A massive congratulatory shout out and thank you is due to Devon Ostrom and the Beautiful City Alliance on behalf of the city of Toronto. With little but an imperative to act, a willingness to collaborate, and the long-suffering of an ascetic, this determined group of young people were able to establish some cultural sustainability within the city by successfully petitioning council for a new tax on billboards, with a percentage of the monies generated going to a fund for city beautification through local arts. The billboard tax passed a day or so ago, at $10.4 million in revenue annually along with the new bylaw! But don’t take it from me.
This massive step forward means that thousands of arts projects will eventually be funded and that many of the problems associated with excessive and illegal billboard signage are finally being addressed… It needed to be done this way to get it through Council at the amount necessary to compensate Torontonians properly for use of public space — and not have a bunch of Councillor’s personal projects and agendas eat away at the allotment. To be short, it was the best way to get a clean vote.
While some councilors with their eyes on the corporate dollar are non-plussed right now, I can’t imagine that this is really so bad for them. Canadian cities have a very limited set of tax-tools that they can use to generate income and a disproportionate amount of it comes from property tax. Moving in the direction of diversification in this way should be welcome, even if it feels pyrrhic from their perspective. Especially with all of the public buy-in. Not to mention the overwhelming media support. If you have some time, definitely read up on this initiative. It was a very, very long and tough battle that tested organization, commitment, and resolve but this alliance of artists and supporters got it done.
I had actually been asked to depute on behalf of the alliance before the Toronto city council, but because things were constantly getting pushed back it wasn’t possible. While I won’t break out the full deputation here, I’ll riff on what I wrote briefly to reflect upon the victory.
So Mississauga, where my parents eventually moved to, is west of Toronto. This means to come into the city there were two ways to do it. Either by car taking the Gardiner Expressway, or by public transit – the bus-to-subway mission. Both ways gave you very different entries into the city and I loved them both.
When you’re flying down the Gardiner, just as you hit the curve by Ontario Place, there’s this straightaway where the city just opens up, and it’s pretty breathtaking. One of the things that can be seen is an impressive stretch of billboards on the left. I always liked reading the advice that would come across the Inglis billboard or seeing the new 3-D ones that the airlines would sometimes mount. I had no idea how or when they changed them, and that was cool to me. But then coming in by the subway there were other things to see, particularly the wall in between Keele and Dundas West stations. It was and still is one of the most famed graffiti spots in the city and a place where I saw some of the most iconic images of my young life. That space between those two stations was endearing me to the city every time I’d pass it by. The idea that there were people out there making the city more beautiful of their own volition made it seem more alive and vibrant to me.
This initiative is a way to bring those two experiences of very different art into a mutually supportive relationship, and there’s something about that that’s really cool.
Now, toasting to success, let’s take a look around this beautiful city with the homie Drake: