Amsterdam has one, Budapest too. The city of Guadalajara in Mexico has one, and Nice loves theirs too. I haven’t travelled to any of those cities, but if I could any of those probably could be the first stop of my itinerary.

Amsterdam was one of the first cities to make this genius marketing piece when placed it at its famous Rijksmuseum on Museumplein back in 2005. The city has since got two more of these brilliant items, and one is even mobile! They are proven people-magnets and civic brand amplifiers, and now it’s Toronto’s turn to have one.

Back in 2015, when the city of Toronto hosted the Pan American Games, and proposed to add one to its own, they never thought it would become such a big trend. Today, thanks to a reported 120 million social media photos shared during the first year of its existence, I am standing in front of the colourful 74-foot-wide TORONTO sign.

The 3D TORONTO sign is an illuminated three-dimensional sign in Nathan Phillips Square. It is lit by LED lights controlled via Wi-Fi that can create an estimated 228 million colourful combinations, approximately equal to what the human eye can see.

The installation was supposed to be a temporary attraction but when the 10-foot-tall letters went viral, the City of Toronto noted that the sign had become as popular as the 1815-foot CN Tower!   Since the newest landmark was not intended to be a permanent fixture, it’s going to need annual maintenance to survive the wear and tear of thousands of locals and tourists climbing it to take photos.

Sadly, this highly photographed branding megastar, already shows deterioration and wearing away unevenly at the base of the three O’s, exposing patches of black rubbery padding underneath. As a solution to the problem, the city has created a vinyl wrap that can be replaced as needed.

As one of the celebrations for Canada’s 150 anniversary, the Cultural Hotspot created a participatory public art project called “My City My Six”. From May through August 2017, Torontonians were invited to share something essential about themselves and the city – in just six words.   Over 4000 stories were contributed, and 150 of them are featured on the current TORONTO sign wrap.

From where I am standing I can read some of Toronto’s stories told:

“We are Toronto dynamic and friendly” – Jean, 79, Etobicoke, Lakeshore

“Immigrated in fear. Integrated with love” – Anonymous, 66, Toronto

“The kids can change the world” – Daniel, 10, Kennedy Park

“ My TTC pass is my passport” – Diana, Hillcrest Village

“We came, you embraced, we flourished” – Grant, 27, Junction Triangle

“Three continents later, we arrived home” – Zen, 26, Chinatown

Those are just six quotes for the “My City My Six” project. How incredible how only six words can tell an entire story, and each story coming from a different neighbourhood to reflect the diversity of backgrounds that makes the city of Toronto.

Today, the lights of the TORONTO sign have been only white, making the colours of the vinyl wrap stand out even more. But its lighting is always changing. Together with the CN Tower, the TORONTO sign is part of the celebratory and commemorative lighting program of the city.

This program uses lighting shows to highlight Toronto’s significant festivals, support and elevate awareness for not-for-profit and charitable causes, celebrates accomplishments for Toronto’s sports teams, and pay respect to historical commemorations too.

Some of the scheduled lighting shows coming up are, March 1st, the sign will be blue to raise awareness for all the children who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. On March 8th, the sign will dress in white and purple, for the International Woman’s Day. And it will be green, for March 17’s celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day. This all-year-long busy schedule includes also requests from the communities of Toronto.

These lighting shows attract many people especially during the early hours of the evening, when tourist and locals come to Nathan Phillips Square to spend some time admiring the constant changes of colours of the sign. While having a snack from one of the food trucks located on the Queen Street stretch of the Square, or a burger from the Hero Certified Burgers at the Snack Bar. Meet friends at one of the benches around the large water fountain, or enjoy one of the many of the seasonal activities at the Square.

During spring, summer, and autumn, the Nathan Phillips Square is a vibrant and active space. According to the City of Toronto’s website, “every year, over 1.5 million visitors attend a variety of community and special events hosted at the Square, such as the Cavalcade of Lights, New Year’s Celebrations, Remembrance Day celebrations, concerts and more.” And during winter, the large water fountain turns into an outdoor ice rink.

Toronto has an abundance of free, family-friendly skating facilities across the city. During the winter months, ice-skating is one of the best excuses to get us out and exercising while having fun. Nathan Philips Square’s rink is popular with locals and tourists, families, couples, and the odd figure skater doing spins in the middle of the rink.   It is an amazing gathering place in the middle of all of the action in the city.

Toronto’s largest and most photographed outdoor ice rink is open from 9am to 10pm seven days a week, until late March, depending on the weather.   Do not have skates? You can always rent skates at the 2011-built skating pavilion on the west side of the Square. Indoor change rooms are also available to visitors.

Even during the cold weather, I am among other Torontonians and tourists waiting patiently to take a turn to have the TORONTO sign as my selfie backdrop. After posting my picture on my social media channels using the hashtag #xoTO, I will grab a hot chocolate and sit on one of the benches around the rink and watch others enjoying a truly Canadian pastime.