Friday, November 2, 2012

Ensure the City of Ottawa Fosters Safe Creative Communities without Escalating Costs to Taxpayers

(Press Release) The City of Ottawa is set to announce a new initiative to ‘deter graffiti’ on November 2 at City Hall (11am). Given the municipality’s problematic and expensive graffiti legislation history, the hope is that the new initiative will not exacerbate many of the problems created by previous ‘zero-tolerance’ approaches:

•The cost of ‘graffiti eradication’ has escalated from $50,000 in 1999 to a recently reported $3,000,000 (as reported in the Ottawa Sun in 2011; The City of Ottawa reported graffiti expenditures of over $2,000,000 in 2007). These costs are not due to an increase in graffiti activity during this period; rather, costs are associated with such strategies as increased by-law enforcement, graffiti removal, and surveillance of previously tolerated graffiti walls.

•Negative tensions are escalated between citizens by current bylaws aimed at property owners, who are held accountable for graffiti that appears on their buildings; landlords may be served with a fine and/or the cost of graffiti removal by the City of Ottawa. This has lead to vigilante behaviour, where some citizens –upset with the bylaw- have responded to non-violent acts of ‘tagging’ with violence.

•The City of Ottawa maintains some of the strictest bylaw regulations in Canada regarding what property owners can paint on their own buildings. Furthermore, the Capital City only hosts 2 legal graffiti walls, while Gatineau hosts over 30.

There are positive ways the City of Ottawa can effectively address concerns that some citizens have with graffiti, which do not reproduce such on ‘negative’ and expensive consequences. After all, public art adds to property values and inspires young artists to head toward commission work.

•The City of Ottawa can repeal (or stop enforcing) the current bylaw which penalizes property owners for the appearance of graffiti on their buildings.

•Similar to some other cities (such as the City of South Perth) the City of Ottawa can respond and bear the cost of cleaning graffiti when requested by citizens. This would reduce the cost of ‘buffing’ significantly.

•The City of Ottawa and Ottawa Police Services can continue to foster positive relationships with groups such as House of Paint and the artists with the Paint it Up program. All of the murals that have been created to revitalize high target areas by these groups have remained graffiti free. This reinforces the need for more funding toward these demonstrably successful partnerships.

For further information: Deborah Landry (Department of Criminology) University of Ottawa. (613) 656-5305. Dr. Landry has been researching the municipal regulation of graffiti and urban arts in the Capital City for the past four years. (Photo Credit: Deborah Landry, artwork by local mural artist Hiero, commissioned in collaboration with the KeepSix Collective).

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