The metered city

A medley of meters standing watch over…something or other.

Our modern urban infrastructure is so pervasive that most of it goes virtually unnoticed. But every once in a while, something appears just out of place enough to make you stop and wonder what it’s doing there. For example, an electricity meter strapped to a light pole directly above a pedestrian “push to cross” button, its familiar flat disk spinning slowly and recording usage of, um, what exactly? Surely it’s not metering the little light that glows after you press the button.

Since first puzzling over that meter at Kingston Road & Celeste Drive earlier this year, I’ve been noticing a lot more of them in odd locations. Some of the places deemed to require monitoring include the edge of a forested park, a hydro pole with big fat conduits leading to a small grey box, and a lamp post with no obvious connection to anything (all pictured above). Unlike meters at cellular or broadcast transmission towers, these don’t seem to be associated with any particular structure or electricity consumer. So what are they measuring, and for whom? It’s a bit of a mystery.

Sadly, Toronto Hydro hasn’t yet responded to my week-old query about the purpose of these seemingly random meters. Whenever I call or email someone to ask for an explanation or clarification about some obscure piece of infrastructure, I feel like I’m more likely to be put on a terrorist watch list than I am to get an answer. I wonder if The Fixer and Urban Decoder ever feel that way.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

Just monkeying around

How’s it hanging?

One of my neighbours keeps monkeys, hanging them from the utility wires along the street. There were only a few until last year, when the population exploded to the current dozen or so lining almost the entire block.

Shortly after we all learned through a Fixer column last year that one of the locals was taking the proliferation of monkeys a little too personally, a petition was affixed to the pole closest to the monkeys’ home pleading for the continued presence of the playful primates.

Watching the world And a koala too

The monkeys have since spread so far along the street that it’s hard to miss them unless you’re staring at your feet for the entire block. So I have to admit to a bit of amusement at learning that the Toronto Psychogeography Society walked right past without seeing them last week.

In fairness, many of the monkeys were camouflaged by trees at the time and the Society did their stroll under cover of darkness.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

Life out of balance

(I liked the headline from my recent Torontoist post on the same subject that I’m reusing it.)

Rock towers in the Humber River
Peter Riedel could hardly have chosen a better location to ply his trade. I’ve seen rock balancers in the eastern beaches, in the western beaches, and even at the Ex, but this is the first time I’ve seen one working the Humber River. Literally in the river.

The artist and some of his creationsThe Humber cascades over a low waterfall in Étienne Brûlé Park before bubbling just a few centimetres deep across a short stretch of river rock. The only sounds here come from the rushing river and picnicking families. Visitors to the park on a busy Sunday afternoon include cyclists, walkers, joggers, and skaters. And then there’s the guy crouched in the middle of the river with a rock in his hands, surrounded by some 50 rock towers of every imaginable description.

Riedel, who has been balancing rocks on the Sunnyside Beach seawall for three seasons, recently moved up the Humber to take advantage of the idyllic setting, the abundant raw material, and the permanence the river lends to his work. He found Sunnyside less than ideal with the constant din of nearby traffic on Lake Shore and the Gardiner breaking his concentration and the constant danger that his towers would be toppled by careless passersby and malcontents. In contrast, it’s hard to imagine anyone accidentally bumping into a rock tower in the middle of a river.

The phallic sectionDaryl Maddeaux, who builds impressive towers at the Ex and other special events, once answered a query from the crowd by saying that rock balancing is more about patience than skill, and that anyone could do it. Since then, I’ve always wanted to try my hand at it. Unfortunately, I’m fairly certain that I don’t have the patience. For the moment, I’ll settle for the home version I received as a gift last year.

50 perfectly-balanced towers in the river

More than 50 towers dotted the river by the time Peter was done that day.

The view from afar

From afar and backlit, the towers look like people standing in the river. Only one of them in the picture above actually is a person.

There’s no trickery involved in rock balancing, just patience, skill, and artistry. Maddeaux always makes a point of knocking down his towers at the Ex by lobbing little pebbles at them, to demonstrate that the towers are held together by nothing but gravity and even the slightest shift will topple them. Life, out of balance.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

The monuments of Scarborough

I posted about Scarborough’s own version of the CN Tower a few weeks ago, which the Summer 2007 issue of Spacing says will soon be torn down. The Scarborough Tower that is, not the CN Tower. Little did I know that the Scarborough Tower was just the beginning.

The Scarborough Arch

I was delighted to discover recently that Scarborough boasts its own version of St. Louis’s Gateway Arch. Rising an impressive 2.5 metres above the pathway on Midland Ave and offering commanding views of the nearby sidewalk, the arch truimphantly marks the symbolic gateway to the Midland Court Apartments and commemorates the relentless Eastward Expansion of the city. (If you look closely at the Google satellite photo, you can see the graceful outline of the arch just to the left of the green arrow in the middle of the map.)

All manner of monuments, attractions, and landmarks dot the Scarborough landscape, many of them recalling the style of more famous brethren. Think Miniature Village without the tourists (much as it was during its final years). Or Las Vegas without the glitz.

Spidey has it covered

Spider-Man covers the lawn

One of my neighbours has found a new use for those giant vinyl outdoor ads that frequently grace the sides of large buildings and the pages of illegalsigns.ca: landscape fabric. He’s cut up this Spider-Man sign to provide some cover for his lawn. Spidey never looked so good.

I haven’t caught anyone at home during the week I’ve been walking and cycling past this sight, so I don’t yet know the full story behind the unusual re-use. Time will tell if it’ll end up as the base layer of a new garden. In the meantime, I’ll smile at the poetic justice of dozens of neighbourhood dogs peeing on what was likely an illegally-posted sign in its day.

Alternative title for this post: Christo in Toronto redux.

Update, June 13: Sometime between 5:30 last night and 8:30 this morning, Spidey was removed from the lawn and rolled up in the driveway. No word yet on whether he’ll be back to fight another day or if his lawnfighting days are behind him.

Smart cop, green cop

There’s a new sheriff in town, and he sure looks Smart

I saw this Smart police car in action on McCaul on the weekend, not too long after it was added to the fleet. The parking enforcement officer was merrily writing tickets a little further up the street.

Add a loudspeaker and some long eyelashes over the headlights, and this Fortwo would make a better police spokescar than Blinky ever was, that’s for sure.

This month’s The Badge (page 6, PDF) reports that Parking Enforcement is also testing a Civic Hybrid as part of its fuel-efficient fleet.

You are caught

You are caught thinking about killing anyone you want

This little plaque on the facade of 778 King Street West, just west of Tecumseth, has intrigued me for years. Either it’s wrong, or there are a lot of angry people walking along King Street.

It seems that this is the work of an American artist named Jenny Holzer, as part of a collection of works called Survival. That said, I don’t know if this is an original installation, a reproduction, or merely an homage.