Monday, 21 December 2009

Thoughts on Graffiti

There is rhythm to many parts of life, and I’m in a rhythm these days. In an eerily periodic timeline, bozos spray graffiti on the Centre Street Bridge. I call the City. The city paints it out. Then the bozos do it again, and the cycle repeats. We’re on a 2 week rhythm in the summer, which slows to a 4 week or longer cycle in the winter; I guess graffiti goons don’t like the cold (that, or their spray cans and bingo markers freeze up).

A while ago, there were some articles in the Calgary Herald about how “graffiti is art,” and I believe that’s possible. Take for instance, the graffiti wall on the side of the Crescent Grocery at Edmonton Trail and 7th. That’s art, and though not my thing, clearly well done art. Painting a wall for hire is art. Spraying crap on a bridge or a rail car is vandalism, not art, no matter how well it’s done. Here’s a simple rule of thumb: unless someone asked them to paint it, it’s a crime.

The Herald article talked of visiting graffiti “artists” painting their crap on walls around the City’s dirt storage sites. One day, someone will tell me what those fenced-off storage sites are for; there’s one off Memorial on the west side of Centre Street, another at Memorial & Crowchild, and another used to be across from the Drop In Centre. Perhaps they’re the City’s way of offering wall space for graffiti artists to deface. But that’s vandalism, not art. Writing crap on the railings of the stairs in Rotary Park, isn’t art, its defacing property, and is a crime. Anyone who says otherwise is likely one of the brain-dead idiots doing the crap in the first place, trying to justify their stupidity. You want to paint on something? Buy canvas like everyone else. Then sell it if it’s so good.

Here’s one thing I know to be true about graffiti: graffiti breeds more graffiti. There used to be a practice backboard behind the Mount Pleasant Tennis Club in Rotary Park. From about 1981 (when I first started passing it daily) to about 2000, it sat forlornly, hardly used and its paint peeling. Then the graffiti goofballs started “decorating” it with crap; some of it well done, but all of it illegally defacing the property. One day, one tag would show up; a scrawly, messy splotch of pointless black. A few days later, a second one would show up, in a different colour, sometimes over the first. Within a few more days, more and more tags, then some “art”, and pretty soon the board would be covered. The tennis club would paint it over, and in a few weeks, the cycle would start again. Just like my bridge. The club appears to have wearied of this cycle, so they tore the backboard down. Stupid paintheads made solo tennis practice impossible. Who said graffiti has no real cost.

I’ve been told (and I have no idea if it’s true) that a lot of the tags – especially those on the bridge – are the work of “gangs,” marking their territory (given that wolves and other pack animals mark their territory by urinating on things, perhaps we should be thankful that there aren’t groups of dumb jerks peeing everywhere, though I wouldn’t put it past them). However, when the tags stay, “turf wars” spring up between rival gangs. When the tags are painted out within days of appearing, no turf war starts, so the cycle takes longer and my bridge stays cleaner. While this explanation makes sense to me, I wish someone with some authority would tell me if it’s factually correct or just an urban myth that is being propagated.

Whether the story is true or not, I’ve noticed the outcome works: paint the crap out fast, and less crap appears. No tag, no turf war. No “art”, no belief that the next twit can stand there for several hours creating more “art”. So, dear reader, there’s a way you can help your community, no matter where on the planet you may be. If you see the crap show up, get it removed. In Calgary, call 3-1-1 and file a graffiti report the second you see it. They will ask if it is on City or private property. The City is very responsive when crap shows up on their turf; typically, in summer, they’re painting it out within 2 days of my complaints. In the winter, they’re a little slower (as are the criminal dorks that tag it in the first place), but they get to it. I don’t know what happens if it’s on private property; I suspect they issue a clean up order to the property owner, and if they don’t do anything about it, the City does it for them and bills them. It’s painful to see innocent property owners punished for this, but the choice is that or having crap all over the place.

I don’t know why the last 7 years has seen an explosion in the amount of graffiti in the city, but it has. No one ever used to tag the bridge. Except for the numbskull who signs “Trikone” (is he trying to say “tri-cone” or “trick-one”? Or is he just an idiot who can’t spell?) who has been around for years, most of this stuff is new. It makes me wonder if the average IQ in the city has dropped with the increase in population.

A few years back I actually saw a miscreant do graffiti. I was stuck in Saturday traffic on MacLeod Trail near the Elbow River Bridge. This 20-something was wandering along the median grass, and stopped at one of the light standards. He put down his backpack, pulled out a spray can, and scrawled his illegible mark on the post. In broad daylight. At 2 PM. In front of 100+ stationary cars. Then he calmly put the can back in his backpack, and peacefully sauntered off, knowing fully well his crime would go unpunished.

On the bright side, at least he didn’t drop his pants and pee on the post.

Today I have a camera phone, and that’s about the only use I could think for a camera in a phone: to get a criminal locked up. I used to think of graffiti only being done in darkened back alleys where other criminals like to hide out, but it appears to have switched to a crime popular to execute at midday.

I’m preaching to the converted. No one who reads this paints graffiti, and the reason I know this is simple: you can read. And I’m hoping that reading this will cause you to join my current “army of one” to dial 3-1-1 whenever our bridge, our park, or anything else in our community is defaced.

1 comment:

Astrid said...

Ok, I am a bit late reading this post but Malcolm Gladwell talked about grafitti in the NYC subway system in "The Tipping Point". a\Once they started to clean up the grafitti (it took them 6 years to clean up all the cars), overall crime rates dropped in the city. The idea being that the message sent by allowing graffiti was that these small crimes were acceptable and so bigger crimes followed. Once the tolerance for small crimes were abolished ... the bigger crimes never happened.

Chaos breeds Chaos.

Good read if you haven't read Tipping Point. But we enjoyed Blink and Outliers more!