TTC “activism” threatened took over my life in 2007. I presented to the TTC a full year ago, waiting a mere five hours to do so and arriving with three perfect coffee-table books to hand out. (TTC never figured out it could download a tagged PDF of that book and print it at will on their own machines.) I met TTC staff several times, and made even more “deputations.”
I wrote a giant paper on TTC signage and delivered it at a major typography conference – to a largely indifferent audience, I later discovered. I attracted a shocking amount of press coverage, and would have garnered even more if, for example, CBC producers actually used E-mail as something other than a way to set up phone calls I never planned to return. I was pleasantly shocked at the turnout for my TTC Type & Tile Tours. I’m still amazed at that, actually, and you have my continued thanks. (I took people’s advice and offered to run custom tours just for TTC staff, which might actually happen.)
The Toronto Preservation Board took the first steps toward designating some subway stations as heritage properties. I was warned, in really the nicest possible way, by the TTC chair’s deceptively plump and lovable assistant that they would oppose such plans tooth and nail and would take this right to the wall. This is only part of the bad news: I know for a fact (I have all their documents) that nothing I did made any impression inside the TTC at all. TTC staff are now rather frosty and defensive, and I’m talking about people whom I like and respect, who actually understand the issues, and whom I’ve publicly credited as such.
The TTC, in one case abetted by a tax-haven foundation that (I say again) nobody had ever heard of, seems intent to barrel right on with its unpopular, expensive, criminally unnecessary plans to remove and destroy its own heritage.
And all this is happening on the watch of the 30-year-old Macintosh user whom some of you still think is a wunderkind. He’s a trained archæologist, he says the first thing that pops into his mind, he’s appallingly ineffective at public speaking (and mangles even the simplest proper names), and he absolutely positively wants all this to happen. He singled me out in the press as the only person on the planet who has a problem with Sheppard-style signage, and he’s never once attempted to start a conversation.
To sum up, then: The only people who don’t support me are the people who have the ability to do what I want.
For the TTC meeting of 2008.01.23, I submitted a letter along the following lines.
Review of the first year of oversight of TTC signage destruction and neglect
A year has passed since I made my first presentation to the Commission on the deplorable state of signage in the subway. What’s happened since?
- TTC Commissioners, opting to do something with an effect equal to nothing, called for two reports – one on signage in general and another on handwritten signs. Both reports gave guilty parties (i.e., staff) a golden opportunity to insist that everything was ohh-tay!
- Those reports also enabled Chair Giambrone and CGM Webster to answer every question – even “Hi, how are you today?” – with the off-topic and plainly false bromide that the TTC has a signage standard and everybody’s happy when it’s applied consistently.
- I proved – in public presentations, online, in the press, and in well-attended Type & Tile Tours – that the TTC has a unique typographic heritage which it is busily destroying in favour of a half-arsed copy of Massimo Vignelli’s designs for the New York City subway from nearly 40 years ago.
- One hand of the TTC didn’t know what the other was doing: Under the auspices of (necessary) repairs to St. George, the TTC planned to remove, and presumably destroy, the vestiges of the Paul Arthur signage prototype that had been in place there for 14 years. (TTC spent about $350,000 on that prototype, then ignored it when it tested better than existing signs. I know – I checked the archives. Those vestiges should have been taken down in 1993 after testing ended.) After a great hue and cry, TTC was able to feel righteous for making a promise not to destroy the signs after all. (They’re still in place, and St. George is in even worse shape.)
- It was demonstrated that the current TTC signage manual was tested once with about a dozen people (in a different form from the ultimate design). It was further demonstrated that the man who oversaw that project has been unable – twice – to find the right exit at Sheppard-Yonge station. The man who managed the Sheppard signage project was unable to use Sheppard signs… twice.
- TTC signage attracted a great deal of press coverage. In one article, Chair Giambrone as much as claimed that everybody is ohh-tay! with Sheppard-style signs – “except, of course, for Joe Clark.” It always feels special to be singled out in the press by elected officials. Here the claim that I am the sole person complaining is used as a means of suggesting I must be wrong. (I’m not.)
- TTC staff ignored a solicited proposal to numerically survey the range of signage variation in the system.
- During the Bloor-Danforth subway diversion of February 2007, TTC monumentally screwed up signage even though it knew it was being watched. Not only were the prepared signs too big, too wordy, and incomprehensible, they were plastered over by handwritten and home-printed signs. And at no time was accessibility considered.
- That’s not all that happened while the TTC knew it was being watched. Having been taken in by bagmen from a foundation nobody had ever heard of, and having handed a starchitect half a million bucks without a tender, TTC forged ahead with the entirely unwanted gussying-up of Museum station in Egyptian drag. TTC proposed renovations for more than a half-dozen stations that would simply remove and destroy every vestige of existing signage. The Bloor line’s signature glazed tile was set to be replaced with “artificial stone,” proving that nothing is ever too fake for the TTC.
- Even after a TTC architect admitted that the TTC couldn’t get something as simple as letterspacing of the TTC typeface right, it forged ahead and set the word MUSEUM on the walls of that station as tight as CorelDraw would allow. (In black-on-brown type that’s mounted too low to be seen from a subway car, no less.)
- This pattern of desecration and neglect of the TTC’s heritage attracted the attention of the Toronto Preservation Board, which voted to receive a report on designating some stations as heritage properties. I was warned by Chair Giambrone’s deceptively cheerful political operative that he, Giambrone, and/or the TTC would go right to the wall to keep that from happening. Signage has become a political issue Chair Giambrone feels he cannot afford to lose at any cost. I thought it was about getting people from point A to point B.
I have been publicly corrected in my oft-stated maxim that something is wrong when all the people who love the TTC don’t work there. One TTC employee who loves the system has identified himself. (I guess we can start a list.) So let me update that maxim to say that something is wrong when the people who want to destroy the TTC’s type and tile heritage all work there. One of them is the chair.
TTC Commissioners and staff need to be clear on the fact that they approve and oversee the permanent destruction of irreplaceable TTC heritage. Don’t act like you don’t know.