Not long ago, Jason Logan found himself discussing the problem of bike lanes with editor-writer David Berlin. During the conversation, Berlin offered up an out-of-the-box idea that intrigued Logan, a creative director who has worked for numerous magazines and now runs his own studio. Why not repurpose Toronto’s downtown lanes and alleyways to serve as a bike path network?
Logan (BA 1997 Victoria) had more than just a cyclist’s interest in what would surely be a controversial proposal. He’s launched a campaign to persuade the city to establish an “office of creative direction,” an interdisciplinary “lab” that would work with the chief planner and council to facilitate innovative approaches to tenacious problems.
This city creative director (he’d take the job) would serve as a kind of urban translator between “dreamers” among the public on the one hand, and bureaucrats and elected officials on the other, many of whom prefer to say “no” instead of embracing visually inspired urban design and a creative approach to city planning. “That’s the true gap in Toronto,” says Logan. “I don’t think there’s any leader at City Hall thinking about the creative aspects of shaping a city.”
Earlier this year, he began talking up his plan in the media and set up a digital campaign, including an e-petition calling for the position to be created following the October election. Despite positive feedback from a few city councillors, he doesn’t want to tie the idea to a single mayoral candidate.
Logan was inspired by other cities. After Mexico City appointed Gabriella Gomez-Mont to set up an urban “laboratory” last year, for instance, she invited a wide array of creative professionals to tackle what Logan calls “really hardcore problems” – among them, the derelict and dangerous spaces lurking beneath the megacity’s highways and bridges.
The outcome: a new economic development program that allows upstart businesses to access those spaces inexpensively, on the understanding that part of the land will be set aside for civic or public uses such as parkettes, playgrounds and food stalls. Today, Logan says, the areas are becoming urban places that attract people and commercial activity.
For Toronto, Logan believes a civic creative director should focus on the subject that bedevils the city right now, which is congestion. The way forward, he argues, may well be to inject some right-brain thinking into an arena long dominated by left-brain types.
Logan wants graphic artists, poets, historians, doctors, computer programmers and even chefs to enliven a stalled debate with their own brand of creativity. As he puts it, “I’d bring some unexpected characters to the table.”