Proposed new Graffiti Management Policy in the City of Yarra, Melbourne

Not much blogging in the last few months – apologies, but I have been working on my (academic) book about street art…

Anyway, I’m back in order to let readers know about the proposed new Graffiti Management Policy in the City of Yarra, in Melbourne. This area includes Fitzroy, Collingwood, and Richmond, home to some of the most interesting street art, and a long time favourite location for many writers and artists to put up work. Graffiti here is part of the municipality’s character – many live in this area (as I do) because it brings vitality and interest to the streets.

Yarra has always had a pretty progressive approach to graffiti management – their last policy took a ‘whole-of-community’ approach, that is, they acknowledged it was important to talk to artists as well as those who ring up asking for graffiti to be removed, and they have sponsored lots of art events and interventions.

However, a new approach is being developed.

On Tuesday this week, I attended a briefing session on the City of Yarra’s proposed new approach to graffiti. They have hired a consulting firm, Capire Consulting, to develop the policy, which is apparently with Council at the moment, although not yet finalised. The briefing session was introduced by a representative from the Dept of Justice Community Crime Prevention dept, who framed the issue of graffiti as one of (il)legality and criminality, and discussed the various ‘graffiti grants’ available from her dept – such grants are in fact for organisations to remove/prevent graffiti. So the whole issue of uncommissioned art was clearly set up as a problem to be eradicated, reduced and controlled, and the proposed policy very much takes that line too.

The key points:

Requests for graffiti removal from private property in the City of Yarra increased from 2500 in 2010-2011 to over 4000 in 2011-12. This figure appears to indicate ratepayer dislike of graffiti. (More significantly, it indicates a significant increase in the graffiti removal expenditure for Yarra.) Is there increased ratepayer dislike of graffiti? Not necessarily – the figures indicate only those who dislike it enough to want it removed; they don’t speak to the proportion of residents/traders who either don’t mind it or actually like it. However, vocal minorities of ‘concerned citizens’ or simply those who ring up council like this are usually the constituents who influence policy-making. (I also think that 4000 requests in a large municipality still isn’t a very large number… )

The Report is called ‘Off the Wall’ which indicates the flavour of the approach taken by the consultants.

The policy: influenced by the Dept of Justice framework for graffiti management which emphasises its criminality (ie they use the Graffiti Prevention Act 2007 definition to frame graffiti as a crime unless done with permit or with consent). The policy recommends an approach equally divided between prevention, removal and enforcement. Any kind of ‘engagement’ with the arts community has been downgraded. ‘Youth programs’ and ‘working with artists’ appear as an aspect of prevention. Both of these would direct artists/writers towards legal murals. Examples were shown in a talk by the DoJ speaker of good mural projects – old-fashioned 80s-style ‘civic’ murals.

So: prevention includes: legal walls, permit systems, youth programs, crime prevention through environmental design, maintaining a database of permitted works so that works without permission can be targeted for removal. Removal: rapid removal policies, prioritised removal policy, kits for residents. Enforcement: ‘partnerships with police’, and the maintenance of a database that could be given to police for ‘enforcement purposes’.

In the ‘guiding principles’ for the report, the consultants listed: criteria to determine ‘good’ and ‘bad’ graffiti . This was explained in the session – ‘bad’ is tagging, works done without permission; ‘good’ is work done with permission.

The policy is claimed to be based on consultation, context, comparison with other municipalities, and academic literature.

But: No evidence that the academic literature had any effect on the policy that is promote (it can’t have, otherwise the policy would be differently worded, recognizing that some form of active and meaningful engagement is essential in order to avoid antagonising the community of people doing graffiti and street art).

Further: little consultation. The consultants spoke to a number of people working for other councils, and to some individuals (including an academic and an artist, who felt that their views weren’t taken into account in the report). No public/community consultation. Surely Yarra should consult before adopting such a policy? [Addendum: I’m told that there are plans for more extensive consultation: let’s hope it happens.]

Further: comparison with other municipalities. This is important in that one graffiti management policy can often have displacement effects into another municipality, so it’s good for Yarra to speak to Darebin and Melbourne and others nearby. However, the consultants also drew on advice from councils such as Stonnington and Knox, where the local community is extremely different from the one in Yarra.

Context: there was no recognition of the specific context that we find in Yarra, where we have streets like Brunswick St or Smith Street, in which graffiti and street art play very significant parts of the aesthetic and economic vitality of the area ie become key parts of an area’s character (there’s research on urban character by Kim Dovey and colleagues in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Melbourne, looking at Fitzroy and other suburbs, in which graffiti is mentioned by residents as an important part of the area’s character).

Apparently the report is with council, and I imagine there is a small window in which people could make their views know to Yarra (or perhaps with a phonecall/email to any local MPs). Let people know what the policy involves.

It’s important that we indicate to Yarra that people locally and in the arts community generally are left out of such a policy if it is adopted, and that there may be negative consequences for the area’s vitality if it is adopted.

9 comments so far

  1. Fitzroyalty on

    I think the statistics on graffiti removal indicate ratepayers’ views. No property owner I have ever spoken to thinks tagging is ‘art’. It is vandalism and an eyesore.

    I’d like to know how much money the City of Yarra is wasting in hiring consultants to develop this new policy when only minor changes to the existing policy may have been necessary?

  2. imagestoliveby on

    I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about tagging and the value that I think it can have… I have to say that I’m a property owner, and that there are many occasions when I do think tagging is an art (i give some egs in those earlier blog posts). I also recognise that tagging is closely connected to (and inseparable from) those forms of street art and graffiti deemed ‘acceptable’ by those who dislike tagging (or murals or ‘pieces’). Sometimes I wish that a tagger had chosen a different placement for a tag; sometimes it’s just part of contemporary city life. Any property owner who doesn’t like tags is of course free to remove them from their property or seek help in removing them. But I don’t think that that view should be imposed upon those of us who do recognise the connection between tags and street art.

  3. tagging on

    if tagging is art or not is not the question

    tagging will never end

    melbourne city council tried to end it over 5 years ago- and we saw a massive boom in tagging and the end of street art

    no business or meeting by council will have much of an effect on people being upset by tagging on property

    surely the priority for society and local community is:
    education, safety, health etc
    not aesthetic property cleanliness and fashion

  4. happyunderground on

    Tagging is part of the graffiti eco-system. Time and time again we have seen that you cannot simply crack down on tagging and leave other forms of graffiti to prosper. Diversity allows for evolution, progression and exchange.

    On the previous comments points on local community, aesthetic cleanliness probably could be argued out of a community discourse but the reason it is an issue for some people is that it challenges their ideas of ownership. A dictatorship over things, land and buildings that are “theirs” means that tagging, graffiti and vandalism have made a claim to using that property. This opens up a kind of communism of use, or possibly an anarchy of use, that is a challenge to property and ownership on some level.

    This is not something that I would particularly agree with, but this is why some people take issue with graffiti and why it might be seen as an important community issue. It is an aesthetic point, but it is the aesthetic manifestation of an ideological issue.

  5. Dom Estrada on

    Tagging is an eyesore, make no bones about it. Tagging is undoubtedly what 4000 people wanted removed. If a Banksy, an E.L.K., or a Kaff-eine appeared on your wall, you’d probably go to some lengths to preserve it. Tagging is puerile, mindless, self-absorbed adolescent. Writing your name on something is what a 13 year old boy does. Most of us grow out of this.

    Sadly tagging has always and will always exist. Street art is beautiful, but who decides what is art and what is not? For mine, tagging isn’t. Take yet texta and tag your own home.

  6. on

    @imagestoliveby – I’d like to hear about the City of Yarra policy as it evolves.

    @Fitzroyalty – Two things to admit. First, i don’t think art can be judged in some kind of final sense. Second, i have certainly feared about my property being changed against my wishes.

    However, if my car or wall was tagged, i would prefer to be in a community where: 1) neither i nor others would see such a thing as having lowered my value as a person and member of the community, 2) there is a process to ponder the work, curate its meanings and connections, and to deliberate how best to respond to it.

    Unfortunately, what happens to be a routine and habitual fear, gets amplified by social norms that insist we must judge graffiti as negative and resolutely develop zero tolerance approaches to collectively respond to it.

    I admit there are conceptual diffculties. Is it unsightly litter or a moving memorial, one could ask, about old plastic flowers tied to a tree in the countryside. But that is why trying to make policy and engaging with the policy should remain something of a positive thing for Melburnians.

  7. […] Proposed new Graffiti Management Policy in the City of Yarra, Melbourne ( […]

  8. Fitzroyalty on

    I see no meaning to the vandalism of selfish young men (and taggers are mostly men) who have nothing better to do with their time and no greater creativity to offer the world than to write their name endlessly on other people’s property.

  9. on

    Indeed! Young men are often selfish. I trust the grace shown to them would inspire them to be have a stake in the things we speak about.

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