Toronto should get better at getting rid of graffiti

CP ran a story the other day about a growing problem of graffiti in Montreal. It’s apparently become such a problem that the city government recently introduced stiffer penalties: $2,000 for anyone caught tagging, and $1,000 for business owners who fail to clean it off. Good! I wish Toronto would do the same.

Especially the bit about fining the business owners that don’t clean up.

But isn’t that unfair? Why fine owners for something that someone else did?

Because it’s their property and therefore it’s their responsibility. If someone breaks your window you pay to get it fixed or have your insurance cover it. I don’t see how cleaning up spray paint is all that different.

See, here’s the thing I’ve noticed. I work and live in downtown Toronto and spend a lot of time walking through the various nearby neighbourhoods. I’ve observed that clean, well-maintained buildings and shop fronts don’t tend to have graffiti on them. And no, it’s not simply because these nice, clean shops are prompt with getting rid of the graffiti tags they do get, but rather, they tend to be less of a target. Even though I don’t buy into the argument that graffiti taggers are artists – I think 90% of them are simply vandals – that doesn’t mean that they lack aesthetic sensibility. (BTW – they seem to particularly like tagging buildings that are painted in yucky caramel or orange colours.)

Most of the buildings I see that have the most graffiti are either buildings that have been boarded up, or stores that already have filthy, dilapidated exteriors. If these property owners maintained nice storefronts to begin with, they’d be less of a target for vandals.
The trouble is, a lot of property owners don’t seem to care about the state of their properties. They don’t wash the dirt off their stucco exteriors, they let paint crack and peel away, the brick facade crumble away and don’t bother doing even minor repairs. That goes doubly for boarded up properties that seem to be deliberately allowed to rot and fall apart. What ever the reasons and rationalizations are for this, the message is clear: they don’t care about the surrounding neighbourhood. So why should the hoards of vandals and taggers out there care?

As for the argument that graffiti is art? If you have the explicit permission of the property owner, it’s art (maybe). If you do not, then it is vandalism. And tags are just lame lame lame.

Now, I’m not saying that I want to live in Disneyland, but there does seem to be a threshold of decay that when passed, turns from neighbourhood into ghetto.

For further reading on art vs. graffiti:

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/critic/feature/0,1169,1279502,00.html

“Most of them [graffiti ‘artists’] are boring, talentless mediocrities who benefit from exhausted ideas that protect graffiti and exaggerate its aesthetic merits”

“Graffiti began as a great modern idea; but it has become a bankrupt cliche.”

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4 responses to “Toronto should get better at getting rid of graffiti

  1. Your argument is silly…

    Of course there is more graff on run down/abandoned buildings; but it’s because there is a lesser risk for the artists in getting caught, if no one’s watching out for these buildings.

    Lots of business owners simply can’t afford to keep their buildings looking like the Holt’s storefront, or they probably would (of course there are some that don’t care, but that’s a different issue you’re arguing than the whole graff thing). Plus, the city doesn’t have enough time/resources to be keeping abandoned buildings clean… (honestly… wtf?) or to be running around tearing down any building that is a target for graffers. Especially since we’re so damn broke right now!

    Just accept that graffiti is a part of urban culture. Get used to it, or move to the suburbs. It is a viable form of human communication, and some of it is actually completely relevant to the art world’s standards.

    Try reading up a bit on graffiti, on it’s history, on it’s current role in urban culture (and I mean viewpoints from graffiti enthusiasts, or at least non-objecting parties). Don’t just look at it, decide it’s not to your specific aesthetic liking, and condemn it.

  2. I’ve read up on graffiti from both sides; I just disagree with one of them. On top of that, what right does any ‘artist’ have to force everyone to see their ‘work’? They’re just not talented enough to even get their art hung in some café or diner – and trust me – you don’t need much talent for that. In fact, I have yet to come across an original argument in support of graffiti. Also, graffiti being equivalent to urban culture is a sub-urban concept if ever they was one. Just like all the hip-hop thugs ‘keepin it real’ for their 12-year-old white upper-middle class audience. The term ‘urban culture’ is misleading anyway since no city in the world – never mind all of them – can be boiled down to any sort of monolithic concept.
    It’s BS that business owners can’t afford the upkeep. If you actually spent more time downtown, perhaps you’d be aware that Holts actually looks like crap, and there are plenty of beautiful exteriors on small, locally owned independent businesses. Paint is just as cheap for the business owners as it is for the delinquents. And Queen Street West, which has LOTS of graffiti, is in a highly trafficked area. If business owners were held more accountable, trust me, the odds of catching the paint bombers would skyrocket.
    Also, I didn’t say the city should keep the buildings clean – it’s up to the owners. Though some fines should bring in a decent stream of revenue.
    I’m not suggesting tearing down buildings – I just don’t think vacant properties should be left derelict for years on end. The city should confiscate those properties or force the owner to sell to someone who’d put it to good use.
    Urban decay – and I have no idea why people don’t get this – means FEWER jobs, FEWER opportunities and MORE poverty – the same things that left-wing groups complain about.

  3. Graffiti is a way of self expression I don’t get why people are just ruining masterpieces like that. Urban culture will be around for the rest of our lives , maybe even longer. The tags on mailboxes and murals on the walls will always pop up, you cant fight it. The only thing you can do is embrace it. Also with your statement concerning about no talent needed for graffiti works, if u actually read the history of graffiti, when an artist puts his works on a diner and other places its not consider graffiti anymore. And who is forcing you to look/read at the murals/ tags..u see a lot of ads on the ttc and on every corner of a block. YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ IT OR LOOK AT IT, JUST GLANCE SOMEWHERE ELSE OR JUST LOOK TO THE GROUND. If u can stand signs that are laid everywhere in downtown then u can stand graffiti. Besides, there are people who love the art and give their time creating pieces like that. Graffiti is also a way for some kids in the less richy homes to get away from worse stuff. I know people who contributed to those murals in DT and with the help of this ‘self expression’ they’re able to run away from whatever is holding them for a while. Think about it, I think if graffiti stopped the crime rate would go up. So what do you want blood on the walls or paint?

  4. Again, people claim graffiti is ‘art’ or ‘self-expression’ without explaining HOW some little spray-painted squiggle is so.
    “Urban culture” is an extremely shallow term – there’s no such thing as such a singular entity.

    As for the ‘history’ of graffiti? It was first used to advertise prostitution. Art or self-expression? Not exactly…

    Also, you’re assuming it’s poor kids doing all this tagging – there’s plenty of rich kids that do it too, and not all of them are kids either! I do support ‘graffiti walls’ in designated spots. But would you want someone tagging the cars and garage doors of the suburb that you live in, or would that be vandalism? If I sprayed fluorescent green paint all over something you owned would you give me a hug and tell me how beautiful you think my masterpiece is?

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