited ads I am bombarded with on a daily basis. Don't like it, don't look you say. If only that were possible. Kudos to this group for beautifying the urban landscape and thumbing a collective nose at Astral.
sun screen / July 9, 2012 at 09:57 am
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I hate the signs as much as most people on this blog, but so long as the billboards are placed in co-operation with the city the best reaction is to complain to your Councillor and our trusty Mayor. Vandalizing them isn't doing much for the cause, just creating enemies.
Marc / July 9, 2012 at 09:58 am
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Even from a non-"social justice" standpoint, these things are horrible in design for reasons that many people and outlets have already noted.

I don't know what it is about Toronto, but people seem to always take action after something has taken place rather than before.
CryBaby / July 9, 2012 at 10:07 am
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"art and pretty pictures are vandalism fair-and-square" is one of the saddest things I have read on in BlogTO's comments section.
JakeSnake replying to a comment from Arrow / July 9, 2012 at 10:45 am
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Might as well go back to your communist country where are art IS vandalism and redundant. You'd feel like it's a utopia!
a-trax / July 9, 2012 at 10:49 am
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Found some info on the guerrilla art group that got the public talking again about these awful pillars!
http://www.cartographyto.co.nr
Plens / July 9, 2012 at 10:53 am
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Four feet wide ad boxes dropped onto high density sidewalk spaces are about as asshole as you can get. Way to go, Astral.
Steve / July 9, 2012 at 10:56 am
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ENDORSE.
Anon416 / July 9, 2012 at 11:05 am
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My favorite was the apologetic Ad pillar:

"I've always wanted to say...
Excuse me, I'm sorry I am in your way"
JD Halperin / July 9, 2012 at 11:11 am
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These were real life pop-up ads! Astral Media thought: "we can't just eliminate bike parking for ads, so we'll throw in a miniature map that won't interfere with the ad, tell the sheep it's a service." A disgusting insult to our intelligence, a pernicious encroachment on free space, repulsive and scummy. cARTography are civic heroes!
The Worst / July 9, 2012 at 11:16 am
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These are the worst. Beyond boring, completely vapid, infantile and incomprehensible. They make ads look good.
Parker / July 9, 2012 at 11:17 am
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Team Vandal
Arrow replying to a comment from JakeSnake / July 9, 2012 at 11:27 am
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I don't care for the mannequins' summer outfits at the Gap either. Let's all break their windows and re-dress them in tighter pants. Those trucks that drive around with big Ikea ads? Might as well throw sugar in their gas tanks too.

All in the name of artistic expression, of course.
AB replying to a comment from Arrow / July 9, 2012 at 11:47 am
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Um, the difference is that a Gap store is privately-owned space, not public space. Do you not understand the difference?
jer / July 9, 2012 at 11:50 am
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I was confused when I first saw "info pillars" and there was no info on them... Until I noticed the "tiny" space on the backside with the info on them.... Nuts considering how much sidewalk space they take up. We need "real" info pillars and no advertising pillars.

I saw a map on one of these on the weekend and I was thinking "wow, great, they are adding maps now"... Guess not!
Aaron replying to a comment from JD Halperin / July 9, 2012 at 11:54 am
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@JD Halperin

Hear hear! I think these pillars are useless, and recommissioning them for the public good is the only wayt to make them useful again...

Oh, sorry, were you waiting for the advertising company to do the public good for you?

By the way, I'm a left-wing pinko with a full-time job, before I get painted as a degenerate
Marc replying to a comment from Arrow / July 9, 2012 at 11:55 am
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Apples and oranges.
Pajama Rentals / July 9, 2012 at 12:14 pm
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In the name of art, lets all get to together and ejaculate into lake Ontario, eventually turning it into one enormous jizz stain..that can be seen from space.
Acid Burn / July 9, 2012 at 12:16 pm
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Don't call it hacking if it's not a Gibson!
RealTalk / July 9, 2012 at 12:24 pm
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LOVE IT!!
Partisans are retards / July 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm
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The line of sight and sidewalk blocking is unacceptable, subverting their purpose is fine with me.

JD Halperin: Theres a fascism meeting for neo-nazis somewhere you should be at.
mike replying to a comment from AB / July 9, 2012 at 12:31 pm
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The only thing that makes a Gap store private is that someone is paying for it, so no, I don't understand the difference.

Arrow replying to a comment from AB / July 9, 2012 at 12:34 pm
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Just because they're in public space doesn't entitle you to deface them. By that defense, why didn't cARTography just unbolt them all from the ground and relocate them to the dump themselves? It's probably legal, being in a public space and whatnot.
hendrix / July 9, 2012 at 12:42 pm
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Awesome! Love the one with the bike inside... great creativity on the part of whoever did this.

I was in Paris recently and amazed at how little public space is devoted to advertisements there... it was like a nude city. Loved it.
Tommy / July 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm
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Does anyone actually personally know a person who works for Astral? I'd be embarrassed to say I work for them.
MS / July 9, 2012 at 01:05 pm
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If it's a protest, there should be a theme. I see no theme. All I see is slightly different advertising than was there before.

If the "ads should not be" message was placed everywhere, along with a URL for more information, it might almost have been a useful protest.
Criminals / July 9, 2012 at 01:17 pm
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It's sad that "artists" in this city are so incredibly untalented that they have to resort to vandalism to get any attention whatsoever. Here's a tip for all you little bitches whining about ad space ruining the city: rent the sign yourself and put your crappy protest "art" in it.
JDHalperin replying to a comment from Criminals / July 9, 2012 at 01:23 pm
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You fail to see the point: THERE SHOULD BE NO SIGN! I'd rather everything be removed altogether, art and ad, and it revert back to being space.
JDHalperin replying to a comment from Partisans are retards / July 9, 2012 at 01:26 pm
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Godwin's law took about two seconds there. Lovely.
a-trax replying to a comment from MS / July 9, 2012 at 01:53 pm
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a press release went out, there IS a url!
http://www.cartographyto.co.nr
Criminals replying to a comment from JDHalperin / July 9, 2012 at 02:07 pm
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I'd like it to be a stripper pole with a hot naked chick on it, doesn't mean it will be so. Advertising is here to stay, learn to live with it without resorting to criminal behavior.
Damien / July 9, 2012 at 02:39 pm
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Dear Cartographyto,

I don't understand why you just didn't use some crazy glue and just glue them on to the glass.

Make it harder for them to remove it.
The Worst / July 9, 2012 at 02:48 pm
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The Worst.
CRAPtographyto replying to a comment from JDHalperin / July 9, 2012 at 02:49 pm
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PROBLEM: There should be no sign, it blocks sight-lines and pedestrian traffic.

SOLUTION: Replace with advertisement for guerrilla art vandals.


Initial problem still exists!
Darrell T / July 9, 2012 at 02:52 pm
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Why is their domain registered in Nauru? Are these vandalic artists even based in Toronto?
Anne / July 9, 2012 at 03:22 pm
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I think this is absolutely rediculous. Most of their "guerilla artworks" don't even point out what they are trying to do. This is vandalism. 100%.
Matthew replying to a comment from Acid Burn / July 9, 2012 at 03:23 pm
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Probably the best comment on here.
Alex / July 9, 2012 at 03:30 pm
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Of course it's vandalism. That's the point. This isn't some deeply meaningful artwork, it's just supposed to get people's attention so they don't forget or give up about these intrusive ads and keep the pressure on Astral. Vandalism costs Astral money. If they are repeatedly vandalized maybe Astral will eventually replace them with something less obtrusive or get rid of them permanently.

Geez, people are super slow on monday, eh?
Sean / July 9, 2012 at 05:00 pm
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"I don't care for the mannequins' summer outfits at the Gap either. Let's all break their windows and re-dress them in tighter pants. Those trucks that drive around with big Ikea ads? Might as well throw sugar in their gas tanks too."

These ads are blocking public sidewalk space, for very little return. Comparing them to mannequins on private property is disingenuous at best.
m replying to a comment from Anne / July 9, 2012 at 05:07 pm
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Anne, would you prefer the art replaced by advertisements that are clear on what it is trying to do: sell you their product/service by making you feel inadequate/ugly/out-of-style?

Buying advertising space is very expensive; the bigger, more eye-catching ads, the more costly. Only large companies with large advertising budgets can afford to advertise through these mediums. But they see it as an investment, because people who see their ads will buy their product/service and it'll all pay off in the end.

I, for one, am sick and tired of being barraged by the same buy-buy-buy message everyone I go. Thank you CARTographyTO for bringing a welcome change and sight for over-advertised eyes to the citizens of Ford-nation.
rbingham / July 9, 2012 at 06:24 pm
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Nice work. If you don't like the art in them fine, but the point was to remind people that public space should be primarily public and non-commercial, and not so shabbily over-run by crappy private interests. That said, if you REALLY wanna get rid of them, the next step is a boycott of advertisers who use this medium. A little social media campaign to back it up would also help; advertisers are pretty sensitive to public indignation, and every company buying these spaces has other options. If advertisers don't use this medium, Astral doesn't make any money on them. If Astral doesn't make any money on on them they will disappear, or change to something acceptable. Pretty simple.
Adam Buster replying to a comment from rbingham / July 9, 2012 at 10:38 pm
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Cool idea, any thoughts as to where to find a list of companies who use these pillars specifically?
Lesley replying to a comment from rbingham / July 9, 2012 at 11:10 pm
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Actually, the cARTographyTO group already started this initiative as well. Their site asks companies and organizations to stop advertizing through these pillars, and for consumers to pledge to not buy any products advertized on them either. Hope these advertizing monstrosity are removed soon!
Joshie / July 10, 2012 at 12:09 am
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Ahhhh Man!!! Burger King - King Deals $1.99. Where was that photo at?! Where's it at!?
Joshie / July 10, 2012 at 12:12 am
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Whopper Wednesday's are the best!! Wednesday's Kings Deal - Whopper Sandwich for $1.99, it come's to like $2.10 with tax or get the full combo for $4.99.......awesome fries
Craig / July 10, 2012 at 08:06 am
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No to ads and no to skyscrapers!

This is a big city and should only have farm houses, butter churns, artisanal free-range cupcakes and unicycles.
Smadar / July 10, 2012 at 08:39 am
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What a fantastic idea! I usually ignore these ugly adds, but now I will start checking them out. It is giving us our space back. Hopefully many other cities will follow.
Andy Patton / July 10, 2012 at 08:40 am
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I don't see how this can be called "vandalism"—which refers us to the sacking of Rome by the vandals. Nothing was wrecked. And unlike graffiti tags, the people behind it are making themselves known. They aren't simply advertising themselves as taggers do; they're making themselves known and taking a public stance on the issue of public good. if the ads provide a public good—as Astral and the Advertising Council of Canada say—then there is a logical argument to be made that both Astral and the Council should support this initiative.
Sally L / July 10, 2012 at 08:45 am
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Do I like them....absolutely. Are they vandalism.....absolutely.

Like it or not, people paid good money fair and square for the spaces and Astral has put these up fair and square. If you DON'T like what Astral is doing....take it to City Hall. But pretending this isn't vandalism and a chargeable offense just becuase we 'like it' doesn't change the facts.
Steve / July 10, 2012 at 08:49 am
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These pillars violate the City's own regulations on street furniture, and should be removed. If it takes artful protest to hasten their demise, so be it. Astral, you made a mistake in thinking that your influence at City Hall was all that was needed.
CJ / July 10, 2012 at 09:42 am
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Treading the fine line between vandalism and art.
D3N!@L / July 10, 2012 at 09:48 am
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I turn on my television, my choice, I receive "entertainment" in exchange for being exposed to advertisements. If I go out my door I receive nothing for being exposed to the same amount if not more ads. This is society balancing the unfair advertising system that is in place. I adore this project and not only support it but want to get involved and participate. Someone send me a link or something please!

http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2007-06-18/s-o-paulo-the-city-that-said-no-to-advertisingbusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice
Lesley replying to a comment from D3N!@L / July 10, 2012 at 09:58 am
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Me too! They have a website: cartographyto.co.nr
Clay / July 10, 2012 at 10:09 am
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This is a great guerilla graffiti idea that "sticks it to the man" however I have two issues with it.

#1 - Its not an original Idea. Kaws and other NYC Artists have done this for 15 years. http://www.bombingscience.com/images/blog/1422.png

#2 - These artists are those who design for the ad companies anyways. Why bite the hand that feeds you? How can you be against something thats helping your career?
The first artist I clicked on the Cartography TO site has won awards for Lowe Roche, Cossette, etc. These are AD AGENCIES. BIG BIG ones too.

Cartography TO, just get it together. You're doing something decent, however you should def keep it more of a secret before some award winning advertising illustrators get arrested for graffiti/vandalism.


MarkhamStreet / July 10, 2012 at 10:20 am
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Brandalism:
Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It belongs to you. It's yours to take, rearrange and re-use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.”
― Banksy, Wall and Piece
opensource / July 10, 2012 at 10:35 am
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I think the art looks good. Would anyone here rather see the advertisement? Honestly? Even if you don't appreciate the art, I can't see how you would find beer ads more appealing or less offensive.
Amerbee / July 10, 2012 at 10:42 am
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Tell Astral directly how much you love the street art:
http://www.astral.com/en/reach-us
EdwardTeach / July 10, 2012 at 11:57 am
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BlogTO is pretty left wing, why would people who don't like this sort of underground art even be reading this website? Shouldn't you be checking out the Sunshine Girl or listening to Rush Limbaugh instead?
Jojo / July 10, 2012 at 12:12 pm
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Astral has responded, in doublespeak about the "acts of vandalism committed". They are doing it all because they care so much. Aww, what humanitarians. It's interesting to note that they are behind on much of the street furniture installation that they mention, but they have managed to erect the advertising stations (oh, sorry, "InfoPillars").

"Astral deplores the acts of vandalism committed this weekend against the InfoPillars in the City of Toronto. The Toronto Street Furniture (TSF) program is a world class project that provides important services to residents of the City - including transit shelters, litter bins and public benches. It also creates revenue that is exclusively directed for reinvestment in city streets.

Only 16% of all structures in the program are ad bearing but they are essential to funding the construction and maintenance of an overall rollout of approximately 25,000 pieces. The TSF program will provide approximately $1 billion in value to the city over a 20 year contract (started in fall 2007). We have requested the Toronto police investigate these illegal acts and ensure that appropriate action is taken to enforce the law in this matter."
Susanna / July 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm
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Love them!
Leah / July 10, 2012 at 01:08 pm
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Much more interesting to look at than capitalist ads in my face taking up sidewalk space.
zavio replying to a comment from JakeSnake / July 10, 2012 at 01:16 pm
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art and communism? please elaborate.
Josh replying to a comment from MarkhamStreet / July 10, 2012 at 02:10 pm
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Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It belongs to you. It's yours to take, rearrange and re-use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.”
― Banksy, Wall and Piece

While the truth of that is certainly up for debate, it should be taken into account that Banksy is kind of a tool.
Markham Street replying to a comment from Josh / July 10, 2012 at 03:48 pm
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Ah. The "tool argument". Touché.
arties' pooch / July 10, 2012 at 04:16 pm
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How about making the slots designated for works by emerging local artists.
pookapooka / July 10, 2012 at 06:05 pm
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Won't it be just a matter of time before the spraypaint-wielding graffiti "vandals" have their go at these luscious spaces?
Deepsleeper / July 10, 2012 at 06:36 pm
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I love how half the people here are saying the anti-advertising group isn't advertising enough and the other half are complaining that vandalism isn't really vandalism if you like what they're doing.

This is illegal, but still awesome. We need more illegal, awesome things like this.
Anonymous / July 10, 2012 at 06:42 pm
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Ads make toronto disgusting and decrepid and boring. The city should be ashamed for allowing such an egregious breach of public space with such garbage. Instead the city should really engage with the community to allow them use public space in such a way, legally.

Vandalism is a big issue, but we can't continue to ignore the visual assault that advertisers subject us to everyday.
sp / July 10, 2012 at 06:59 pm
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I figure we just have to wait for some cab driver's view to be obstructed by one of these god-aweful things when someone steps out from behind one in attempt to j-walk accross the street.... kablamo.... sadly that's what it will take to eliminate these things. Hmm, maybe Mayor Ford's attention was distracted by one of these things while he was driving by the open streetcar door?! Hmm. I wonder who's pockets have been padded here. Suddenly I'm craving KFC.
Vinny / July 10, 2012 at 09:57 pm
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Nice job on the Astral pillars JayWall

A graphic artist who bites the hand that feeds him. Probably not a good idea. When the advertisers find out that you were one of the artists involved in sabotaging their ability to advertise, you will probably be out of a job. You do realize that you have worked for some of them right?
Looking on with Amazement / July 11, 2012 at 04:36 am
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I merely comment here at the eye-watering lack of skill, research and intelligence displayed both in the article and the comments section. Learn to spot your paid Trolls, and learn to spot when an Editor cannot allow anything of note in a story!

If one were more proactive than merely being spoon-fed a story, you could easily find out that, for instance, Astral invested $50 million into the film industry in 2010 [http://www.astral.com/pdf/astral-en-csr-2010-2011.pdf] and by some simple math, would realise that Toronto is only getting $5 million / year from these adverts.

Now, not being naive idealistic waifs about business, you could then, perchance, work out the advertising rates of your X boards in Premium locations for a year and work out just how large the mark-up is.

Then, being a decent journalist, I'd look closely into the political ties of those who voted for this to Astral's board and work out at which parties and which holiday locations the sweetners came into play.

$Money.

Follow the money: Astral doesn't invest $50 million into Canadian film for fun, it does it for revenue. I suggest you do your math, and bill accordingly.
Jerry / July 11, 2012 at 02:07 pm
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I heard that the new ones from Astral will be a bit smaller and angled so that they do not impose safety problems to pedestrians and drivers, however they still will be too large in my opinion.

These huge obstacles have now been sacrificed to the protest.
let them not be refurbished, but replaced or removed.
None of us should accept this act of deception by Astral Media on council and upon the people of the city.
trix / July 11, 2012 at 03:14 pm
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Change the angle 90 degrees and people might not be so annoyed with them. Calling what was done vandalism when to most Torontonians it is beautification will not be a successful campaign. As a cyclist, they are a HUGE road safety concern. Profit over well being initiatives are becoming more and more overt, slapping conscious folk in the face.

Where do I sign up.
The Raven / July 11, 2012 at 08:23 pm
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You go gorillas!!!!
Nick da Prof replying to a comment from Pajama Rentals / July 13, 2012 at 09:49 am
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Ohio has already tried this with Lake Erie, with some measure of success. Just saying.
mike replying to a comment from trix / July 13, 2012 at 10:40 am
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If ads on the sidewalk are a huge "road safety concern as a cyclist" you should probably gtfo the sidewalk

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