Public Squares art group celebrate Toronto blackout anniversary

Todd sez, "A new group of activists in Toronto, the Public Squares, coordinated the temporary conversion of the intersection of Bloor and Spadina into a piazza with trees, fountain and dozens of revellers. From the group:"

Blackout Anniversary Five years ago the lights went out on some 100 million people. We spilled out of our home-box, work-box, shopping and car boxes. We stepped away from computers, microwaves and TV's. The streets became our living rooms as we shared the good company of friends and strangers alike. We rediscovered the power and vitality of the commons. Last night's temporary reclamation of Bloor & Spadina is a festive demonstration of how our city could evolve. The streets and avenues are the veins and arteries of the city. Great intersections like this one are vital organs where people are drawn to work, eat, play and commune. This connection of citizens creates a livable city in a way that an easy left turn never will. See for yourself how this thousand square feet of pavement can better serve us all. "Get out of your box and into the square." - the Public Squares
Blackout Anniversary Parade (Thanks, Todd!)


  1. Although I love public pedestrian space and loathe automobile traffic, this sounds almost as impolite as Critical Mass.

    I’m sure it was very fun for the people who were blocking traffic. But how can you possibly persuade drivers to join your side if you’re perceived as an irritation?

  2. Maybe it will evolve into a structured, scheduled event? That would eliminate the element of surprise and truly let everyone in on the fun.

  3. Rather than annual events such as this, I would prefer to see public space rethought a bit. Much of North America’s downtown public space is only able to be “enjoyed” from within the confines of a car. In the face of rising deaths from smog, traffic fatalities, and (from a pragmatic point of view) the rising cost of gas, it is clear to me that a change needs to occur. This change includes a shift from car culture to a more mixed culture within downtown areas that could be (and often already are in some cases) better designed to be enjoyed by all people, regardless of how they choose to get around the city. Many European cities (Copenhagen comes to mind first, of course) are already making positive changes in this direction.

    @Mattymatt Not to start an interminable CM debate (that I have yet to see anyone from either side win), but I think that the behaviour of CM groups varies from city to city and with that politness shown varies as well. What often is misinterpreted as being impolite is more accurately termed “maintaining the safety of the group”. Cars are prevented from entering into the middle of a group because once there they pose a significant risk to the safety of the riders therein. Thus the “corking” and continuation of the cyclists through an intersection despite the changing of a light. (In my experience, CM rides that arrive at a red light *do* stop for them). Now the behaviour of the individuals in the group towards people/motorists can vary from place to place. I’ve seen very little such confrontation here in Toronto (impatient motorists generally keep their cool and cyclists, when not threatened by motorists also do the same). Again, this can vary from city to city as well.

    But specific to this event, there were a few differences. First off, the entire event lasted less than 15 minutes from start to finish. During that time, the intersection was never completely closed but instead traffic was permitted to make right turns around a circle in the centre. Given that traffic was able to keep moving, all of the motorists I saw were more amused than annoyed. The interactions between the police and the group were also very respectful and civil and thus didn’t escalate. Police arrived, the event wrapped up and moved out of the intersection with police directing traffic for the few min it took to disassemble things.

    What I think was interesting about the event was how it presented a vision of a city whose public space is not just dominated by cars but shared and enjoyed by all. I know, I’m terribly idealistic…

  4. Mattymatt: “Although I love public pedestrian space and loathe automobile traffic, this sounds almost as impolite as Critical Mass.”

    Since this parade appeared in Toronto’s Globe & Mail, I doesn’t sound like it was a spur of the moment event that Critical Mass are, but a licensed event with the police themselves shutting down roads for this parade. Which is actually something that drivers of Toronto are used to. Whether it’s Carabana, the Gay Pride Parade, Taste of the Danforth, or some other event busy Toronto streets often getting temporary closed down for various events during the summer.

  5. I live in Cleveland, Ohio (well, the ‘burbs thereof, at any rate), the place where it all began. A number of establishments, including the bar up the block from my house, held Blackout Anniversary parties by candlelight. I don’t know about anyone else, but it was kind of cool to interact by candlelight with friends and neighbors.

    I plan to be in Toronto this coming weekend. Now there’s a town that knows how to hold a party, regardless of the impetus.

  6. This event can’t have been all that disruptive. I live two blocks away–I can see the intersection from my balcony and the Seven-Eleven whose lighted awning is visible at the left of the photo is where I buy my milk–and I had no idea it was even occurring until I saw this post.

    But then, by happenstance I was in Boston the day of the blackout, so perhaps there’s some karmic thing going on.

  7. > In the face of rising deaths from smog, traffic fatalities

    Uh…what ?

    Traffic fatalities have been falling for decades, and air quality gets better every year.

    References for your assertions?

  8. That was great fun. The feds are worried about terrorists. I’m now afraid of trees, since they seem to cause their more than their fair share of trouble.

  9. Air quality gets better every year? Reference for that assertion, please?

    You got me on the traffic fatalities side – especially given the rising fuel costs. However traffic deaths are still a bigger problem than homicide in Toronto (source)

    As for air quality – the Canadian Medical Association has this to say about the trend in deaths due to air quality.


    The event listed in the Globe and Mail was indeed
    organized, but was a different event–a Blackout version of something that happens monthly during the summer here called Pedestrian Sundays.

    While this was organized as well, there was no permit obtained, as far as I know.

    But it was lovely.

  11. for the record, traffic was diverted or funneled to one lane…it was never completely blocked and amounted to about as much inconvenice as your runofthemill fender bender or summer construction or gum ad or TIFF promo or whatever the heck some other people’s idea of progress could be…

    it was a temporary public square complete with italian plum tree, a fountain and music to dance in the streets to

    it was a vision of the toronto that is possible

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