Fourth Wall: Communicating with the Public

This series features highlights from the ongoing exhibit The Fourth Wall: Transforming City Hall. The exhibit, on now at the Urbanspace Gallery, considers possible avenues to break down the barriers to participation in civic life that exist at Toronto’s City Hall.

Reposted from Spacing

Planning application notices. They are so banal that you’d be forgiven for not noticing them as you move about town or flip through The Sun*. But these dull documents hold an important key to engaging Toronto’s citizens in helping to shape their communities.

Under the Ontario Planning Act, developments requiring an Official Plan Amendment, a Zoning By-law Amendment, a Draft Plan of Subdivision or a Draft Plan of Condominium require the posting of a sign. The notice is intended to let the public know what’s happening and to make them aware of the avenues they have to provide their comments on the proposal.

The Act stipulates a number of text and graphic requirements including the date/time/location of the required public meeting, the purpose of the amendment, prompts about how to access additional information and a key map. A lot of information for a tiny little notice!What’s most unfortunate about all of these requirements is that in spite of their intention to ensure that the public is informed and engaged, they really do the opposite. Hidden in legalese, disguised by the drab design, the average citizen is likely to miss the fact that these notices are meant as an invitation to provide feedback on the proposed change.

Toronto’s not alone in this design disaster – we poured through notices from around the world and found nothing that seemed to be actively enticing citizens to speak up.

While a recent re-design has improved our local notice’s aesthetic considerably, the current model still leaves a lot to be desired.

In preparing The Fourth Wallwe put the call out to local designers to show us what’s possible with a little creativity. The designs they come up with use images, colour, plain language and tight focus to propel the reader into action.

Here’s a sample of the submissions:

Submitted by Carolyn Tripp

Submitted by Sasha Plotnikova

Submitted by Iva Jericevic

Submitted by Andrea Winkler, Anthony Greenberg, Ingrid Stromberg, Ian Malczewski & Elsa Fancello

Submitted by Jeff Robson

Submitted by Andrea Yip

Which do you like best? How would you design a public notice if you wanted people to participate in the conversation? How important is the design of a public notice to propel you into action?

* – In 2010, the City awarded the contract for publication of its public notices to the Toronto Sun, despite the fact that its readership is half the size of the Toronto Star’s.

The Fourth Wall: Transforming City Hall is on at the Urbanspace Gallery (401 Richmond St. W.) until the end of the year. The building is open weekdays, 7am to 7pm, and Saturdays, 9am to 6pm. Curated by Dave Meslin, Research by Hilary Best, Design by Adam Zinzan-Harris. Notice Submissions by Iva Jericevic, Andrea Yip, Carolyn Tripp, Jeff Robson, Sasha Plotnikova, Caroline Schutrumpf, Andrea Winkler, Anthony Greenberg, Ingrid Stromberg, Ian Malczewski & Elsa Fancello

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