Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Street Furniture: Attack of the Charette

Originally published on EyeWeekly.com
Street Furniture: Attack of the Charette

Analyzing the aesthetic rationale at the street-furniture exhibition in Toronto City Hall yesterday was trying at best. This was especially true when I took a Mayor Miller quote into account that these new street furniture structures were meant to, “improve… elevate and celebrate Toronto’s urban beauty.”

For Jonathan Goldsbie of the Toronto Public Space Committee, Miller’s statement falls terrible short of the bike post: “For the most part, [all of the designs here] simply have no interest in the viewing pleasure for the public.”

This design charette included proposals from Astral Media, Clear Channel and CBS, but only one company will be given the contract to build. Although the victim of our design conclusions is often the dreaded advertisement, Neal Panchuk of the Zeidler Design Team for Clear Channel pointed out, “How else are you going to pay for them?”

Good point, but that simply points to a lack of municipal funding, which is really at the heart of the city’s need to contract externally in the first place. Panchuk, a resident of the city, aptly defended his team’s design pointing out various niceties that he, as a resident, would like to see on our streets.

“Public bathrooms in parks, proper poster boards, more flower planters… All of these things are good for a city to maintain, and that’s what we’re hoping will happen with our Clear Channel proposal.”

And what of other details the public might benefit from, say, above street level? Designing street lamps to reduce light pollution always seems like an overlooked idea, and they currently aren’t on any company’s agenda. Only one mock-up (Astral) includes thin, sleek lamps that look as though they were an afterthought.

Image courtesy of the Torontoist.com
This is perhaps less of a concern as opposed to bus stops and on-street advertising, but last time I checked, lamps were still integral to any city space. And yes, they count as furniture.

When I mentioned their inclusion in the Astral models, Panchuk explained, “We haven’t put them in there because it wasn’t part of the [city’s] initial request. Besides, there’s only so much you can design before the quality becomes compromised.”

At what point does that quality become compromised? Apparently, it’s when at which the design team is awarded the contract and city starts making their real demands.

“This is only a fraction of the many things we could do with streets and sidewalks,” explained Panchuk. There are apparently many things on the table post-win that the public won’t get or comment upon until the designs actually hit our streets.

This charette is simply meant to give examples of a much larger beast, and smaller details like lamps and bicycle posts are left biting the dust, one might conclude, because they’re just too small to slap ads anywhere on their surfaces. And while I’d like to retain some optimism for more fresh ideas come construction time, my doubts still remain.