Friday, September 24, 2010

Train graffiti

When is the last time you saw a freight train? When is the last time you saw a freight train without graffiti?

Remember a time when freight trains did not have graffiti? I think it was about 25 years ago. Why and when did graffiti show up on trains? Did Fixing Broken Windows programs and anti-graffiti strategies displace graffiti out of cities onto these traveling billboards?

I just watched a documentary film about angst-ridden Gen-X street "artists" who started the whole thing back in the 80s. Or so they say. Kids at the fringe. At 35 they are no longer kids and no longer on the fringe.

The rest of us are left with their legacy. A contribution to urban culture. Thanks.

Then again, if the sum Gen-Xer legacy amounts to painted freight trains (it doesn't!) is that so bad? Compared to the legacy of the "Greatest Generation" and the Boomers - vanishing fish stocks, depleted forests, genetically-modified food and the human-caused carbon nightmare driving climate change - painted trains are not so bad.

That, of course, is a conceit. Gen-Xers (like all other generations) owe, and deserve, much more. For me, painted trains are little more than the latest manifestation of contemporary culture. In this case they just happen to be ugly.

It need not be so. Why not capitalize on the fringe tendency to paint trains? Train murals. (Why not?) Traveling train-art competitions. (Such possibilities!)

I wonder why train companies have been so lethargic to move beyond "catch them and charge them"? Given the utter failure of that strategy over the past few decades, it would seem obvious something more intelligent is in order.

Look what Canada Post came up with...

Hard to graffiti when it already looks graffitied

If bureaucratic stasis were real, a large federal bureaucracy like Canada Post (or the US Postal Service for that matter) would be poster child. Yet, even here, innovation is possible.

So why are train companies silent?

5 Replies so far - Add your comment

Mark said...

Could it be that since the train companies move the blight, it isn't owned at any one site? Hence it is in a way "displaced" to someone's else backyard and problem.

GSaville said...

It could be, Mark. Excellent thought.

Of course the train companies own the trains and it is, by definition, their property. It is also their responsibility. I wonder if it could be that they really don't care what their trains look like since the $$ value is inside the train, not on painted on the side of it! Another example, perhaps, of poor corporate citizenship?


Anonymous said...

Well, i know some smaller train companys could care less for there not losing money. They only loose money buffing it. Personally I don't think it looks sleezy every train has it... If anything it makes them
Stand out.

Anonymous said...

Personally I think it looks nice. Would you rather see a rusty old box car or a moving canvas? I prefer the moving canvas but some people prefer the trains ugly and rusted for whatever reasons.

GSaville said...

Personally, I'd prefer if the graffiti was artistically worthy and not so ugly. Then it might be interesting on train cars. But given the horrid mess from most graffiti, it doesn't even offer that small blessing. A blank slate is preferable. That's just a personal view.