Is there a more magnificent city than Sydney, Australia?
Perhaps. But not many.
I've been re-visiting the land down under for a few weeks having spent time here prior to the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Back then graffiti was the name of the game. It was everywhere! One newspaper quoted me saying that, except for Homebush Bay (where the Olympics were staged), Sydney was showing a pretty ugly face to the world. No one I spoke to seemed to even take notice how pervasive graffiti had spread. It's just part of the culture, or so I was told.
A decade later it looks to me like a complete turnaround. Acres of walls once covered in spray paint are now clean. Like cities everywhere, there are still parts of the city with too much graffiti. Graffiti walls and murals exist too. Driving downtown though, Sydney seems like a changed place.
In an earlier blog about Victoria, British Columbia I pondered whether the graffiti game can be held in check. To this visitor at least, it seems Sydney has begun to do just that.
For one, by shining the light of public debate straight onto the issue. The Australian Institute of Criminology publishes studies on graffiti. Equally important, there are publications to help explain successful strategies to the public.
Town councils use programs to remove graffiti within 48 hours and encourage protective sprays on walls. The government has an Anti-Graffiti Action team with grants for removal kits and CPTED programs.
Graffiti tolerance or artistic outlet?
Finally, and controversially, they have criminalized possession of graffiti implements and controlled sales of graffiti spray paint.
Some say Sydney's aggressive stance is off-putting to young people looking for an artistic outlet. Read here
To be sure, graffiti is only one of many such outlets. Tonight I watched a newscast of thrill-seekers "surfing" the rooftops of speeding commuter trains - some of whom, tragically, fall to their deaths. Obviously, they need better options.
Some researchers say we don't know enough to properly tackle graffiti. Their answer, unsurprisingly, is a call for more research. Perhaps they should read the forthcoming International CPTED Association Graffiti Guidebook.
Research or not, Sydney graffiti is not at all the same as a decade ago. Cities like Victoria can learn something from the Sydney experience.