Activist website launches to I.D. Toronto’s ‘illegal’ billboards
Toronto is a hotbed of billboards that stray outside approved formats according to a new grassroots group that just launched an interactive blog and website to track the city's efforts to reverse the problem. IllegalSigns.ca names names and invites visitors to share info about who's allegedly being bad in the realm of public space.
A grassroots community activist group has launched a new website, IllegalSigns.ca, mapping out the locations, and identifying the operators, of billboards in Toronto it deems ‘illegal.’ What kinds of rules do they claim are being broken? Signs are going up without permits. New ads are going up too close to existing ads. Some signs are too big, others are using vinyl wall murals where permits have been granted for non-illuminated painted signs only. In fact, according to IllegalSigns.ca, a host of rules set out in the city’s signs bylaw are being flouted.
At IllegalSigns.ca, users can click on a Google-powered satellite map to see individual billboards across the city, or search the signs by operator. The site allows users to click on billboards managed by top agencies such as Abcon, Astral Media, CBS Outdoor, Clear Channel, Pattison Outdoor, Strategic Media, StreetLife and Titan. The group claims the information on its maps has been verified by the City of Toronto’s Tri-Departmental Task Force on Illegal Signs, which has issued removal orders for over 200 of them. The site also allows users to report errors or inaccuracies, submit their own photos, share information via Google Spreadsheets, or sign up as volunteers in the fight against illegal advertising.
IllegalSigns.ca coordinator and local activist Rami Tabello says the group has identified 350 billboards they believe are outside the city’s restrictions and estimates there’s about 1,500 in total. The problem has evidently increased since the city’s amalgamation. IllegalSigns.ca‘s audits of Municipal Licensing and Standards shows that, since the creation of the Greater Toronto Area, officers don’t have a clue about how to investigate billboards. The group says about 100 permits have been issued for billboard advertising that doesn’t meet restrictions that are supposed to be enforced by the city.
‘Illegal billboards are a blight to our streetscapes,’ says Tabello. ‘They undermine what is unique about our neighbourhoods by destroying a sense of place. Our stunning satellite map of illegal billboards shows a city inundated with illegal advertising.’ IllegalSigns.ca is independent of the Toronto Public Space Committee, another group which tracks issues related to outdoor advertising, although the two groups have publicly supported each other’s mandates.