I happen to like tags. In fact, I actually prefer to walk down a heavily tagged alleyway than I do a clean, sterile street. For me, graffiti is part of what living in a city is all about. It gives a city its pulse, and it’s integral to the unique character of a neighbourhood. Sure, some tags are offensive and stupid (few people like to find a big Fuck You written on their fence); but truthfully, most of the tags I encounter are cryptic graf names, not curse words, and most of them pop up in back alleys, underpasses and other non-places that are derelict and neglected anyways.
Last week, at the launch of SeeClickFix, a new smartphone app that will allow citizens to easily report graffiti and vandalism to the city via cellphone, Rob Ford declared that his War on Graffitti had “just begun.” For Ford, and many others, tags represent crime and vandalism. Many imagine crooks, gang members and druggies defacing small businesses when they think of tagging. As one individual wrote in a recent letter to the Toronto Star, tags “are signs that Toronto has surrendered its landscape to vandals.” I disagree.
According to Jane Jacobs, the apparent disorder of city life is actually a complex form of order. Without it, things start to fall a part. As neatly stacked condos and pristine townhouses sprout up all over this city at an alarming rate, and as old Victorian facades, artists studios and warehouses make way for H&M storefronts and supersized Loblaws, and graffiti (both the good and the bad stuff) is hastily white washed to make room for pristine walls I am growing increasingly worried that our city is losing some of it’s essential disorder. We need more opportunity for accidental discovery, colour and surprise on our streets. At the very least graffiti forces us to notice and consider our surroundings in a way that a new Seven Eleven does not. We haven’t surrendered our landscape to vandals; we’ve surrendered it to advertising and the aggressive development that finds itself everywhere in this city. Tags are one way of resisting this, speaking out and inserting individual expression back into the urban landscape.
In my humble opinion, Torontonians have become far too tolerant of corporate ugliness. Why should I have to accept brightly light Shoppers Drug Marts with their overbearing red and white signage in every neighbourhood and hideous banks at every major intersection? What right does the City have to tell us graffiti is ugly and distasteful, when I am bombarded with foul advertising everywhere I look? Is there an iphone app that I can use to report obnoxious signage and offensive billboards? Perhaps we should use Ford’s new app to report all kinds of visual pollution! Let’s clog his app with our own ideas of ugliness, shall we?
I think the City should be applying it’s white paint to billboards, much like São Paulo did in 2007 when Mayor Gilberto Kassab banned outdoor video screens, oversized signage and all forms of advertisements. Imagine how different Dundas Square would feel! Ford can’t win a war on on graffiti; especially not by white washing walls. Doesn’t he see he’s just priming a bunch of blank canvases? Nothing begs a tag like a big blank wall. Perhaps he should be spending the money required to remove graffiti on creating colourful murals instead. That might actually help to decrease careless tagging, while improving our city at the same time. Fancy that.
Now tell me, are the images below really improvements to the ones above?