A decision made by Vision Vancouver to slash the anti-graffiti program in late 2009 has had predictable consequences: our city is now a mess thanks to all the unchecked taggers leaving their marks across town. What is also apparent now from Vision's shortsighted move is that it's going to cost a whole lot more to restore the quality of graffiti prevention that existed before.
Anti-graffiti programs in the City of Vancouver go back nearly twenty years, but were finally given teeth during the NPA council of Mayor Philip Owen in 2002. It was then that council decided to combine by-law enforcement (the stick) with education and staff training (the carrot). What resulted is a very effective collaboration between City staff and the VPD to curb the costly vandalism tagging caused.
Putting in a small amount of time to keep your community graffiti-free pays its own dividends. That's why I regularly devote my time organizing and conducting "paint outs" (covering graffiti) in my neighbourhood. While they aren't spotless today (I've been just a little busy in recent weeks), the streets & allies nearby are remarkably tag free when compared to the rest of Vancouver. In fact, I invite City staff to come by and take a look – I'll even give them a tour!
Over the last 20 months since the anti-graffiti program was punted by Vision Vancouver the problem of tagging has once again become acute. While the City tried to suggest that Vancouver has gained some kind of reputation as an international graffiti hot spot, the truth is that if you don't deal with tags you're just inviting more tags. And that's what has happened across our city.
While I'm relieved that spending on an anti-graffiti program has been renewed, I've discovered that rebuilding the program comes at a high cost. Before the being axed by Vision, City staff had built up formidable knowledge on how to deal with the vandalism, and had created systems (such as providing free paint supplies to communities) for dealing with it. Because all those staff and resources have been moved on to other files, we're now going to have to spend weeks if not months just getting back up to speed.
Meanwhile the tagging continues.
Before, the Vancouver Police Department had two officers assigned to graffiti detail. Thanks to their training both were leading experts in identifying who created the tags, while keeping a running list of the culprits' contact info. Now both of those officers have been assigned to other roles, and new ones have to be trained.
I recall reporting to one of those VPD officers about a tagger who had scrawled over one of our new community murals. The cop knew the kid who did it, went to his house and got him out of bed to confront him about it. That kid never tagged in our neighbourhood again after that.
Apparently all the paint supplies and resources attached to the paint out program need to be restocked. The City now needs to cut new deal with a supplier just to get that resource back up to speed. A new manager must be trained in the field and act on the recommendations of the Engineering department's new plan.
A once vibrant mural program also needs to be reactivated. The local community group I work with spearheaded the creation of five local murals to not only to deal with constant graffiti, but to create a sense of place. Happily our murals achieved both those goals.
Removing and deterring graffiti is an example of the 'broken window principle' embodied locally in the NPA's Project Civil City initiative. PCC was condemned by Vision Vancouver as being an affront to human rights, while to others it was a matter of common sense. If you don't take care of the way your city looks, it sends a negative signal that anything goes. And so it became with Vancouver's graffiti.
As the news broke about the restoration of the anti-graffiti program, I was contacted by a small business owner who was led to believe that a $212 annual dumpster fee required by the City was to fund, in part, the graffiti program. While I've not been able to confirm this, I am led to believe that this money collected by the City does have an anti-graffiti component attached to it. That full fee was still charged in spite of the graffiti program being spiked.
Like Vision's "meadow look" idea which had the City chopping its grass cutting budget, slashing the anti-graffiti program is more evidence that Robertson's team lacks the common sense in their ranks to govern a big city like Vancouver over the long term. I hope this graffiti flip-flop by Mayor Gregor will be a lesson for future governments not to cut what should be a "basic service" of local government.
- Post by Mike Klassen. Mike is a city council candidate for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA). If you're an elected official or candidate seeking a nomination and want to write about urban issues, please send your 450-500 word submission to CityCaucus@gmail.com.