James Russell scrapes a poster off a street light post along Queens Quay. If it weren’t for the spray bottles, X-acto knife and scraper, Russell would look just like any other business professional. He’s wearing black dress pants, a collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up and stylish round-framed glasses. A corporate writer, he spends several hours each week taking down posters, covering the blocks between the corner of Bay Street to the Radisson.
“You’re showing that there are people in the area who care,” he says. Nobody pays him to do it, but since the city isn’t enforcing its poster by-law, he feels someone has to step in.
The city’s street furniture plan includes designated kiosks for commercial posters, but until they’re in place, the city can’t stop companies from putting up posters elsewhere. So the ads get plastered all over street poles, cable and traffic control boxes.
It’s these, and not the community posters that Russell takes down. “You’re allowed to put up community posters, like ‘I lost my cat, I lost my spouse.’ But not, ‘Come and have 99-cent chicken wings at my pub on King Street. That’s not only illegal, it’s impolite.”
And while people who put up community posters usually just use scotch tape, or water-soluble glue, commercial postering outfits are using wallpaper paste. Even with his dish soap and water mixture, and his scraping tools, Russell can typically only take off thin strips from the posters.
But sometimes he finds them freshly mounted, and easy to remove. Last winter, Russell followed a man who was putting them up, and he started peeling them off behind him. The man noticed, and came over to ask what he was doing.
“Taking down the posters,” he remembers answering.
“But I just put them up.”
“Well, I’m taking them down.”
Russell turned around to continue his work when he felt a gush of cold water pour over him. Only, it wasn’t water. The angry posterer had drenched him with his bucket of wallpaper paste. Russell filed a police report – which went nowhere – and he lost his new Eddie Bauer jacket. But he kept his resolve.
And he’s not alone. There’s a growing crew of volunteers from the York Quay Neighbourhood Association who have followed his lead. They set out weekly to counter the endless barrage of commercial postering in their neighbourhood.
– Read more of Carolyn Morris’ columns at www.metronews.ca/carolynmorris