Toronto artist wants to educate pedestrians with solar system street signs
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Torontonians interested in exploring outer space need look no further than the Christie Pits neighbourhood thanks to a local artist.
Jode Roberts, 38, has installed a series of signs, each denoting a planet, along Grace St. and Gore Vale Ave. between Christie St. and Queen St. W.
Meant to simulate a stroll through a scaled solar system, the Walkable Planets project allows locals to travel from the sun to Neptune without straying far from home or even donning a space suit.
Roberts’ planetary signs are supposed to educate local residents about the solar system by displaying quirky facts like, “At a scale of one-to-five billion, the sun would be the diameter of a hula hoop . . . Uranus would be the size of a quarter.”
Though Pluto is missing from the series because it was demoted to a dwarf planet in recent years, Roberts has arranged the remaining planets by their distance from the sun.
He uses the acronym “My Very Easy Method Just Set Up Nine Planets” to remember their order.
The almost $600 project was funded by community engagement group Funding Engaging Actions with Sustainable Tactics.
It was inspired by Roberts’ 5-year-old nephew, who showed the artist a similar project spread across Donzdorf, a small German town.
“We came to a parkette near (his) house and there was a sculpture of a sun and then we walked a few paces and there was a plaque about Mercury,” said Roberts. “By the next time I came back, (he) had biked all the way to Pluto.”
While Donzdorf marked the planets with bronze statues and plaques, Roberts settled with using signs in Toronto because it was less ostentatious.
“We intentionally put the signs only where parking signs are and on lamp signs, not directional signs,” says Roberts. “They’re not an eyesore. They look like they could be city signage.”
Blending the signs in with other municipal postings has also helped Roberts avoid the attention of the city. He did not have its approval when the signs went up on June 7.
“I’m asking for forgiveness, not permission,” he said. “I’m hoping that because it’s a fun, educational project they’ll allow this to continue.”
Provided that the signs are not removed, Roberts said he hopes to get nearby schools and the Ontario Science Centre involved with the project. His goal is to roll the solar system signs out in other neighbourhoods.
So far, the signs have garnered quizzical gazes and plenty of smiles.
One of their biggest fans is Roberts’ 5-year-old son, Jasper, who’s too young to have learned about space, but still likes travelling to each planet.
“I’m not sure I’m setting a good precedent by having him see papa put up signs in the neighbourhood without permission, but he thinks it’s neat,” said Roberts.
Local resident Nicholas Marriott, who wandered through the neighbourhood on Friday, called the project “interesting” and “better than graffiti.”
He said he would welcome more initiatives like it, though he doesn’t “want the community to be inundated and look like a big science fair.”
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