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Toronto wins award for the way it handles graffiti

The key to the way Toronto handles its graffiti is co-option. Instead of anathematizing vandals, Toronto works with street artists. The result: We will have no Banksy to call our own, but Vogue does seem to like Queen West an awful lot.

“We recognized from the outset that we would not be able to eliminate graffiti vandalism,” says Elyse Parker, a director in the city’s transportation services, but that they would be able to achieve goals in enforcement and support for victims of vandalism and for street artists. “What is unique to Toronto and the graffiti management program is it was recognized that what look like mutually exclusive approaches to graffiti can exist simultaneously. Our new by-law recognizes that graffiti art is permitted, provided there is agreement from the property owner, the graffiti is created for purposes of enhancement, and consistent with the local neighbourhood character.

“The city now has an excellent relationship with the graffiti and street art community. We have a street art directory which lists about 90 artists, who the public can access and engage with. We continue to develop programs, projects and services that will meet our four areas of direction. For example, in year two, we started our ‘outside the box’ program where we engage artists to paint or wrap traffic signal boxes, which are unattractive and magnets for tagging.”

The by-law, which was passed by council in 2011, has resulted in mass erasures of graffiti determined to be vandalism, over 200,000 square feet of the stuff in 2014 alone, with more, Parker says, if you count the independent efforts of individual business improvement areas (BIAs), school boards and homeowners.

The definition if vandalism is simple: Does the painter have the permission of the owner of the property she is painting on? If not, she’s a vandal. It might be argued that the very nature of graffiti and other forms of street are is transgressive, that it draws much of its energy from the unilateral commandeering of public or private property for its own ends.

But then again there is something to be said for painted traffic signal boxes over tagged ones.

And it seems the Institute of Public Administration of Canada and Deloitte agree. They've awarded the city a silver-level Public Sector Leadership Award for its program. (The gold went to a similarly successful effort in co-option, the Quebec city of Repentigny’s Skate Plaza.)

As far as the Queen West BIA is concerned, the graffiti program has helped them enormously.

“They believe that one of the reasons that Vogue magazine named them last July as the second coolest neighbourhood in the world is because of the street art in their neighbourhood and the relationship they have with street artists,” Parker says. “They claim that their costs to remove graffiti vandalism have been reduced by 40 per cent since the inception of the program.”

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Elyse Parker
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