Queers are join-ing the chorus of grassroots groups opposing the city’s latest attempt to restrict postering.
Last week the city’s planning and transportation committee voted in favour of recommending that council pass a bylaw to ban posters on 98 percent of hydro poles in the city. The issue will be debated by the full council on Tue, Apr 12.
Queer artists, promoters and activists who use the low-cost method of communicating are angry that the ban, talks of which last surfaced in 2002, has been resurrected.
“It’s amazing how out of touch these people down there really are,” says Reg Hartt, who regularly posters for film showings at his Cineforum. “These councillors. I mean, they’re not a part of the life of the city.”
The antipostering bylaw is led by city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong of Don Valley East who has decried hydro pole postering as litter.
“It seems ridiculous to let cleanliness trump free speech,” says Paul Bowser of the student group Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals And Transgendered Of The University Of Toronto (LGBTOUT). Bowser has postered to advertise the group’s monthly Homohop dances.
Though there has been at least one outlandish claim that posters are distracting to drivers, the councillors who are bringing it forward talk mostly about urban aesthetics.
Kyle Rae, councillor for Toronto Centre-Rosedale, which includes the gay village, says something has to be done to curb excessive postering.
“There needs to be some regulation. It is out of control,” says Rae.
The current proposal would designate about 4,000 poles across the city for postering, though it’s not clear how the poster poles would be chosen. The committee rejected the idea of installing collars on designated poles; without them some have said the bylaw will be virtually unenforceable. Rae says that a bylaw that restricted postering to two poles per block would be fair. (That said, many blocks only have two hydro poles.)
Groups such as the Toronto Public Space Committee and the Toronto Coalition To Stop The War have come out strongly against the proposed ban, focussing on the contradiction between banning grassroots communication while corporate advertising looms ever larger in the city on billboards, bus shelters and monster garbage cans.
And it bothers some activists when companies that can afford mainstream advertising use postering – a strategy that keeps costs low and aspires to cloak the advertiser in street credibility.
“That totally offends me, when the CBC is putting up posters. Corporations that have enough money to do other campaigns co-opt the public realm,” says Bowser.
Cheryl Dobinson, who has used postering to promote her zine The Fence, says better manners would improve the situation. Mainstream companies and organizations should leave the free postering arena for grassroots people.
“Come on, don’t put an ad for a commercial product over some little community event flyer,” she says. “It’s just not nice.”
While Rae supports some kind of crackdown, he admits that there should be an allowance for community groups.
“Community groups can’t afford to buy ads,” he says. “I would rather they were the only ones allowed. If you are a corporation or a commercial organization, why are you doing this?”
Rae complains of a campaign by Cube nighclub, which he says was a “wallpapering of Alexander St.” (Rae lives on Alexander St.)
“Every pole, every parking meter box, every piece of furniture, everything was covered with several copies of an ad,” Rae says. “It was complete disregard for the public space.”
Cube owner Dwayne Scott says his club hasn’t done any postering recently, so any wallpapering wasn’t him. Scott says Cube uses posters from time to time because it works.
“It is the most effective medium out there for bringing business into your establishment,” he says.
Scott has no problem with having only designated poles available. But he says council, including Rae, should focus on more important things.
“They are worrying about flyering and you have drugs taking over the community,” Scott said. “Come on, let’s get real. He’s worrying about flyering and they need to repave all of Church St.”
The committee’s recommendations for the bylaw do include an exemption for notices of lost persons, lost pets or yard sales. The Public Space Committee points out that bake sales, piano lessons, community meetings, political gatherings, art exhibits and cultural events are not exempt. Neither are Homohops, queer zines, movie showings and nightclubs.
How barren concrete or wood hydro poles will be an aesthetic improvement is a question the bylaw pushers haven’t been forced to address.