Five ideas Philly should steal from Toronto

I’ve been in Toronto for the past few days and came back with five easy ideas that Philly could lovingly borrow from this neighbor to the north – beyond its cool Bixi bike-sharing program, cool new lakefront public spaces, and transit code of civility.

Pedal-powered trash cans

Pedal-powered bins line Toronto streets.
(Ashley Hahn, EOTS)

I use Philly’s BigBelly solar trashcans on South Street daily and I don’t believe they’re all that bad. Sure, people overstuff them and maintenance can be slow, but I think they have a worse rep than they deserve. The main complaint I hear: People are grossed-out by having to touch BigBelly can handles, claiming they’re germy and grimy.

Toronto has a solution for this microphobic problem: Rubbish cans operated with foot pedals. Step on the pedal to open flaps for trash and recyclables.

Who knows if our BigBellys could be retrofitted, but it could be a great adaptation that helps Philly curb its rampant litter problems.

Still, pedals aren’t a perfect solution. Brady Dale lauded the trashcans in a recent Next City piece, but a Torontonian commenter noted that these pedals don’t work for folks with limited mobility or in feet of snow. 

Curbside Compost Pickup

Curbside compost via Toronto's Green Bin program
(Ashley Hahn, EOTS)

In addition to having smart curbside receptacles for litter, Toronto also has household municipal compost pickup serving more than 500,000 households. Jealous.

Green Bins filled with organic waste – from veggie scraps to coffee grounds – are set out alongside the city’s standard issue trash cans and Blue Bins for recycling. The City of Toronto estimates that Green Bins divert about 30% of the city’s waste from landfills, and puts organic material to new uses. (Toronto’s target is 70% diversion for composting and recycling.)

Toronto’s composting program is so successful that the city is expanding the program to multi-unit buildings and expanding its capacity to handle organic waste processing within the city.

In Toronto’s denser neighborhoods you see trashcans sitting in front of houses all week (something prohibited by Philly’s code). It’s not especially sightly, but the bins don’t seem abused.

Development Notice Signage

Development notices for large projects are posted for at minimum 10 days in advance of the public meeting.
Development notices for large projects are posted for at minimum 10 days in advance of the public meeting.

Toronto is in a certifiable development boom with glassy residential towers cropping up like mushrooms after a rain. In order to ensure clear public notice for large developments, the city requires developers to post public big signs (measuring 48-inches square) using a standard design template to explain a proposed development. This signage must be posted at the site at least 10 days before a public meeting about the project.

Signs include project details (such as, number of units and parking spaces), type of variance requested, a small site plan or design, and the name and contact info of the city planner handling the project.

This simple but robust public notice requirement is exactly the sort of move that could help Philly neighbors get key information and be aware of when a meeting is scheduled for major projects. It would also help developers make sure fewer people could claim they never were informed about a particular development.

Decluttering Streets: Public Message Centres, Newspaper Condo Boxes

A Public Message Centre on a transit shelter helps condense poster clutter.
(Ashley Hahn, EOTS)

Another way Toronto is curbing litter and de-cluttering its streets is with “Public Message Centres.” These are billboards (either freestanding or on transit stops) along commercial corridors where anyone can post flyers and notices.

By making room for posters, they are more condensed into one space, as opposed to stuck all over utility poles and honor boxes.

And about those honor boxes – there are big curbside newspaper “condos” downtown that hold different publications in one uniform, centralized, easy to use space. It’s another way Toronto’s streetscapes have been tidied up thanks to standardized street furniture.

Shipping Container Vendors

Shipping containers have been converted for microbusinesses lining a wide sidewalk
(Ashley Hahn, EOTS)

Like Philly, Toronto is squarely on the food truck bandwagon. But another kind of vendor has cropped up on Toronto’s sidewalks using repurposed shipping containers as vendor stalls.

Toronto’s Scadding Court Community Centre retrofitted three shipping containers for 10 vendors a few years ago, creating Market 707 along Dundas Street’s wide sidewalk. The effect: a cheery set of microbusinesses – from gadgets to coffee – that enliven an otherwise broad and boring stretch of sidewalk with commerce and patio seating.

These days there are 12 vendors, each signing on for a year, with rents that start at $360 (about $379 USD) a month.

This year’s PHS Pop-up Garden features food/beer stalls from two retrofitted shipping containers and it would be cool to see this idea tried out on underused spaces that would benefit from a few seasonal vendors. Imagine temporary stalls for vendors selling picnic food in a parking lot at FDR Park or ice cream outside the Race Street Pier.

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