Arguments for and against graffiti

The reason usually given for eradicating graffiti is that leaving it there encourages crime. This is true, it can – but not always.

Graffiti left on walls sends a signal that an area, or a neighbourhood, is not cared for. People wandering through areas that look uncared for are more likely to be ‘care-less’, to behave badly, break windows and damage property. When things stay broken, this in turn implies that bad behaviour is accepted here and worse crimes occur. The ideas of Crime Prevention Though Environmental Design (CPTED) have been around since the early 1970’s, about a decade longer than the Ian Curtis graffiti. A psychology of the built environment, it covers a lot more than just graffiti, and can make a big difference to safety in urban space but in some cases – like with the Ian Curtis graffiti – I feel its application is flawed.

Graffiti eradication starts with the assumption that the original graffiti is placed without care, that it is a form of property damage. This is not necessarily the case. Some graffiti can and is done out of love and respect for a place, for people, or the medium of exchange itself (story telling). In this case I argue that graffiti can be a signal that this space is cared for. Letting it grow and evolve can improve a place, and you know that the people who use this space are involved with it. It’s certainly more interesting and friendly to walk through a posy of colourful images and words than a bunch of blank walls, like a neighbourhood of turned backs. When I moved here I was impressed with the level of thought behind much of the graffiti in Wellington City. I’m not a fan of tagging (by that I mean hasty scribbles), but wit and beauty win me over pretty easily when I’m out walking. I appreciate graffiti that tries to communicate something to me. I appreciate a display of creative effort.

* * *

I went along to a wonderfully informative talk at the New Dowse about street art back in February. It formed part of the interactive exhibition Common Ground which ran from Feb to May this year (2009). The discussion included a panel of graffiti artists from Germany and New Zealand, a public space designer, council staff (a community youth worker) and a graffiti removal contractor. A perfect team to my mind but they didn’t quite see eye to eye. However some very interesting points came out of it.

The Hutt City graffiti removal contractors use their own discretion when eradicating tagging in Lower Hutt. They too can tell when something has taken creative effort. (Apparently not all clients are so understanding, NZRail for instance have a zero tolerance policy). So in Lower Hutt at least ‘good’ street art is defined in the eyes of the graffiti squad.
Hutt City have also run programmes with local kids, those caught tagging, giving them a real wall to express themselves on and teaching them some art skills at the same time. A positive approach that recognises public space as a place for communication that is immediate, local and valid.

The graffiti artists that spoke at the Dowse and involved in the show could get paid work for their talents, but through the debate it seemed that the thrill of being deviant was not something they wanted to give up (for the boys anyway, the girls apparently prefer making images that people will like). However there are at least two groups I know of in New Zealand that create graffiti murals for paying clients. Cut Collective who were present were also the artists behind the awesome Go Wellington graffiti bus painted at the Cuba Street Carnival. Flox, like Misery before her, has a recognisable brand of art that is growing well beyond walls to advertising and ‘legitimate’ murals on council owned street furniture (think electrical transformers, and those signal boxes at every signalised intersection).

After the discussion on the grand works by these professional artists, I was somewhat ambivalent about the especially designed graffiti boards for the Waitangi park skate area. The panels are a little too small for a whole city of would be mural artists. Having said that they do allow stories to be told. Witness the recent mural dedicated to the people of Samoa. There was a strange lack of Samoan New Zealanders views on the tsunami devastation in the usual news media. Auckland is the biggest pacific island city in the world with very strong whanau or fanau links to the pacific, yet all the New Zealand interviews I saw seemed to miss that link. This mural is a good example of how graffiti helps fill the communication gap.

Samoa mural, Waitangi Park, Wellington

Notes and links:
Graffiti Artists for hire:

I have an audio recording of the Common Ground talk which I will upload at some point. Also photos of some of the art mentioned in this post are coming soon.

CPTED in New Zealand – is promoted by the Ministry of Justice and the police. Check out the guidelines here:
national guidelines for CPTED

preventing anti-social behaviour in public spaces PDF of publication from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, UK. CABE are an excellent source of information on good public space.

Apologies if I have mangled the Samoan language here. Please correct me if I’ve used the word Fanau wrong!

Discussion (9) ¬

  1. what about g4h at ?

  2. say no to drugs say yes to grafiti

  3. u guy are talking about the bad thins about graffiti weres the good thing like its a form of art u can exspess ur self

  4. Hi Hyperkid,
    did you read the whole article? I stated with the standard argument against graffiti, but followed it with several points in its favour, including public expression and communication. If you want to add to what I’ve covered please feel free.

  5. hi you kids and audult
    i read the whole artical, wasnt it amazing!!!!!!!!
    at first i was againsted graffiti and now i am not to sure it is a type of art and vandilisum .
    art is done by graffiti artists.vandilisum is illegal if you have no permission!!!!!!!!!!!!
    if you want to add to what i have said please feel free.

  6. Graffiti can be art but its vandalism. Even though it can be art , it is vandalism because you are defacing private and publicly owned property. The graffiti art style itself is art the act on placing it on a property that is not you own is vandalism. im not against graffiti i like it, but from my prespection it is vandalism, in a form of art.

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