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Toronto's own little war on an abstract noun.
May 30, 2011 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto (previously, previouslier, and previousliest) is cracking down on graffiti in Hogtown with a Graffiti Abatement Program. However, with small business owners facing steep fines for failing to remove graffiti, independent removal services charging handsomely to remove it (with power washers which can damage building facings and which also sweep aerosol paint residue into the sewers and Lake Ontario) and taggers being regularly presented with fresh canvasses to work on, which starts the cycle once again, the system seems insupportable.

As an aside, Ontario has a provincial election in October, and Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak says if elected, he will use Ontario prisoners to clean up graffiti.
posted by ricochet biscuit (99 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Hudak is spewing shit to the base: he knows perfectly well his "use convicts as slave labour" plan is actually too expensive to be practicable. He's more or less given up on getting more than the forty percent of the vote that's willing to vote modern Conservative, and is relying on turnout and NDP/Liberal votesplitting to win.

It will probably work, and then the centre-left and left in Ontario will wonder why their two parties can't beat one party, again.
posted by mightygodking at 8:37 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The exemption for graffiti, being "a mural for a designated surface and location that has been deliberately implemented for the purpose of beautifying the specific location" is some sweet, low-hanging fruit begging for a legal challenge. On behalf of the legal community, I thank His Worship for his stimulus efforts.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:44 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


toronto takes metafilter day!


It was the conservative government that closed the kingston pen farm last year - how it seems feasible that closing a farm and replacing it what is effectively a chain gang a)more cost effective b)more conducive towards rehabilitation is anyone's guess.

the graffiti thing is just too easy to make fun of. respect for taxpayers, except the ones who commission, produce, and appreciate graffiti.
posted by ameliaaah at 8:44 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


There wouldn't be a problem if a tiny number of thoughtless young people didn't vandalise other people's buildings with stupid ugly scrawls in the first place. If "taggers" want to spray paint some walls they should deface their own houses. What's wrong with prisoners working to clear graffiti anyway? Low security prisoners often work outside jail on socially useful tasks and that can only be a good thing.
posted by joannemullen at 8:46 AM on May 30, 2011


I have never known a graffiti'd wall to stop a tagger from painting over it. Consistently removing graffiti eventually works, or at least it has in my area of Los Angeles. That bit about 'fresh canvasses' is bullshit.
posted by incessant at 8:47 AM on May 30, 2011


The problem with the provincial election is that McGuinty's intellectually exhausted and unpopular, and his administration is burdened with scandals and a history of alienating every demographic they can. I've never seen a politician so universally despised, even by people who hate Hudak's plans (of which I'm one).
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 8:49 AM on May 30, 2011


Fining store owners who do not remove graffiti? I fucking hate this guy.
posted by molecicco at 8:52 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have to admit a certain curiosity as to Toronto hitting the conservative trifecta of Harper, Hudak and Ford. Sure, it'd be disastrous, but how disastrous? In what spectacular ways would it be disastrous?
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:56 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


How can it be legal to fine someone for not removing graffiti? If they own the building, what right does the government have to say what the business owners can keep on the walls? If I owned a small business, I'd probably hire someone to do a graffiti installation.
posted by shesaysgo at 9:01 AM on May 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


What's wrong with prisoners working to clear graffiti anyway?

1. Really? 'What's wrong with slave labour?' It's slavery, that's what.
2. There are plenty--PLENTY--of unemployed people in the area who would be entirely eager to fill those positions.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:01 AM on May 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


let's see - small business owners become a victim of a crime and when the city finds out about it, they tell them to clean it up or pay a fine

that sounds like a real good way to drive business out of town, doesn't it?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:02 AM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think the logic is that graffiti is a crime of which its existence is evidence of a crime having been committed, and lingering evidence of a crime is a gateway to more, similar crime being committed, so if you don't get rid of the graffiti on your walls then you're directly facilitating further criminal activity.

I'm pretty sure they don't fine you for having a broken window or having litter on your property, which are similar attractive nuisances. At least, they don't YET fine you. In Bob Ford's Toronto (TM), the grass is always green, the street is always clean, and traffic always flows right up his ass.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:08 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]



I think the logic is that graffiti is a crime of which its existence is evidence of a crime having been committed, and lingering evidence of a crime is a gateway to more, similar crime being committed, so if you don't get rid of the graffiti on your walls then you're directly facilitating further criminal activity.


The definition of vandalism versus art can be a bit fuzzy here. Traditionally, the property owner would decide whether they were offended by the painting. Now the city decides for them. It becomes particularly treacherous when you're dealing with murals.

Anyway, I'm glad that all of the more serious issues have been dealt with, and that the Toronto government can afford to wage a war on graffiti now. ;)
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:11 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The idea of forcing property owners to clean up grafitti is not just immoral, it's ludicrous. The definition of grafitti is art the property owner doesn't want there. I could paint a perfect replica of the Sistine Chapel on someone's fence; if they didn't want it there, it's graffiti. Similarly, if they want to keep a bunch of tags on their walls, then it's art.

If the city wants less graffitti, the City should support property owners who want to remove graffitti by paying for the removal. And if the property owner still doesn't want it removed - tough luck. It's their property.

/I can't believe I'm arguing in favour of absolute property rights. My commons-using and socialist ancestors are rolling in their graves.
posted by jb at 9:24 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, you can get fined in many US cities for having litter, broken windows, overgrown grass, un-shoveled snow, etc. You can't cover your house in billboards or erect a 100 meter tower or do all sorts of other things that hurt the neighborhood either. Owning property comes with a lot of responsibilities.

Laws requiring property owners to remove graffiti QUICKLY (within days) have done a pretty good job of dissuading taggers in a lot of cities. It's still perfectly legal to have a free wall or whatever where I live, and it's fun to see what people have done to those. But look at some pictures of 1970s NYC to see what happens when there are no restrictions on graffiti whatsoever and it gets out of hand.

I don't agree with using forced labor, or with a law in my neighborhood that prohibits buying spray paint if you're under 18.
posted by miyabo at 9:25 AM on May 30, 2011


What's wrong with prisoners working to clear graffiti anyway?

1. Really? 'What's wrong with slave labour?' It's slavery, that's what.
2. There are plenty--PLENTY--of unemployed people in the area who would be entirely eager to fill those positions.


Yes, yes, YES. A hundred-thousand times this, yes. Bring back the farm program for prisoners, and leave the civvie jobs to those who need the work.

Welcome to Ontario: Repeating American Mistakes, One Republican Talking Point At A Time.
posted by spoobnooble at 9:26 AM on May 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


The only effective way to prevent graffiti is to prevent the sun from setting.
posted by fuq at 9:31 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am disappointed, disillusioned, and distraught with the conservative bent my country has taken.

We had been international leaders in progressive policies. We've lost that this past decade. Now it seems we're a nation of tea-party-minded twits.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:33 AM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


You know who should be fined for graffiti? The police officers who failed to prevent it.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:34 AM on May 30, 2011


The only effective way to prevent graffiti is to prevent the sun from setting.

Murals work pretty well, too.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:35 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Edmonton actually did this a couple years ago.
Of course you might not have noticed, because there's been no discernible result. And the city is still god-awful ugly, but that's got nothing to do with graffiti.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:37 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


There wouldn't be a problem if a tiny number of thoughtless young people didn't vandalise other people's buildings with stupid ugly scrawls in the first place.

I dunno, I find that often graffiti actually adds something to an urban environment. I'm not wild about tags either, but it's not like people "tagging" is a new phenomenon, either. "Thoughtless young people" have been vandalizing other peoples' buildings with their names and crude pictures and jokes since they had to do it with chisels hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Anyways, Toronto is a bigger city and downtown it gets dirty and covered in exhaust and dirt and dust and salt and various other nasty city residues. If it were constantly cleaned and scrubbed down and covered in a fresh coat of paint I could see the argument that graffiti is making things ugly. But there's not enough graffiti in the parts of Toronto I've seen to make me think it's out of control or anything. As it is I think it makes the City more vibrant.
posted by Hoopo at 9:38 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, you can get fined in many US cities for having litter, broken windows, overgrown grass, un-shoveled snow, etc.

Well, you CAN get fined... but show me any municipality which actually follows through on those ordinances unless it's part of a gentrification / reclamation project or they've targeted a specific deadbeat property owner who is particularly egregious with the state of their property.

Spokane could have made a KILLING on snow shoveling fines this past winter, but instead nothing was done and pedestrians were forced to either walk in the street or on pitted, refrozen snow for a month until the (by then) ice had melted enough to go away.

I'm willing to bet that after an initial "look! we're making a difference" effort with these fines in Toronto, the enforcement will drop to non-equitable levels, with neighborhoods that don't matter as much being allowed to fester while high-traffic areas end up with all the attention.
posted by hippybear at 9:44 AM on May 30, 2011


Hudak is spewing shit to the base: he knows perfectly well his "use convicts as slave labour" plan is actually too expensive to be practicable. He's more or less given up on getting more than the forty percent of the vote that's willing to vote modern Conservative, and is relying on turnout and NDP/Liberal votesplitting to win.


Some already do work -- it's really fantastic to have a potential leader who is absolutely clueless as to what is going on around him. Nice to see the streak of oblivious heads of political parties has not been broken in this nation.

And what a stupid, stupid message that sends -- work as punishment. Bravo, I say. Is that the Tory ethic? They are finally coming out of the slacker closet to say that work is a bad thing that should be used to instill fear in the masses? We should all just sit around Timmy's with bootleg ciggies and argue about hockey and reality shows with bimbos with distinctive silicon jiggles? Do we get government grants for this if we vote the Ontario Tories in?
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:46 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fuck Rob Ford.
posted by Fizz at 10:01 AM on May 30, 2011


Ford may be a dick but I find it hard to defend graffiti on any grounds, it's a scourge on urban spaces and cost cities millions to clean up that they could be spending on more useful stuff.
posted by octothorpe at 10:08 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I manage a store here in San Francisco. I have a big blank wall on one side of the building that taggers love to hit. I suspect that some of the taggers are bored kids from Academy of Art, which has converted a motel down the street into student housing. I suspect that half of SF is owned by Academy of Art.
Anyway, San Francisco does fine building owners who do not remove graffiti in a timely manner. I don't remember what the fine is. Luckily I don't own the building, so it's not really my problem.
What I don't understand is why San Francisco, and other cities, don't have better mural arts programs like my home town of Philadelphia. It doesn't stop all graffiti, but it does make a big, blank wall look nicer. And, instead of using convincts, you get those same bored kids to help you paint the murals.
(Also, fuck those kids who tag the back of the bus. It's ugly and the paint markers they use make the bus stink [more than it already does])
posted by runcibleshaw at 10:11 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


And what a stupid, stupid message that sends -- work as punishment...

That is an interesting point. It also adds to Sys Rq's point above, where plenty of unemployed people would be happy to get work.

I gather however, that the convicts wouldn't necessarily be paid the wages that an employed person would be. I'm sure that's an incentive to use the convicts instead. I wonder how much lower it is? Do they get paid anything?

Also, it never occurred to me that this was "work as punishment". It's worth discussing and debating. That being said, one could also argue that this is "work as rehabilitation". Some people might actually realize that this is something that they could do full-time for real wages, and decide, once they're out, to turn their lives around and work.

I don't know if I necessarily believe this, but as an anecdotal point, I only realized that I enjoyed working outside I was forced to do it (when we bought a house)
posted by bitteroldman at 10:15 AM on May 30, 2011


Now it seems we're a nation of tea-party-minded twits.

No, we aren't. We're a nation of dippy liberals who don't realize that our devotion to political idealism as expressed through multiple parties benefits tea-party-minded twits, who while twittish did have one moment of clarity when they looked at polls and then did a little basic math.
posted by mightygodking at 10:25 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Some people might actually realize that this is something that they could do full-time for real wages, and decide, once they're out, to turn their lives around and work

Not if they're being undercut by cheap prison labor. Also, not everyone in prison is there because they were career criminals who avoided wage labor. The bigger problem is that it's harder to find employment after having been in jail than before.

No, we aren't. We're a nation of dippy liberals who don't realize that our devotion to political idealism as expressed through multiple parties benefits tea-party-minded twits


I can't speak to your experience, but it's not because of a devotion to political idealism that I don't support the Liberals. Multi-party democracy does not have to be a 2-horse race, and I wouldn't want it to. Frankly if people weren't so fucking scared of coalitions of the type you'd find in every single other multi-party democratic system in the world, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.
posted by Hoopo at 10:34 AM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


I thought San Francisco was already doing this in some neighbourhoods, and it was working out fine.

As for prison labour, it's slavery, and an incentive to keep people in prison. Terrible idea.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:42 AM on May 30, 2011


I gather however, that the convicts wouldn't necessarily be paid the wages that an employed person would be. I'm sure that's an incentive to use the convicts instead. I wonder how much lower it is? Do they get paid anything?

They would get paid nothing. Like I said, it's slavery.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:58 AM on May 30, 2011


Seems like it's working out great.
posted by chococat at 11:02 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Seems like it's working out great.

LOL, those are fantastic. And this is what I mean about graffiti being vibrant and interesting. Sure, a painting of a fat monster may not be the nicest thing to look at. But that there is a great bit of grass roots political propaganda, well executed and not at all comparable to "scrawled tags" in any event. I love it and it's a shame they would cover something like that up.

When I think of graffiti I remember back in Ottawa there was this old wall off Sparks St next to a staircase where a bunch of brick had crumbled away and left this dirty concrete surface in the shadows exposed. Someone eventually spray painted this creepy face in the space, it fit perfectly there and added to an obviously neglected piece of downtown. I know for some it doesn't make for a simple or coherent enough policy to treat these things on a case-by-case basis, but why not at least leave it up to the property owner whether they want to remove it or not?
posted by Hoopo at 11:12 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


In Toronto's last spurt of visionary city building every bit of parkland and infrastructure became an art project. There's the Music Gardens, in the shape of musical notation. There's the recently cancelled bridge, meant to follow the route of a buried creek. There's the trucked in sand of HTO and Sugar Beach, the wavedecks of Harbourfront. There's the canoe overlooking the Gardiner. There's a proposed park which will take the shape of June Callwood's voiceprint while speaking some phrase of inspiration. I like these projects. A lot of money is spent on planning, construction and materials of these ambitious public spaces. But then we let grubby Toronto take over. Skateboarders grind the edges of expensive stone benches, garbage blows into the corners, every pole gets postered, surfaces get tagged. How long before the new subway trains (if they ever put them into service) get all scratched to hell? Look at this bench installed only last fall down on the new public waterfront where the George Brown Health Sciences school is being constructed. The previous administration spent big on this vision of unique public spaces beating with the spirit of happy render people full of common cause, but would probably have been unable to stand up to one hippy asserting his right to free expression. The new administration will build nothing and expects nothing of the city, but may just blunder into cleaning up a few excesses that in their unhip dad way. Somewhere there's a middle ground.
posted by TimTypeZed at 11:14 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


They would get paid nothing. Like I said, it's slavery.

What if the work was done by prisoners on a voluntary basis for whatever low wages they pay them for doing jobs within the prison? Some of them might actually want to get outside for a change. Drunk drivers and nonviolent offenders often have their sentences commuted to several days of roadside cleanup in lieu of several nights in jail (around here anyway).
posted by The Hamms Bear at 11:20 AM on May 30, 2011


What if minimum wage applied to everyone, regardless of circumstances, and there weren't excluded groups? Hey that sounds reasonable.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:21 AM on May 30, 2011


Without actually supporting the practice of prison workers not being paid shit, I think the logic behind the low wages is that prisoners are getting room and board courtesy of the government, so their low labor wages reflect the cost of living on the taxpayer's dime.
posted by hippybear at 11:24 AM on May 30, 2011


That being said, one could also argue that this is "work as rehabilitation". Some people might actually realize that this is something that they could do full-time for real wages, and decide, once they're out, to turn their lives around and work.

But he's not phrasing it as such -- mind you, I think the right work is more than just therapeutic -- and a lot of people are on the inside because they don't know how to function on the outside -- but that's not what this is all about.

Get people working on the outside before they end up in jail. Companies could exploit this no end, too -- why pay people wages and benefits when you have a captive workforce who would have to work for free or for pennies an hour? What guarantees do we have that some politician's patron or buddy doesn't get to misuse the system?

It is very easy to wag your finger in the air with an arrogant and mean-spirited demeanor telling people what you will give and take away from them as if they were unruly children. Just comb your hair, slap on a suit and tie and run along as you spew about how everyone before you just got it wrong and everybody is helpless and incapable and now you are going to do everything differently and save people from themselves.

You know, just once, I'd love to see a politician who didn't talk down to people and didn't stomp on other people's hard-work and legacy to denigrate what they did in order to elevate their own empty promises. How about someone who actually believed that people were capable and didn't need constant threats, meddling, and babysitting and offered ways for them to flourish instead of making new walls to keep them back as they kept them in?

Generations of people did do a lot things right, too. Someone please burn those political scripts -- I already know how it ends...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:29 AM on May 30, 2011



Without actually supporting the practice of prison workers not being paid shit, I think the logic behind the low wages is that prisoners are getting room and board courtesy of the government, so their low labor wages reflect the cost of living on the taxpayer's dime.


That's the argument, yeah.

And if you think that prisons exist to torture convicted criminals, and that the government shouldn't be funding programs that better society... then the argument it makes sense.

"Lucky bastards, next thing you know they'll be making 8 dollars an hour, then people will be lining up to go to prison!"
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:30 AM on May 30, 2011


Edmonton actually did this a couple years ago.
Of course you might not have noticed, because there's been no discernible result. And the city is still god-awful ugly, but that's got nothing to do with graffiti

Indeed, Edmonton is vibrant now.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:33 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fine, you don't like the idea of prison. What do you think we should do with pimps and murders, Stagger Lee?
posted by The Hamms Bear at 11:42 AM on May 30, 2011


What is that trying to say, exactly? Walls look better with graffiti art than with snarky bullshit painted on them? That might be true.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:43 AM on May 30, 2011



Fine, you don't like the idea of prison. What do you think we should do with pimps and murders, Stagger Lee?


I'm not advocating against prisons. I'm advocating the idea that they exist to maximize the suffering of the inmates.

If you take criminals and keep them in brutal conditions for a few years before then releasing them, several years behind on the job market, with a criminal record, no skills, no savings, and a bad attitude... you're pretty much asking for repeat offenders.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:45 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


What is that trying to say, exactly? Walls look better with graffiti art than with snarky bullshit painted on them? That might be true.

I think it's hilarious, and if you can't figure out what it's trying to say you're not trying very hard. Why would anyone pretend a city of grey walls is nice to behold?
posted by Hoopo at 11:47 AM on May 30, 2011


Hey Rob, you fat fuck,

How about you fix the damn roads? Forget graffiti, just fix the damn roads. Not the ones in Etobicoke- those are fine. Fix the ones downtown, where a lot of us live, and where most of the people you think you represent still have to go for work.

What's that? You can't fix the roads because you killed off half your revenue streams, and you refuse to raise taxes, and canceling councilors' retirement parties only nets you about 50 grand? Fuck it then- sell the roads!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:03 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why would anyone pretend a city of grey walls is nice to behold?

I'm no fan of architecture that ignores its street presence, but even so. I'll take a grey wall over a web of black spray paint tags any day.
posted by Popular Ethics at 12:17 PM on May 30, 2011


Just cane a few taggers, then most of them will stop. It works in Singapore.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 12:22 PM on May 30, 2011


How can it be legal to fine someone for not removing graffiti? If they own the building, what right does the government have to say what the business owners can keep on the walls? If I owned a small business, I'd probably hire someone to do a graffiti installation.

I'd agree with you had the owners of those buildings/businesses not lobbied heavily for that law to go into effect.

Reap what you sow, fascists!
posted by hal_c_on at 12:41 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, the worst road I have been on (filled with potholes) is Islington Ave just north of Dixon -- and the rest of Ford's old ward is pretty bad too. South & central Etobicoke - where the rich live - might be fine, but North Etobicoke (aka Rexdale, little Somalia) is in a terrible state. More potholes abd more garbage than anywhere else I've been in Toronto.
posted by jb at 12:42 PM on May 30, 2011


Ford may be a dick but I find it hard to defend graffiti on any grounds, it's a scourge on urban spaces and cost cities millions to clean up that they could be spending on more useful stuff.

You need to amp up your thinking with logic and reason. What you say about graffiti, people have said about other ethnicities showing up in their burgeoning cities. Why do you consider this expression to be a scourge?
posted by hal_c_on at 12:44 PM on May 30, 2011


I have never known a graffiti'd wall to stop a tagger from painting over it. Consistently removing graffiti eventually works, or at least it has in my area of Los Angeles. That bit about 'fresh canvasses' is bullshit.

Perhaps Canadian taggers are more polite. I have seen tagged walls go undisturbed for weeks or months or even years if the work there is impressive enough. I have also seen newly blank walls get un-blank overnight.

At least that's how it works in Toronto, which is actually the place we are talking about.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:46 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I occasionally take the GO train into Toronto down the Milton line and the graffiti is the most interesting part of the ride. The funny thing is that nobody can see it from the roads, only from the trains. I see no reason at all to remove it.
posted by rocket88 at 12:49 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Just cane a few taggers, then most of them will stop. It works in Singapore."
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese

And think of the tourism revenue stream of folks paying to watch toothsome young people getting caned in public. No pictures though - that would violate Canada's porn embargo!
posted by Dreidl at 12:51 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a dumb joke after you've seen a few dozen variations of it. People read "Blank walls are criminal", believe it to be true, make this joke and pat themselves on the back for it.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:53 PM on May 30, 2011


jb> Lakeshore Village is the neighbourhood next door to me, and I assure you it is not "rich" by any standard. There's a narrow slice along the Queensway that's middle class, and literally one road south of Lakeshore that's upper middle class (the one that terminates in the Humber South campus). The rest of it is post-industrial blight, low-rise apartments, cramped two bed-room houses holding three generations of immigrants, and endless strip malls. Mimico is fancier in that you can't openly piss in the streets or solicit johns. I love LV (best West Indian food in the city proper), but it's the wart on Toronto's ass. Centre, along Bloor / Dundas and the subway line, is the nicest part of Etobicoke - it's the only part Ignatieff ever set foot in so far as I could tell.

Kipling and Islington are the two worst maintained roads in the city though, you'll get no argument from me. I was thinking of calling Ford up about it.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 12:58 PM on May 30, 2011


but North Etobicoke (aka Rexdale, little Somalia) is in a terrible state.

Good point, but I'm pretty sure Ford in no way believes that he represents the people that live there.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:59 PM on May 30, 2011


WhiteSkull> Naw. I don't like Ford, but I know people who live in Rexdale and they love him. Everyone you talk to has a "I had this problem... and I called Rob Ford and he fixed it" story. I think he's an awful mayor, but he was a really good councilor for the people who lived there. Shame he couldn't stay there.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:04 PM on May 30, 2011


I have seen tagged walls go undisturbed for weeks or months or even years if the work there is impressive enough.[...] At least that's how it works in Toronto, which is actually the place we are talking about.

I would have assumed the same before Banksy's visit to Toronto. I would think if his work gets tagged over, anybody's would.
posted by Adam_S at 1:12 PM on May 30, 2011




I would have assumed the same before Banksy's visit to Toronto. I would think if his work gets tagged over, anybody's would.
posted by Adam_S at 1:12 PM on May 30 [+] [!]

The transitive nature of graffiti is part of the game. It sucks when murals get painted over, but most artists don't paint walls with any expectation of permanence. That's part of what's interesting about artists like Banksy...

The grey paint slapped over the murals choked me up a little bit though. That's tragic.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:22 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


hal_c_on: "You need to amp up your thinking with logic and reason. What you say about graffiti, people have said about other ethnicities showing up in their burgeoning cities. Why do you consider this expression to be a scourge?"

Bored art school students aren't exactly an oppressed group.
posted by octothorpe at 1:30 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


If they own the building, what right does the government have to say what the business owners can keep on the walls?

Well, as set out in the Abatement Program pdf, some art is good (art murals) and some is bad (everything else). Which is good and which is bad will be decided by a committee. That will end well. I am sure His Worship Mayor Ford will find a balanced slate of appointees who bring a wide-ranging and comprehensive knowledge of art history and urban affairs to the table.

And to save anyone else the trouble, you know who else had a committee to identify and isolate degenerate art?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:43 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it unrealistic to imagine legislation that would define (monochrome, small, repetitive, turf marking) and sanction, tagging - while generally leaving the more glorious efforts alone?
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:47 PM on May 30, 2011


It's a dumb joke after you've seen a few dozen variations of it. People read "Blank walls are criminal", believe it to be true, make this joke and pat themselves on the back for it.

If it's all over the place, that sounds to me like a campaign protesting the by-laws. You get a message out through repetition. Kinda like advertising out in public, which a lot of people also think is ugly. Also graffiti had been popular a long time before Banksy ever put up that piece. Graffiti artists have not and do not need cues from Banksy on where they should write.
posted by Hoopo at 1:50 PM on May 30, 2011


but North Etobicoke (aka Rexdale, little Somalia) is in a terrible state.

Good point, but I'm pretty sure Ford in no way believes that he represents the people that live there.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:59 PM on 5/30
[+] [!]


Though that was his ward until recently. I've heard about him being loved by some of his constituents, after all, he was re-elected, but there were a hell of a lot of them he didn't serve. I didn't hear much about him until I found put that he campaigned against a women's shelter in our neighbourhood, and first met him when he was promoting an actively-anti-pedestrian re-development (The "Smart" Centre and walmart at Islington & Rexdale -- Smart Centres should be banned as a blight on the Canadian Landscape - they are nothing but box stores and
parking lots).

my apologies - I've lived in Lakeshore village/Long branch and had relatives in Mimico -- and i know that south of the GO train is definitely not rich (also west and south of Islington &Bloor is all industrial). When I said south & central Etobicoke, I was thinking of basically from Eglinton to Bloor, and Bloor always feels "south" to me.
posted by jb at 1:59 PM on May 30, 2011


Graffiti is an example of a city being alive, a city that people have embodied enough, that it becomes an extension of who they are. They are tagging it, not as an act of angry vandalism, but as a kind of pride of place.

That's why I love the kid who tagged the Banksy mural, this really obvious and not very formally interesting carpetbagger, who managed to get famous mostly by hustling a guilble media, does a couple of pieces, and people pay attention--ignoring a tradition that has organically grown up around these sections of town--and gets slapped down for it.

As for the projects that Tim Type Zed mentions, they are conceptually interesting, and quite beautiful, but aristocratic, and imposed top down. One of the great things that skateboarders do, is that they create culture and meaning from the streets--they use the city to create meaning at an intimate and human scale. They live in the city, in a pyschogeographic way, with more vigour than Coupland (and I like Coupland).

The city is not pristine, because humanity is not pristine, and to maintain pristiness is to maintain a social order that is unnessc. repressive.

Also, can we stop calling Ford a fat fuck, his weight has little to do with anything else. Also, the queensway has the best burgers in the city.
posted by PinkMoose at 2:52 PM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


When does graffiti stop and "art installation" begin?

Quality graffiti is awesome; stupid punk kid taggers scrawling their ugly signatures on stuff is stupid.
posted by porpoise at 3:06 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


jb> No worries mate. Funnily enough, it's just the opposite for me. I've lived south of Dundas my entire life, so Bloor to Eg is my idea of "north". Until I got a car and started driving, the idea that there was an even further northern section just didn't register.

One of Ford's tricks to popularity was to find groups his already extremely marginalised constituents could themselves ostracise and feel superior to. Drug addicts, abused women, gays, etc. were all easy targets for an area that skews poor and socially conservative.

On the other hand, he was pretty much the only guy in Toronto you could call to get a pothole fixed, even if it wasn't his ward. It's old style tribal politics.

PinkMoose> Apache and GBC are the only ones I know out there. Both are really good though.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:14 PM on May 30, 2011


One of the great things that skateboarders do, is that they create culture and meaning from the streets--they use the city to create meaning at an intimate and human scale. They live in the city, in a pyschogeographic way, with more vigour than Coupland (and I like Coupland).
What does this mean?

The city is not pristine, because humanity is not pristine, and to maintain pristiness is to maintain a social order that is unnessc. repressive.
This is a bunch of rhetoric.

I think people like me hate graffiti for the same reason people like you love graffiti. We both want what we think is best for the city. I'm willing to prioritize cleaning up graffiti above fixing potholes because seeing tags everywhere makes me hate the place I live. I think we can all agree that's a bad thing. Graffiti artists break the law and paint walls because blank walls make them hate the place they live. Again, hating where you live is a bad thing.

I think taggers are selfish shithead kids, you maybe think they're expressing themselves and creating culture. I'm not really sure how to reconcile these two opinions.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:21 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't even remember what its called, but the one that looks like an old tastee freeze, on Humber?

Re:Skateboarders--they use the city, they find ways to treat the built environment as a stage for their performances, and not just as a way to go from point a to point b. Like these pakour kids i see around the u of t, that climb and jump and duck, and notice where things are, in ways I never would--or the old inflatiator crowd. (I mean, it's a spectrum, so those who read, or have lunch or play catch in the courtyard of 1 King West also do this, while the bankers who go home, office, takeout, office, home), less so.


There is bad graff and good graff--would i sooner have more like the keele corridor, fuck yeah, the keele corridor is one of the best things that toronto has to offer, does it make me a little sad that the sculptures in high park are sharpied on, oh for sure, once again, a spectrum.
posted by PinkMoose at 3:27 PM on May 30, 2011


I liked SNL's proposal for getting rid of graffiti.
posted by schmod at 3:43 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm willing to prioritize cleaning up graffiti above fixing potholes

I'm sympathetic to the sentiment about hating graffiti (it's differing tastes), but that's crazy. I don't even drive, but potholes are potentially dangerous and can cause thousands of dollars in damage to pretty much every driver that passes by.

Generally, for a lot kids growing up in an urban, downtown environment a lot of it must seem really exclusive and unwelcoming. I often feel that way now as an adult without a particularly high salary. In many cases kids and teenagers are actively dissuaded from even being there, harassed for loitering or else having music blasted at them in the hopes they'll be uncomfortable and leave. They probably experience the City very differently than the average joe with an office job downtown. If evidence of people being selfish shitheads makes you hate the city, I wish you luck finding one where you're at peace. What does a building like the Shangri-La represent, towering over everything else in town, if not some selfish shitheads bragging?
posted by Hoopo at 3:49 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love graffiti. Makes urban environments more interesting.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:46 PM on May 30, 2011


I think at some point a distinction has to be made between graffiti and tagging. I know it's probably a semantic issue on some level, but there's a real difference between someone putting some effort into what they've laid on a surface (even if it is just their initials or a stupid slogan) and someone putting gang markers on property as part of their gang stuff. Tagging makes me angry. Graffiti at least amuses me on some level.
posted by hippybear at 4:57 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bring back public pillories!! Put up some cameras and nab the jackass SOB taggers who want to deface other people's property. Place convicted taggers in a public pillory - with cameras rolling. Let them be shamed in public. Publish their names in the newspaper, regardless of age! Make them wear a "Scarlet T" (for tagger) on their Neanderthal foreheads, using some kind of paint that is not removable for 30 days.

Graffitti? Are you marking someone else property? That's vandalism!

Tagging? the same.
posted by Vibrissae at 6:29 PM on May 30, 2011


Are you being sarcastic? That seems a bit extreme for minor property damage.
posted by Hoopo at 6:38 PM on May 30, 2011


Are you being sarcastic? That seems a bit extreme for minor property damage

I'm entirely serious; and, I'm a Liberal, too. I used to own a retail shop and it's not a "minor" thing to have windows and storefronts marked up by jerk-offs who have their fun and leave the cost and cleanup to others. I meant every word I said. Tolerating stuff like this leaves the impression that it's OK to do. Calling it "art" is ludicrous. I have no tolerance for crimes like this; crimes that "look" soft, but have real negative impact on a lot of people.
posted by Vibrissae at 7:58 PM on May 30, 2011


Yr not liberal, yr petit bourgeouis.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:08 PM on May 30, 2011


I hate to break it to you, but "graffiti as art" isn't really up for debate anymore. Graffiti-style illustrations and graffiti-tag-inspired fonts have been adopted to the point they're now common on clothing and advertisements and in digital and printed publications. Graffiti-ed cityscapes are used in TV and movies, graffiti artists have work in respectable galleries.

I'd also point out that it isn't, in fact, tolerated in the first place--it remains illegal and if people get caught tagging there are consequences. Many just don't care, they take serious risks to life and limb to access some places to throw up a piece, knowing there's always the chance of having to flee from police or security guards. The risk is part of the thrill for a lot of these guys. I'm not sure ay punishment is much of a deterrent.

I'm under no illusion that all of it is nice. Some graffiti is ugly. Some of the ugliest stuff is actually early stages of works by talented graffiti artists who had to run before they were done. Others ugly graffiti is done by talentless jerks or people who don't know what they're doing. People start out shitty and improve with time and practice, and personally I would probably practice at home before I'd ever go out and throw a tag up on a wall, but I'm too old for this shit and was never good with a spraycan anyway.

I should mention that I worked in property damage claims for a long time and graffiti is indeed a minor form of property damage compared to most other things that can happen to property. It is "soft." I'm not saying it doesn't suck to have to paint over tags frequently and remove paint and markers from glass. It's a tremendous pain in the ass, I'm sure of that. But putting someone in stocks for writing their name on a wall? That's cruel and unusual and inhumane and crazy. Do you propose we set up even more cameras in public places? Increase police presence everywhere the streets are empty at night? For freaking vandalism?

I'm a Liberal, too.

I note you use a capital "L". That is probably the only correct way to spell that word in this context.
posted by Hoopo at 9:09 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should mention that I worked in property damage claims for a long time and graffiti is indeed a minor form of property damage compared to most other things that can happen to property. It is "soft." I'm not saying it doesn't suck to have to paint over tags frequently and remove paint and markers from glass. It's a tremendous pain in the ass, I'm sure of that. But putting someone in stocks for writing their name on a wall? That's cruel and unusual and inhumane and crazy. Do you propose we set up even more cameras in public places? Increase police presence everywhere the streets are empty at night? For freaking vandalism?

Let me clarify. If someone tags walls, time after time, fine after fine, and thinks it's cool because all they have to do is pay a fine, and get to strengthen their bonds with their foo-tagging-or-graffitti buddies, then put 'em in stocks for 24 hours with food and water.

They are splattering their so-called "art" all over property that belongs to someone else, that someone else has made an investment in, that someone else has to clean, etc. because they just care about *themselves*. These people don't give a darn about me, or my property. You could be next. These people are just pleasing themselves at someone else expense. Do you approve of that? Do you think that those who continue to do it should just continue to be slapped on the wrist? I think people like that need to be shamed, and shamed big time, and that's why I wish we could bring the pillory back. Let their neighbors know who they are, no matter their age. In San Francisco, Chinese offenders - especially teen offenders - used to be turned back to their community by the cops, because they knew that they would be shamed into future compliance.

And, if the "risk is part of the thrill for some of these guys" because they don't feel the pain of a monetary fine, then they are showing that they clearly don't care about anything but proving their "art" by screwing up property that they don't have to maintain.

How about I go to their house or apartment and mark up their walls while I "learn how to do my art"? I wonder how they would fee about that? How about I mark up their cars (like they did in my old neighborhood) or their motorcycles, or even their evergreen trees?

How much money do these losers cost *every one of us* through insurance claims? We pay for these scofflaw's acts with increased insurance premiums.

and, Hoopo, As far as the "L" in Liberal goes, just by writing what you wrote, you deploy the very condescension and paternalism that you accuse me of. Just cut the holier than thou crap and come clean some retail walls with your own elbow grease, and soap, and time, and hiring a painter, and having to install new windows (because the graffiti jerk-offs scratched your windows, etc.). How about having to increase your triple net payment to the commercial landlord because his insurance or security rates go up?

I love art, even radical art that really pisses people off. What I don't like is when a so-called artist uses my or another person's property to practice their talent, and in so-doing costs that person great inconvenience and monetary loss. I especially don't like it when someone caught doing this continues to flaunt the law and causes further pain. They need a lesson they'll never forget: the public pillory.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:08 AM on May 31, 2011


The city where I live fines both business and home owners for failure to clean up grafitti Someone Else put on their property. Grafitti is not like litter or long grass. Long grass, well you should have done something like mow the lawn or hire it done. Litter can be picked up. In short, both are high on the No-Excuse-O-Meter. Grafitti requires going and buying paint. It is repeated often. Frankly I think the fines on homeowners here, $500 a day are Draconian. The only way out was to register for a program that would paint out the grafitti with random colors. You could leave a can of paint that matches your home, and so long as you register and let them know about new grafitti, the program is free for home-owners.
A lot of businessmen opposed the huge fines. After all hardly anyone tags their own home or business. The person fined ought to be the perp, not the victim.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:42 AM on May 31, 2011


I'm envious of graffiti artists. They have a place to exhibit their work. I'm sorry that its externalities are poorly routed, though. It would be good if more blank walls were set aside for graf work, perhaps with a kind of schedule for new artwork to go up. Because there's a shitload of blank walls in every city. (One of the reasons I really like Montreal is the graf everywhere, and much of it of exceptional quality.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:05 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]




I think at some point a distinction has to be made between graffiti and tagging. I know it's probably a semantic issue on some level, but there's a real difference between someone putting some effort into what they've laid on a surface (even if it is just their initials or a stupid slogan) and someone putting gang markers on property as part of their gang stuff. Tagging makes me angry. Graffiti at least amuses me on some level.



I bet a lot of graffiti artists started out by tagging.
We're all young, dumb and amateur at some point.

You can't really regulate based on aesthetic or the subjective value of their work.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:29 AM on May 31, 2011


And, Hoopo, As far as the "L" in Liberal goes, just by writing what you wrote, you deploy the very condescension and paternalism that you accuse me of.

It was over the line of me, but the point was liberals generally don't call for extreme punishments for minor crimes. Although, they probably also don't impose fines on people for not cleaning up other peoples' messes.
posted by Hoopo at 9:53 AM on May 31, 2011


I bet a lot of graffiti artists started out by tagging.

And.... I bet that's not true.

Since it's much more difficult to prove a negative, do you have anything to support your thesis, which appears to be that gang taggers marking territory leads with any regularity to quality creative guerilla spraypaint artists?

Or perhaps you're not familiar with the kind of tagging I'm talking about.

I don't see the people who do that kind of thing graduating to even something like this as a matter of artistic development. If I'm wrong I'd welcome having my worldview refined.
posted by hippybear at 12:48 PM on May 31, 2011


liberals generally don't call for extreme punishments for minor crimes

Yeah, that whole "put 'em in the public pillory" rant is really a bit over the top, isn't it? But then, apparently public flogging is also something which should be considered as an appropriate punishment, so maybe we're just seeing the consistency beneath the facade.
posted by hippybear at 12:50 PM on May 31, 2011


hippybear: "I don't see the people who do [ugly tags] graduating to [full color masterpieces] as a matter of artistic development. If I'm wrong I'd welcome having my worldview refined.

Thanks for the invitation! You are in fact wrong, and I'll try to explain why.

I've interviewed a few very accomplished graffiti writers personally, and read interviews with dozens more in some of the many books on the subject. The overwhelming majority of them got their start by tagging (not always as badly as those examples you cherry-picked, but often quite badly!) This shouldn't be too surprising, since strong calligraphy is only one of several skills required to become a respected writer. Stealth and perseverance are equally important if not more so. So as young would-be writers try to earn their cred, they are generally developing all of these skills at once. Some develop a good handstyle first; others go all-city with their crappy tags and only get "can control" later. Either route will get you recognized within that community (although the latter route might earn you more enemies than friends.)

You also can't divide the graffiti community into clean categories of "people who tag" and "people who paint masterpieces". Many writers continue to tag long after they've "graduated" to the kind of colorful mural-sized pieces that outsiders are more likely to love.

That said, as in any creative field, the 90% rule does apply. Just because most great writers started as taggers, does not mean all taggers become great writers. Most of them will get weeded out in time, by bad encounters with law enforcement, changes in life circumstances, or just lack of dedication to the craft. It's only those who are exceptional, or crazy, or both, who manage to achieve great things.
posted by otherthings_ at 1:24 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd love to read some of those interviews if any are online.
posted by hippybear at 3:03 PM on May 31, 2011


And now there's this kerfuffle, to make it all even more ridiculouser.
posted by peagood at 8:21 PM on May 31, 2011


peagood, just beat me to it. I was going to post that news. I'd say it merits the front page with a 'previously' link...
posted by ameliaaah at 9:00 PM on May 31, 2011


amliaaah, all my left wing pinko cyclist Facebook friends are posting it, of course.

And, to help illustrate or expand on otherthings_'s point for hippybear, Steve Powers (ESPO) started with tags, albeit likely more well-done than your links, and progressed from there; and one of my favourite artists, graffiti or otherwise, tagged trains throughout her career - though if you don't know about her, some of them just look like tags. Maybe Taki 183 never did more than simple tags, but others certainly have gone on to more advanced work.

As I learned too, from books and other sources, tag style develops as the need to gain fame grows (and as the opportunities arise and time allows). To paraphrase something I remember ESPO saying (in Juxtapoz years ago, I think), graffiti is not only someone trying to tell you who they are, but how far they're willing to go to say it.

But gang tagging or hate tags have a different place in the culture than those who are competing for attention or making artistic statements with their graffiti, and I'd certainly hope that Toronto Police know the difference and evaluate and prioritize accordingly. Oh wait - they do! But Ford has had a bug up his ass when it comes to graffiti since at least 2008.
posted by peagood at 10:57 PM on May 31, 2011


Yeah, that whole "put 'em in the public pillory" rant is really a bit over the top, isn't it? But then, apparently public flogging is also something which should be considered as an appropriate punishment, so maybe we're just seeing the consistency beneath the facade

It's not a rant; it's a proposition. I's ask you to think really hard about the condescension implied in your post .Have you a better idea? Lets hear it. In the meantime, I'll look for you to show up to start cleaning up a tagger's mess, and paying for it with your own time, money, and labor. Let's see how you feel about it after that - especially after you have to "wash, rinse, repeat 10-15 times over a few months time. I'm not a religious guy, but apparently lots of really peaceful people were able to see the righteous anger behind Jesus whipping the money changers in the temple. There's also that phrase about walking in another man's shoes.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:28 AM on June 1, 2011


Graffiti is a fact of the modern urban environment. It's a transgressive act done by marginalized citizens as a method of speech and identity construction. You can't fight it by prohibiting it, because the breaking of the prohibition and the property violence are both essential elements of the act. In other words, to fight a war against graffiti is to invite more of it. Drug prohibition is the same mistake; instead of finding out why people are addicts and helping them, we fight a war against them, punish them, jail them, etcetera. Here, instead of treating the social issues of which tagging is a symptom, we just try to paint over it. Again, and again, and again.

But it will keep coming back.
posted by mek at 2:18 AM on June 1, 2011


I's ask you to think really hard about the condescension implied in your post

I don't have to think hard about the condescension in my post. It's not even implied. I have nothing but contempt for those who want to go back to old New England Puritan styles of punishment for people accused of what basically are morality crimes.

Sorry if that bothers you, but there it is.
posted by hippybear at 6:41 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Artist says city erased mural it paid him to paint. Left hand, please meet right hand. Do you guys know each other?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:18 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oops, peagood got to it already.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:19 AM on June 1, 2011


You know what Vibrassae? I think you need to re-evaluate who's being condescending here. "Think really hard" about it. You're calling for this in all seriousness, quoting the Bible, stating that graffiti as art is "ludicrous", calling them "Neanderthals". I have known and been friends with graffiti artists. These are people. I was right. You are not a liberal.

Here's a better idea, since you're asking: public service cleaning graffiti for people caught doing graffiti. Or maybe we could have the Royal Guard throw them in the dungeon for messing with the landowning class.
posted by Hoopo at 8:29 AM on June 1, 2011


It's a transgressive act done by marginalized citizens as a method of speech and identity construction.

Also an act done by non-marginalized lily-white young people of all kinds: high school kids, art students, idealists, people who are just into the graff "scene".
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 8:52 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perfect timing: here's a brand new video interview with San Francisco-based writer Apex where he articulates how everything in the graffiti world has its origins in handstyles (i.e. tagging). The video is also a great example of a broad range of handstyles in action. For anyone who doubts that tagging itself can be art, you couldn't find a better primer.

Apex is a great example of someone who came up in that scene and became an exceptional artist in the process. He currently has a show of work on canvas (denim, actually) at White Walls gallery in SF.
posted by otherthings_ at 5:54 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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