Sunday, April 26, 2009

Graffiti in Victoria BC - Beauty and the Beast

Victoria, British Columbia
Here's a shocker that shouldn't shock. But it does.

Have you noticed how some of the most beautiful cities in the world suffer from some of the worst graffiti? And have you noticed how waves of ugly graffiti signal undercurrents of social problems throughout a city?

I recently spent time in Victoria, BC...certainly one of the most beautiful smaller urban places anywhere. It has historic architecture, lively street life, interesting districts like Chinatown the Inner Harbour, and a thriving tourist business. Yet in recent years it has been hit with thousands of graffiti tags. I drove from one end of the city to the other and no places were spared.

This was not the political or street art expression you see in some places. It was felt-marker pen scribbles and spray paint vandalizing post boxes, telephone poles, street signs and benches. The city is launching a campaign to tackle it this summer. They have their work cut out for them.


Let's hope their prevention strategies don't obsess on graffiti paint-outs as the sole answer. Paint-outs are a beautification tactic from 1st Generation CPTED and they have a role. But they only go half-way. Kind of like eating cake without the icing. Yuk.

Prevention strategies must also integrate the neighbourhood-building strategies of 2nd Generation CPTED like those we teach in SafeGrowth.

Years ago I recall visiting another beautiful city - Sydney, Australia - where I saw the same kind of blight. It was just prior to the 2000 Olympics and I did media interviews commenting on the profusion of graffiti. I asked what kind of face Sydney was presenting to the world. It did get front page coverage but I doubt it triggered any specific action.

However, there was a significant anti-graffiti clean-up program prior to the Olympics and according to accounts, it made a big difference. I'll be in Sydney this winter and am anxious to see if those efforts were sustained 2nd gen CPTED strategies or whether they faded into a shade of spray paint.


That is where Victoria finds itself today. Each year the Canadian government releases urban crime statistics showing how Victoria is in the Top Ten worst for Canadian cities that size (about 250,000). Victoria's Crime Rates

While it is still a beautiful and magnificent city, like everywhere it has problems. Clearly, graffiti is not the among the most serious.

But graffiti does signal a particular cue about a place. It sends a message. Some graffiti might be artistic expression. But more positive community-designed street murals can do the same thing. For example, check this out see article on Mural programs

Next month the International CPTED Association launches a new service: CPTED Workbooks for Designers and Community Developers. The inaugural issue will be on Tackling Graffiti. Watch for it International CPTED Association website

Also, check out Steven Woolerich's latest Target Crime blog called "Taking it to the Streets". see Steven's Target Crime blog

16 Replies so far - Add your comment

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

yea man i hate graffiti as a 90 year old english man and i want the city to smell like bangers and mash

GSaville said...

Yes anonymous, as unlikely it is that a 90 year old includes "yea man" in his diction, it is very likely that he is fed up with crap all over city - just like most others I spoke to in Victoria. On the other hand, the better quality more intelligent graffiti and street murals are another story as I've shown elsewhere in this blog ( Even graffiti can be positive if we think intelligently. As for bangers and mash, that's vandalism of the body, not the street...but that's another story. said...

Have your heard about Q-Star Technology (Canada) which deters or stops graffiti. Check their website

GSaville said...

Thanks for the interesting idea jpstremblay on Q-Star.

Perhaps someone from the company should go to Victoria and pitch it to them?

Better still, perhaps someone from Victoria should travel to Sydney Australia to see how they cut their graffiti so successfully without Q-Star. Check out my Sydney blog for details at

Anonymous said...

hi there i also hate graffiti and want the city to look like "bangers and mash" why do these untalented baffoons draw on telephone polls? are they making a phone call? what gives!.. balloons

Anonymous said...

You may have noticed graffiti has gone up in the city of victoria since they took away the legal trackside art gallery in 2006. Enough wall space for 150 plus artists with comfort, now theres only the wildfire bakery enough space for maybe 10 writers. When you have a lack of legal walls in a city with 200 plus writers and the out of towners on top of that, its not hard to do the math. not everyone wants to destroy property, im a father and ive been doing graffiti for over 10 years now. finding walls where i can paint for 3-5 hours is a challenge, so thats where the sloppy minute art comes into play.
THE ANSWER.. more legal walls equals less property destroyed.

GSaville said...

Thanks Anon...Yep, I hear you. Victoria, it seems, has much to learn.

There's been lots of new stuff on graffiti in this blog since the Victoria blog. Check out these entries:

Like I said before, why are city officials and police so far behind the curve?

The TAGS conference last year didn't have any of this new stuff! You should think about how you and your colleagues might talk at one of those events and see if you can make some headway to the "outside" community.

Everyone has the right to be heard!

Anonymous said...

graffiti is part of the culture of all cities

GSaville said...

so is crime...doesn't mean we accept it uncritically

Anonymous said...

The problem with Victoria isn't the Graffiti, it's that there are too many old folks.

You can't walk anywhere in the city as a black person without being subject to discrimination.

There are a few good people in this city, and Gregory Saville - you aren't bad or good, you are just an old coot with too much time on your hands.

GSaville said...

I cannot speak to discrimination in Victoria. I don't live there.

But I can speak to another bigotry. Yours! Against the elderly.

Martin Luthur King said bigotry against one group is bigotry against all. As you complain about bigotry by others, I suggest you might want to look in the mirror. That will fix problems in Victoria much better than painting out ugly graffiti.

Anonymous said...

graffiti is art, whos to say what "street art" is and what graffiti is? graffiti is beautiful. it adds character and beauty to a city. People who have nothing better to do than hate on graffiti and its artists.

GSaville said...

Well, anonymous, it's simple:

"Who is to say" about whether it is art? Graffiti may be art. It may be crap. Depends on the quality of the artist. Most of the graffiti I've seen is crap, especially in Victoria. But I've seen a few good works in locations that don't deface.

As for "who is to say" if graffiti adds character, depends where it's located.

If it is located on my personal fence, or my house, or my property, then that is graffiti vandalism without my permission and it is damaging my property....and I am the one with the right to say if it adds character. And it doesn't.

Democracy doesn't say you have the right to damage others property. Democracy comes with responsibility.

To the graffiti artist I say this: join the community in creating interesting and non-damaging art in public places. I'm behind you.

To the graffiti vandal I say this: bug off, get a canvass that doesn't damage someone else's property, and learn how to respect others.


GSaville said...

A note to the latest Anonymous post:

You have been writing here for awhile, and I have posted you before even though I disagree with your views. This time I cannot post your latest post. You violate two of the four rules I require for this website: a) offensive language and b) ad hominem attacks. Please read the instructions more carefully.

Based on your comments I will now add the bigotry of ageism to those rules as well. Look carefully at what you write; your comments reflect prejudice against the elderly. Can you not see that?

You indicate you are a 3rd Year U of Vic student. That is either untrue, or it is shocking. By 3rd Year you should know that ageism is a form of bigotry. You should also understand the meaning of ad hominem attacks.

From your comments about Dr. M.L. King, I also see you misunderstand his ideas. Dr. King was clear that one kind of bigotry is no different than another. That you deem one form of bigotry more severe reflects your inability to overcome your own bias to see your comments more clearly. You may have suffered racism in Victoria. That is terrible and wrong. But when you speak bigotry against the aged, it is no less wrong.

It reminds me of the famous saying during the Nazi years:

"First they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out. Then they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.".

Please take a closer look at yourself.

You seem very intent on making your points on racism, housing, and root causes of graffiti. i truly wish you could be more respectful in your comments so I could publish what you have to say.

Anonymous said...

I don't see te problem with graffiti who cares it's something interesting to look at if people are having such a big problem with it why doesn't the city build a damn wall and make that walk legal for graffiti and they just come but once every month or so and paint it like fray or white or skmethig so people can start again besides isn't a mural the exact same things as graffiti it paint on a wall expressing something that the artist wants to