by Mateja Mihinjac
This blog was inspired by a recent trip to my home village of 6,000 residents. Ever since I can remember, every few months the graffiti in the railway underpass near my house is painted over and the broken lights fixed. Shortly after fixing, the signs of vandalism reappear and a few months later the graffiti reappears. This has been occurring for the last 30 years.
GRAFFITI MANAGEMENT PROGRAMS
At the start of my criminology career, I learned that rapid graffiti removal programs were the most efficient way to address the problem because they deny graffiti offenders or “artists” the reward of having their work seen by others. In the 1980s, the famous Broken Windows Theory began with one such program in the New York City subway system’s Clean Car Program – graffiti was removed and vandalism repaired.
Through subsequent research and practical work I learned this approach might not be very effective and cost-beneficial as it is costly, may lead to displacement, fails to account for various motivations in the offenders, and generally fails to permanently eliminate the problem.
Since then other approaches appeared for addressing graffiti. One approach focuses on anti-graffiti materials and surfaces, increased penalties for “offenders”, and community clean-ups. Another approach designates graffiti walls and education or mural programs for offenders, such as the successful program for talented graffiti artists described in on this blog site by our team member Anna Brassard.
While some cities successfully integrate both approaches, other cities are more polarized in their graffiti management approaches. For example in Ottawa, city leaders maintain a strict no-graffiti policy apart from designated legal graffiti walls and murals under the City’s mural program.
Conversely, the mayor of the Colombian capital of Bogota has decriminalized graffiti after a tragic event in 2011 when a young artist was fatally shot. Apart from designated off-limit surfaces, graffiti artists in Bogota are free to express their creativity across the city. Graffiti is now integrated into city life and, interestingly, has become a major attraction for visitors.
I don’t argue for one approach over another since different contexts require different solutions. However, if an approach remains unsuccessful over a number of decades, such as in the railway underpass in my home village, it is time to consider alternative strategies. One missing link, however, is the limited voice of local community members.
NEGOTIATED CONSENT OR ZERO TOLERANCE?
In her reflection on developing a graffiti strategy for the city of Melbourne, criminologist Alison Young recommended against the city’s zero-tolerance approach with increased criminalization of graffiti artists, the approach which local government had adopted at the time.
She argued for self-regulation where property owners and local public would have a say in the image and identity of their local part of public space by either retaining it or by requesting the local government to remove the newly emerged graffiti. The thinking was that if local communities were given an opportunity for such self-governance, they might develop a greater sense of ownership and care for the local environment.
The Melbourne strategy has worked - today the city has a successful street graffiti program receiving world-wide acclaim. That success has turned into a major tourist attraction and economic success story for Melbourne including the popular Melbourne Street Art Tours by local tour companies and the annual Melbourne Stencil Festival.
Since 2010 the city has applied a hybrid approach where they now include the voice of business owners in deciding whether graffiti should be retained.
Melbourne provides an innovative answer to the question of whether we should eliminate graffiti, accept it, or channel freedom of expression in a positive direction for the artists and local communities. Despite a plethora of graffiti management practices, one thing is certain: graffiti is here to stay.
by Gregory Saville
It’s difficult to get worked up about crime in a place like Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. Surrounded by lush beaches, palm trees and bathed in tropical sun, most visitors to the Island are unaware of the recent surge in gun crime or fears about drugs. To be clear, Barbados does have among the lowest crime rates of all the nearby Caribbean Islands, isolated somewhat from the political unrest in nearby Venezuela and blessed with competent police services.
Instead, what you notice in the city is the energy and bustle during daytime and the quaint Victorian and Georgian architecture, high ventilated gables and wide verandas along the narrow, serpentine streets. But if you look closely there is something missing: litter and graffiti.
Bridgetown and the surrounding areas seem remarkably free of litter, garbage and graffiti. True, there are some spots, here and there. And graffiti pops up now and then. But overall, the streets (and the beaches, for that matter), are remarkably clean.
This is in stark contrast to other tourist destinations where garbage is a common fact of life. New Orleans, for example, following the Mardi Gras festival, is a mess. Even after clean-up, the city has litter everywhere. And as we know from CPTED 1 theory, the image of a place has an impact on perceptions of safety and security.
It wasn’t always this way in Bridgetown. Graffiti was rampant and litter and illegal dumping were of major concern. Newspaper editorials carped about the problem and tourism experts warned about its impact.
Anti-litter and clean-up campaigns and community-led groups like the Barbados Guardians have effectively cut litter significantly. Anti-graffiti programs in schools have brought a new public discourse to the issue.
There is no doubt many larger environmental problems remain unresolved like over-filled land waste sites, ocean plastic dumps, and others. But, at least with street litter and graffiti, Bridgetown shows it is possible to marshal public opinion and local commitment, with the help of government, and change the lives of everyday people for the better.
That is, of course, the basic message of SafeGrowth. Bridgetown shows how that is possible with graffiti and litter control.
by Mateja Mihinjac
Many walls and underpasses in the city of Ljubljana are covered with graffiti. A great number of these are considered non-artistic forms of graffiti or tagging. But there is another perspective worth considering.
Crime prevention and CPTED thinking teaches us that graffitied walls signify poor maintenance and lack of ownership thus contributing to crime and fear. In many western cities, authorities counteract this by legitimising the visually appealing forms of graffiti and containing them to particular areas of cities.
However, while the question of vandalism versus art has received much traction, the intended messaging behind graffiti has been neglected or discredited as acts of vandalism and youth misconduct.
URBAN VOICES - A DEMOCRATIC MEDIUM OF COMMUNICATION
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, has had a long history of walls covered in socio-political messages. Following the 2nd World War, graffiti has been used as an important avenue for sharing political views and resistance to occupational rule. Today, graffiti is still used as an important medium for expressing dissatisfaction with the current system, and as a form of political activism calling for public protest and social justice.
As a bottom-up form of political activism, some scholars consider graffiti the most democratic medium for expressing personal opinions publicly. Graffiti can express values while at the same time encourage a dialogue about conflicting social issues. This has been especially popularised in the work of the famous British graffiti artist Banksy.
Through graffiti, young people can also become more active in expressing their political opinions while marginalized groups use it to publicly voice their concerns and respond to criticisms. Despite the view of law and society, graffiti can be one of the most inclusive mediums of public discourse.
SOCIO-POLITICAL GRAFFITI AS A MIRROR OF SOCIETY
The messaging behind graffiti in Ljubljana demonstrates these points. It communicates several contentious public issues, for example, some graffiti expresses dissatisfaction with the political system and government decisions appearing during the 2007/2008 financial crisis. Graffiti were used throughout the city to call for social change and entice civic organisation to join the protests to preserve social protections threatened by reforms. Graffiti were a form of resistance calling for collective social action.
More recent graffiti reflect an increase in homophobic messages regarding a same-sex marriage referendum and also ethnic-nationalist sentiments concerning the European refugee crisis. This graffiti appeared in response to unfounded community concerns.
Realising the powerful effect of forming public opinion through graffiti, graffiti activists have found a way to transform these hate messages. Graffitists do this by rewriting over an existing message or adding to it thus neutralizing negative messaging or transforming it into a positive public debate. This type of graffiti promotes tolerance and counteracts the damage that intolerant messages have on society.
"BLANK WALLS MAKE BLANK PEOPLE"
Finding the consensus between graffiti legality and alternative democratic expression is not straightforward. In SafeGrowth we encourage resident empowerment, caring for neighbors, and active citizenship. Such empowered citizens, especially when marginalized, need a suitable medium for expression. Until they find a better solution, they will continue to use walls to speak up.
My architect friend Frank Stoks sent me a news clip of an emerging graff war in Melbourne. Frank is a well-known CPTED expert in New Zealand. Back in the 1980s questions from his PhD thesis comprised the basis for the Toronto's Women's Safety Audit - now the United Nations Safety Audit.
Melbourne Australia is a remarkable city of culture and walkability. Our SafeGrowth teams continue their exceptional work in 4 neighborhoods, recently highlighted at a recent Australian criminology conference. Melbourne is also known for its vast array of street art and graffiti, particularly in laneways, much of it under city supervision mentioned in an earlier blog, Eyes Wide Open, Magnificent Melbourne.
Now, according to this news clip, a graff war has broken out between the street artists commissioned by the city to create the murals and some culture jamming taggers who are not. Says one street artist: "The council is commissioning the work to stop tagging and not including the guys who have come from the graffiti background, so they're alienating the scene."
Check it out here.
Sharing street lighting ideas on Facebook recently it occurred to me how often we forget that to be truly safe a place must not be lightened. It must be enlightened.
Example: the work sent to me recently by my friend Lorraine Gamman from London's St. Martin's College of Art and Design. Lorraine sent links to alleyway projects done by Doug Tomkin and Mark Titmarsh at the Design Out Crime centre at Sydney's University of Technology.
Apparently they are hanging out on street corners. They call it Living Laneways. I call it Laneway Chic.
Their rationale? (Graffiti and lighting people, Listen Up): "Too often measures against crime…can have almost as unpleasant an effect as the things they prevent. The Living Laneways project set out to deter graffiti without alienating those who were responsible for creating it (through) the involvement of respected artists in the street-art community…"
Clearly, simple and chic laneway painting can enlighten a space. Elaborate murals are not always needed.
Mark Titmarsh has a web document called Living Laneways - City Life.It explains some DOC work in Sydney.
Check out his tagline - "respect, express, enlighten!"
If street beautification and prevention means anything, it means that.
...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…
This week I'm at the University of Sydney, Australia for a Crime and SafeGrowth workshop.
It gives me a chance to wander the streets of this beautiful city and compare it to my experience last year and a decade ago. In 1998 Sydney was a city of graffiti. Last year, not so much. Much has happened in Sydney, and in the world of graffiti, in the past year.
Some of the trends appeared in blogs I've written on train graffiti,murals, and the ICA Graffiti Guidebook.
Graffiti is called graff by practitioners of this underground über-chic, street artists, wanna-be street artists, and just plain sweaty vandals. Graff is pandemic in both virtual and real space all over the world.
Take for example the stencil graffiti trend started by Britain's anarchist Robin Hood, Banksy. Stencil graffiti now makes appearances in art galleries and in art books. Graff-folk gather on websites to advertise their wares or simply look for cities to "practice". Says a graff-writer in one post:
I'm from Los Anzgeles and will be out in Sydney next week. Although I'm not traveling for graff I would DEFINITELY like to paint while I'm there (as well as stickers)... If anyone can give any info on ANY cool spots to paint as well as GET paint I would greatly appreciate this...
Police and prevention specialists tinker at the edge of graff, sending in the enforcers, writing new laws and installing CCTV. Police map it along with other crimes. But it seems they simply don't get what is going on.
In Sydney, like elsewhere, traditional enforcement tactics hold back the tide: anti-graffiti teams, resistant sprays, CPTED lighting, and so forth (probably why graffiti has somewhat declined in Sydney).
The truth is, like most large cities, in Sydney resistant pockets flourish - some interesting and inventive, most just blight. Example: Around Sydney's central train station where CCTV watched everywhere, I counted 31 public murals, every one graffitied.
Most public murals are not graffitied. Then again, these were not "community-based" murals painted by local artists. They looked corporate, perhaps designed by city or train station officials.
Banksy's documentary film, Exit Through The Gift Shop premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year. It is well done, glorifies the good, bad and ugly, but more importantly it provides insight; insight we need to better understand the future of the public realm.
It also suggests to some degree, like it or not, the once-maligned is now going mainstream.
When is the last time you saw a freight train? When is the last time you saw a freight train without graffiti?
Remember a time when freight trains did not have graffiti? I think it was about 25 years ago. Why and when did graffiti show up on trains? Did Fixing Broken Windows programs and anti-graffiti strategies displace graffiti out of cities onto these traveling billboards?
I just watched a documentary film about angst-ridden Gen-X street "artists" who started the whole thing back in the 80s. Or so they say. Kids at the fringe. At 35 they are no longer kids and no longer on the fringe.
The rest of us are left with their legacy. A contribution to urban culture. Thanks.
Then again, if the sum Gen-Xer legacy amounts to painted freight trains (it doesn't!) is that so bad? Compared to the legacy of the "Greatest Generation" and the Boomers - vanishing fish stocks, depleted forests, genetically-modified food and the human-caused carbon nightmare driving climate change - painted trains are not so bad.
That, of course, is a conceit. Gen-Xers (like all other generations) owe, and deserve, much more. For me, painted trains are little more than the latest manifestation of contemporary culture. In this case they just happen to be ugly.
It need not be so. Why not capitalize on the fringe tendency to paint trains? Train murals. (Why not?) Traveling train-art competitions. (Such possibilities!)
I wonder why train companies have been so lethargic to move beyond "catch them and charge them"? Given the utter failure of that strategy over the past few decades, it would seem obvious something more intelligent is in order.
Look what Canada Post came up with...
If bureaucratic stasis were real, a large federal bureaucracy like Canada Post (or the US Postal Service for that matter) would be poster child. Yet, even here, innovation is possible.
So why are train companies silent?
Is there a more magnificent city than Sydney, Australia?
Perhaps. But not many.
I've been re-visiting the land down under for a few weeks having spent time here prior to the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Back then graffiti was the name of the game. It was everywhere! One newspaper quoted me saying that, except for Homebush Bay (where the Olympics were staged), Sydney was showing a pretty ugly face to the world. No one I spoke to seemed to even take notice how pervasive graffiti had spread. It's just part of the culture, or so I was told.
A decade later it looks to me like a complete turnaround. Acres of walls once covered in spray paint are now clean. Like cities everywhere, there are still parts of the city with too much graffiti. Graffiti walls and murals exist too. Driving downtown though, Sydney seems like a changed place.
In an earlier blog about Victoria, British Columbia I pondered whether the graffiti game can be held in check. To this visitor at least, it seems Sydney has begun to do just that.
For one, by shining the light of public debate straight onto the issue. The Australian Institute of Criminology publishes studies on graffiti. Equally important, there are publications to help explain successful strategies to the public.
Town councils use programs to remove graffiti within 48 hours and encourage protective sprays on walls. The government has an Anti-Graffiti Action team with grants for removal kits and CPTED programs.
Finally, and controversially, they have criminalized possession of graffiti implements and controlled sales of graffiti spray paint.
Some say Sydney's aggressive stance is off-putting to young people looking for an artistic outlet. Read here
To be sure, graffiti is only one of many such outlets. Tonight I watched a newscast of thrill-seekers "surfing" the rooftops of speeding commuter trains - some of whom, tragically, fall to their deaths. Obviously, they need better options.
Some researchers say we don't know enough to properly tackle graffiti. Their answer, unsurprisingly, is a call for more research. Perhaps they should read the forthcoming International CPTED Association Graffiti Guidebook.
Research or not, Sydney graffiti is not at all the same as a decade ago. Cities like Victoria can learn something from the Sydney experience.