Public Space Cadet


Toronto City Hall from above. Photo by Sam Javanrouh.

In last Thursday’s post on David Miller and the recent Toronto election, our handsome and talented Hogtown correspondent, Siqi Zhu, briefly wrote about the Toronto Public Space Committee and its rise to prominence in the civic lovefest of the Miller era. Now, there is absolutely no doubt that the TPSC has indeed risen to prominence: the latest issue of Toronto Life, the glossy journal of the city’s chattering classes, includes a lengthy profile of the Public Space Committee and its founder, Dave Meslin.

The Toronto Public Space Committee is at the forefront of a resurgence in Toronto civic spirit, one rooted in the city’s west end and a clique of devoted followers with a decidedly grassroots, populist vision of urban design, development and planning — “the spiritual grandchildren of the late Jane Jacobs,” as Toronto Life calls them.

It continues:

These neo-Jacobites are taking pride in a city with perennial self-esteem issues, making an emotional investment in a way that hasn’t been seen for a very long time. Many subscribe to what the local music community calls Torontopia—a defiant optimism designed to eradicate the “Toronto sucks” attitude of generations past. … Through Meslin’s lobby group the Toronto Public Space Committee and its adjunct magazine Spacing, the neo-Jacobites have pitched a tent big enough to house an assemblage of like-minded but previously unconnected groups, including bike nuts, artists, musicians, writers, photographers, civic activists, community gardeners, local musicians and energy conservationists. Equally important, they’ve fostered an environment where acts of urban intervention—like Murmur, a project that allows pedestrians to retrieve audio commentary via cell phone in selected portions of the city; or geeky bursts of eccentricity like the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide, a tiny pamphlet that shaves seconds off your daily commute by showing how the subway cars align with escalators, exits and transfer points at various stations—are encouraged into being.

What Toronto Life describes, and what Dave Meslin is at the heart of, is a veritable revolution in Toronto public discourse: for the first time, there is an informed, comprehensive and widespread understanding of public space and civic culture. Torontonians are often accused by other Canadians of navel-gazing, but the reality is that, until recently, they have taken their city for granted.

The essential stops on any online tour of Toronto are as follows: the TPSC website, with details on the committee’s latest lobbying efforts; Spacing magazine and its indispensible Spacing Wire blog; the TTC Subway Rider Efficiency Guide; and the Urban Toronto discussion forum. Joe Clark, through his blog Fawny, sympathizes with Meslin and his movement but is nonetheless highly critical of it; a recent post on the Toronto Life article outlines his main points of contention.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday November 20 2006at 12:11 am , filed under Canada, Politics, Society and Culture and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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