...and the winner of Graffiti-Mess-of-the-Year award goes to (drum roll...)
Victoria, British Columbia!
I've spent the last few days visiting neighborhoods across this fascinating city. I wrote a similar graffiti story in this blog a few years back including research on curbing the problem. The best prevention resource available is probably the ICA guideline Graffiti: Local solutions to local problems - guide books for design professionals.
None of that seems to have mattered. Victoria still reeks of graffiti tags like some biblical plague of locusts.
True, there are much bigger cities with more tags. There are also more troubled cities where gangs tag their hood like medieval warlords claiming turf, what Atlas calls "offensive space". Victoria is none of that, which in my mind makes it so inexcusable.
Victoria is a mid-sized, world-class city with booming tourism. It has high quality-of-life, good schools, and spectacular natural scenery.
Victoria also suffers persistent and pervasive tagging far beyond what I've seen in other cities of similar size. I'm not speaking of street art that the BC Graffiti website calls "momentary pockets of expression".
I'm not describing political graffiti that might make the odd alley risqué - even bohemian.
I'm talking about butt-ugly paint-spray for no reason but vandalism. Case in point: the underground BC Graffiti website has 54 graf photos from cities across the province - 39 are from Victoria (to be fair, those pics show much higher quality graffiti than I saw the past few days). Obviously in graf-writer world, Victoria is still Queen.
Why doesn't Victoria regulate the sale of paint-spray cans as elsewhere? Should we blame the catch-and-release British Columbia court system? The lack of restorative justice opportunities? Do we blame the decline of problem-oriented policing training there?
Victoria cannot be blamed for a lack of trying. The national anti-graffiti "Tags" conference ran here in 2009 (sadly, and obviously, to no avail). Conference lessons either didn't work or fell on deaf ears.
There are diligent paint-outs to clean the mess. Victoria also has an anti-graffiti program.
Unfortunately, all this is for naught. Tags are everywhere.
Has this city passed some graffiti tipping point after which preventive tactics fail? Does such a tipping point exist? It does for other types of crime (now THAT should be the topic of research).
One bright spot: neighborhood pole painting projects.
It's a neighborhood capacity-building initiative in which residents adopt hundreds of telephone and power poles and paint them with murals. Those poles were graffiti free and kind of cool.
If only we could get that kind of creativity on post boxes, walls, benches, signs, windows…