Graffiti has been in the news here in Charlottetown this week. Inscription: marking our place on architecture, from on site, offers a different perspective on the issue. Sarah Zollinger writes, in part:
When we become lost in the cities we live in, we rediscover our place by responding to the stories that architects tell with our own marks — words and images that tell stories in the cities we inhabit. Writing one’s name on a building claims space and makes place: it makes that building surface ours. Design cannot be spontaneous, but graffiti needs to be. Architecture may be hard and solid and slow, but writers move quickly. Writing names and identities onto the city is how we engage the slowness of architecture and put ourselves into the stories of the places we live.
It’s a compelling point of view and one that suggests that, if graffiti is seen as a civic scourge, the solution might require a far broader reexamination of how the city is planned, designed and developed.
The response of the business community has been to launch a Taking Action Against Graffiti program, at the heart of which is:
By cleaning up graffiti, no matter how long it’s been there, we are showing that we are “taking back” that area.
Framing the issue as a battle between the business and graffitists, where each tries to “take the territory” of the other, is an approach doomed to fail: to understand graffiti you need to understand and respond to what gives rise to it. Zollinger says at the conclusion of her essay:
In this, buildings, the collection of stories told by architects, become the backdrop. The anonymous walls of anonymous buildings become canvases where the average person comes in contact with the city and meets the moment when our lives can inscribe the rigid world that we live in. This is where the people that walk the streets make architecture human: flexible, changeable and where we urban dwellers, who live our lives in the shadows of buildings, push back at an unyielding architecture.
Might it me that “unyielding architecture,” and “develop or die” impulse that gives rise to it, creates an environment where graffiti is an inevitable response? Perhaps rather than trying to stamp out graffiti it would be better to try to listen to it, to attempt to parse what it tells us about our community and how we construct it.