Saturday, February 19, 2011

Graffiti bylaw under scrutiny

Cesar Palacio will ask fellow councillors to endorse a communiqué calling for clearer guidelines on what graffiti is unacceptable amid a crackdown prompted by Mayor Rob Ford’s pledge to clean up the city.

“The current legislative framework I think needs to be reviewed,” says Palacio. “We’re dealing with something that’s very subjective, a very sensitive issue and (it’s) difficult actually to determine what’s art or graffiti or vandalism.”
David Stackhouse, and Tara Rogerson of Evergreen Brick Works stand between old kilns in which bricks were dried. They hope to preserve some of the better graffiti graffiti that covers the sprawling revitalized industrial site on Bayview Ave.

Palacio, who chairs council’s licensing and standards committee, has been tasked with following through on Ford’s promise. He has been working on a graffiti eradication policy since taking up the post.

Three west-end homeowners — two on Maria St. and one on Ryding Ave. — are fighting graffiti bylaw violation notices handed out by the city, arguing the paintings on their properties are murals, not graffiti. Etobicoke York Community Council was to rule on the matter Wednesday.

But Palacio says it is hard for councillors to make a subjective decision on whether art is acceptable without better tools. His communiqué, to be presented at community council, calls for clearer guidelines on precisely what graffiti is unacceptable. It specifically mentions gang tags, political messages, sexual imagery and images that promote racism or hatred.

If councillors endorse the communiqué, it will be sent to the executive director of the city’s municipal licensing and standards division.

“You sort of figure it’s your property, you should be able to paint it how you want,” said Lee Jeffrey, one of the homeowners.

When her fence at 295 Maria St. was tagged with spray paint a few years ago, Jeffrey’s daughter painted it white with big black flowers to cover it up.

Jeffrey and the other homeowners are not the only ones who have recently applied for exemptions from the city bylaw, which is coming under increased scrutiny. The Evergreen Brick Works was slapped with a similar notice on Jan. 12 for graffiti that covers the sprawling revitalized industrial site on Bayview Ave.

General manager David Stonehouse says removing all the graffiti from the site could damage both the bricks and mortar and the historic site’s character.

“One of the key things about the site that it still has a gritty, post-industrial character and we all wanted that to be retained in some way,” he says.

Such battles have highlighted the need for nuance in the city graffiti bylaw, which was implemented in 2005. It defines graffiti simply as “letters, symbols, figures, etchings, scratches, inscriptions, stains or other markings” that disfigure or deface a structure or thing. The bylaw makes exception for art murals, defined as “a mural for a designated surface and location that has been deliberately implemented for the purpose of beautifying the specific location.”

Meanwhile, graffiti bylaw violation notices are being handed out across the city with renewed vigour. Since Dec. 9, municipal standards officers have been on a citywide blitz. Approximately 1,300 notices of violation have been issued to date, said Elizabeth Glibbery, who runs the city’s graffiti program.

The graffiti bylaw itself has been under review by city staff since 2009, long before Ford was mayor. Glibbery says the review is intended to establish “a clear definition of the criteria of graffiti versus an art mural.”

Toronto police are also revamping their graffiti program, working closely with the city.

“There’s graffiti art, there’s graffiti vandalism,” says Const. Scott Mills, legal graffiti art coordinator. “As long as we can make that distinction between the vandalism being criminal and the art having the capacity for positive community building, we’ll be going down the right track.”

Taken from: The Star

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