When a group of residents painted a street mural earlier this year in permanent colours and without city permission, they joined a new wave in the street art movement.
The initiative by the Regal Heights Residents’ Association not only made Springmount Ave. more beautiful, it added to a sense of community while making the street safer for children since drivers typically slow down to admire the art.
“We have murals all across Toronto and there’s lots of groups that do murals, but they’re only on walls. The biggest blank canvas we have is the streets,” said community activist Dave Meslin.
“The upside, other than beautifying the road — and roads are infamously ugly — is it’s also a very participatory project. This one was actually painted mostly by kids, which is the most exciting part,” Meslin said.
When Springmount was closed for the semi-annual street party on June 6, young and old gathered to paint the mural designed by local artist Melissa Frew and completed with the assistance of well-known street artist Victor Fraser.
“This is like a giant tattoo that marks something important in our lives,” said party organizer Greg Woodbury.
“The thing I noticed, once it was completed, was that cars were coming back and forth and every one slowed down and thought, ‘What the heck is that?’” he added.
“It was fun,” said Frew, who created a “3D water theme” inspired by the fact that long-buried Garrison Creek runs underneath the street.
Four months later, the design has weathered the elements as well as the occasional street cleaner, Frew said.
“I didn’t expect (the design) to last this long to be totally honest because it rained, crazy rained, the weekend after we did it and I thought for sure it was gone. Then I came here and I was like, ‘Wow, it’s still there.’ The plows (in winter) will be the real test,” she added.
Meslin said the idea came from Portland, Ore, and has since spread to other cities, including Vancouver, Kitchener and Ottawa, where officials have noted that street murals do slow down traffic.
“A (Portland) neighbourhood did it on their own without permission, they just painted on the street, the city got angry and wanted to remove it and there was so much support in the community and so much anger that the city was going to remove it that the city decided, ‘Well, why don’t we legalize these, why don’t we create a permit process?’” Meslin said.
“Portland has a permit process now for legalized murals because one community on their own broke the rules and did it. So we took a page from their history and we did this one without permission and, sure enough, the exact same thing is happening.”
Meslin said he’s been working with Ward 17 Councillor Cesar Palacio and city staff to create a similar policy in Toronto, hopefully by next summer.
“I support it 100 per cent,” said Palacio, who called the mural “so unique and so beautiful.”
“It’s set the pace for future projects throughout the City of Toronto. It’s a win-win situation. I’d rather have something like this than a speed bump, to be honest. Art is very close to my heart and I will do anything to continue promoting and working with residents,” he added.
Palacio said he’ll be pressing other members of council to support a permit process that complies with the city’s health and safety guidelines.
“I’m hoping that next year, instead of having one, we’re going to have to 10 (in the community).”