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:
“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.”