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Take a look at this finely crafted piece of graphic design.

This is a public notice sign. It’s what the City of Toronto uses to announce to the public that an application/development proposal has been made. Caveat: The City has since added a photo of the project.

This approach irks me for a number of reasons.

First, and this is the architect in me, it does not convey the development project in a meaningful way. All 45-storey towers are not created equal and by simply stating the height it paves the way for NIMBY’ism (Not In My Back Yard). What about the massing of the project? I could give you plenty examples of 20 storey buildings that are far more offensive than a slender 40 storey tower.

Second, they’re called public notice signs. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that “Application No. 06 235235…”, “official plan amendment”, or “amendment to the zoning by-law” resonate all that much with the general public. Dave Meslin handles this topic well in his TEDx talk and argues that it actively discourages public engagement.

Third, and most important to the topic of Dirt, is this an effective way of communicating in the 21st century? This is a form of real estate activity. It’s it’s the ground work for a future development. Developers often take the approach that it’s better to fly under the radar to avoid community opposition, but is improving community engagement actually the answer? I’ve spoken about startup Popularise before and they’re doing exactly that: Asking communities what they want to see built.

To bring this back to Dirt, my point is that a lot of activity related to real estate is being lost in the shuffle: planning applications, construction, transactions, cool new designs, etc. Dirt is intended as a crowd-sourcing tool to capture all of this information so that it can be disseminated in targeted ways.

However, one thing I’ve struggled with is whether or not this should be a tool for professionals, consumers, community constituents or all of the above? Is the average person interested in city building or is it a niche market for professionals/enthusiasts? I’m a difficult judge because I’m the biggest city geek around — would love to get your thoughts (leave a comment).

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