The City of Toronto’s latest initiative is the very epitome of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure: the city continues to sell decommissioned street signs to the highest bidder.
The auctions started last month through a deal with Platinum Liquidations, who set up an online auction selling their the old signs to people who want a piece of Toronto from days gone by. The city replaces roughly 1,800 signs per year for various reasons, from legibility to damage, and usually they go straight into recycle bins. But by auctioning them off, the city’s transportation services can make some money off their trash.
Here’s how it works: Starting with minimum $30 bids, the city lets anyone bid on the signs in $5 increments. After 60 days, the auction closes and the sign is given to the highest bidder. 20 signs are released every week and money raised through the sales goes directly back into the city’s transportation services division. They haven’t released a master list of signs going to auction, so it’s best to check back every week to see if the street you want is there. Just a warning, the more severely damaged or illegible signs are still going into the trash heap.
And the initiative is working. The site brought had over a million views on its first day, enough to crash the page. With those numbers, competition is stiff. Some of the more popular signs, like Bloor St. W, have reached over $300 and still climbing.
The move is not without controversy and, like many of Toronto’s headlines this year, Rob Ford is once again at the centre. On leave from his Mayoral duties, Mr. Ford has been signing the signs with a gold sharpie. Some see it as an autograph, prices for these signs have been much higher than those without, but others see it as defacing. The city itself thinks worries the signatures are stopping some people from bidding, so now all signatures must get approval from the city planner. After all, if you would just like the sign as is, why would you want a bright gold and very permanent scribble on it?
For my part, the signs seem like an excellent idea, both as a way to recoup costs for the city and lets people show some pride in their city. Many citizens have grown up on certain streets, maybe even for generations, so having such a sign would be a point of pride for families in the area. Of course, plenty of frat houses around town have been preemptive in street sign removal, and they aren’t the only ones.
Toronto hopes this will be an ongoing program for decommissioned street signs and hopefully these signs find good homes. A personal favourite is the old acorn style signs. The distinct shape and print reminds me of the Toronto I visited before I moved here. I’m sure for others, these signs can be a part of their family history. The auction, at its core, is about helping things change while still valuing what came before.