So How Much Advertising Space <i>Can</i> the City Sell?

The real secret behind Toronto's "Clean and Beautiful City" campaign is, apparently, garbage cans so huge you can't miss them.

The rumoured massive billboard garbage bins are, for lack of a better phrase, in beta testing. The behemoths (7 feet tall, five deep, 2 wide - enough to fit you and two of your closest friends) would be provided to the city gratis, and an equal number of "smaller" (how much smaller? about 5 feet tall), ad-free bins would be included. Toronto would also get a share of the ad revenue.

But, in an impressive demonstration of indirect democracy and as a response to objections from people who'd like to see less crap on the garbage bins as well as the streets, the city council is asking for your opinion in this online survey.

If we're to believe the best, i.e. this isn't just a public calming mechanism but a genuine attempt to represent Torontonians, we should know how this is really going to affect us (assuming we are, by and large, the pedestrians who have to deal with these things and the citizens who will supposedly benefit from the additional cash).

The current bins are already provided free from the company submitting the new proposal (Eucan), and the city gets ad revenue from them already. So the burning question is, how much revenue is the city making already, and what do they stand to gain? And, mainly, how does it affect us?

Stephen Ursey wrote about the bins last September in WasteAge; "Eucan pays Toronto a flat monthly fee for each bin and cuts the city a slice of the ad revenue in exchange for emptying the containers. The contract netted the city about $800,000 last year [2003]."

FYI the 2005 budget is $7.1 billion, $1 billion of which is earmarked for the "Clean and Beautiful City" program.

Ursey writes that in the new proposal, "Eucan proposed adding up to 2,500 much larger containers to the streets of Toronto and moving the existing ones to parks and schools. The proposed bins stand roughly 7.5 feet tall, with illuminated ad space the same size often seen on bus shelters. Unlike the existing bins, the new containers feature ad space that meets advertising industry standards, which could make them more appealing to businesses and therefore generate more revenue for the city (...). Eucan also proposed installing another 2,500 new receptacles that are about 5 feet in height and have no ad space."

Clearly, the council is hoping for public support because of the additional cash. I respect that - Toronto is a big city and has a lot of expenses. It is unclear (by which I mean, unmentioned) how much additional revenue the bins are expected to bring in. How much is enough to justify it? And is advertising really a solution to Toronto's budgetary issues, or will it create more problems?

My first objection to the bins is that they're electric, and surely we should be reducing the amount of electricity used by the city in general, not seeking to increase it (Because, see, electricity costs money. And as an advanced, G8 nation, we're supposed to be savvy about that sort of thing). Especially for something as inessential as to better appreciate the condensation on the massive can of beer blocking the sidewalk.

Second, could there be a larger impediment to just walking down the street? The bins are designed so the ad surface faces traffic, meaning five feet of sidewalk is out of commission. There are plenty of sidewalks that aren't even five feet across. Moreover, the openings for trash are along the short sides; the only more inconvenient placement would be in the top.

Thirdly, can anyone really describe the streets of Toronto as beautiful with the bins we have now? (Think of all those charming real estate agent ads). With 7ft tall ads staring at you, you won't be able to see anything else (including the people walking towards you). I'm so tired of the city sacrificing appearances for revenue (I've already moaned about the streetcar catastrophe), is it so wrong to keep some of the space clear?

I also think it's hypocritical for the council to whinge about people taping photocopied posters on street lamps yet enable huge companies with no real need of additional advertising to block pedestrian traffic.

So - let the council know what you think. Perhaps we can encourage a redesign that focuses on keeping the streets clean and, if not beautiful, at least inoffensive and fully functional.

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