Friday, March 25, 2011

Lost in Translation on the Transit Way

Staring at the endless stretch of blank grey walls that smother my morning commute from Nepean to campus with pablum, I realize that I have no idea where the hell I am on this transit way. Is it Westboro? Tunney Pasture? Smiths Falls?

Admittedly, it was exciting to get word that Shepard Fairey's folk were in town sparking up our downtown this past week. Surely a welcomed addition to our cityscape.

BUT: If I read one more news article that questions the value of programs like Paint it Up to 'reduce crime'....well I just might take up a sharpie and write about it someplace other than this blog.

It drives me nuts. 

As a reluctant criminologist, I can say without hesitation that nobody really knows what causes crime or how to 'get rid of it' (no, not even the Freakonomics guys). If there was, wouldn't you think we'd see it in use? By the way, some criminologists suggest persuasively that as crime rates decrease (which they have been for years) surveillance and crime policies increase (which they have)
Not the other way around.

The people who try to make a go of urban arts programs like Paint it Up know about graffiti and they have a far more complex understanding of the citizens who write (and some of the reasons why they do) than those who demand all communication come in the language of crime control.

Do you remember when writers paid tribute to Jenifer Teague?
(also, see here). 

Do you wonder why they did that? 

You really should.

There is value in funding programs that diversify the cultural dynamics of this city - that engage citizens with each other - which is far more productive than anything the  'crime reduction' debate will ever hope to be. There is value in telling people that they have something worthwhile to contribute to this city, even if it makes some people uncomfortable.

More importantly, we should be able to talk about this as an issue of public space and what is sayable there, and by who?

It is not right that these discussions get railroaded by demands to justify graffiti in terms of 'reducing crime'.

All people should be safe, but that is different than feeling safe. Graffiti is not what makes the average citizen unsafe. It's time to stop talking like it does. We're talking about paint on a wall or mailbox, not someone mugging your Nana.

 I KNOW that there are more than just graffiti writers in this city who envision the potential of those concrete canvases..

Why not invite those people who know what to do with a concrete wall to liven up Ottawa's gray walls that bore us deep into our mp3s and newspapers on the Transit Way? Imagine colourful images that signal transit users that they are in Westboro, not Tunney Pasture?

My kids would get such a kick out of that!

I'm not saying open up the Transit Way as a legal wall (for obvious safety reasons), but what about completing a few stretches each summer with vivid productions? There has got to be a safe way to cover these walls with some colour. I bet most writers would probably be OK with writing after hours, after all.

Just an idea I had as I missed the Westboro stop... again...


  1. I like the foucault hack about halfway through :)
    awesome pictures, and I totally agree. A few times I've missed my stop on the transit way and had to walk to Bridgehead from Westboro station. So annoying!

  2. I completely agree and thank you for the link!

    Covering the transit way could be incredible if done properly.