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Posted on 24 September 2014

graffiti free

There’s a new program in Prince George that hopes to eradicate all graffiti in the downtown area. It views graffiti in pretty black-and-white terms:

“Graffiti markings suggest that a neighborhood is unsafe, does not care or cannot cope with the problem. Studies have shown that when graffiti markings are left unattended for as little as one week there is almost a 100% chance that additional graffiti markings will be placed at the original site or in the nearby community.

“When left unattended, graffiti may contribute to an escalation to more serious vandalism and other crimes in the community. Graffiti plays a role in increased resident anxiety and the economic decline of neighbourhoods.”

There’s graffiti in my neighbourhood. Here’s what it looks like:

garbage listen

It’s been sitting there for at least four years, and so far no additional markings have been placed on this garbage can. It has not increased my anxiety, and house prices here have been on a steady climb.

I’m not trying to minimize the damaging effects that graffiti can have, particularly the tagging and the cuss words, but I think there’s room for a slightly more nuanced discussion than “graffiti = bad”. For example, here are two walls next to an empty lot downtown (click for larger versions):

Which would you rather see while walking around a neighbourhood? Which shows more pride of place, sense of character? Will visitors to the downtown come away with a better impression of the city if they encounter a blank grey wall versus a cheeky slogan surrounded by fluffy sheep?

Do you think coming across this mailbox is more likely to cause you to smile or get scared about the bad neighbourhood you’ve wandered into?

listen mailbox

I’ve had visitors to Prince George ask me about Listen Bird and even go on walks to find other examples that are sprinkled throughout the downtown core. It’s also been a source of inspiration for me. Here’s a thing I wrote about it a while ago:

“The Listen Bird… serves as a reminder that there’s always a story left untold. The people and the things you can find in this city are as interesting and enlightening as anywhere else in the world… This is open to everyone. We can all find it. All we have to do is listen.”

The Listen Bird is my personal favourite, but I’ve come across plenty of hidden messages that make me pause. One of my favourite things to do when visiting a different city is to find the graffiti. I feel like it showcases the unique voice of the area- if the graffiti is fun and creative, imagine how good everything else is? By the same token, if it’s rude and threatening, I totally understand the idea that it sends out bad vibes and can aid in the decline of an area. I’m not arguing that.

nyaan smithers

But my point isn’t that all graffiti is good, it’s just that I don’t necessarily agree that all graffiti is bad. Blank walls, untouched electrical boxes, back alleys devoid of any signs of human life… I mean, yeah, I guess they can signal there’s no crime. But they can also signal there’s no anything. No creativity, no pedestrians, nobody with any interest in adding some fun and creativity to the neighbourhood. Speaking solely as an explorer of urban areas, I’ll take a clever doodle or colourful picture over a blank concrete wall anytime. It’s much more inviting.

“Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.”

Banksy, Wall and Piece

Filed under: cities, Prince George

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