Could Vancouver get its own sanctioned wall locations where street artists can express their art without restraint?
The municipal government has indicated it is currently in the process of exploring the feasibility of designating free-for-all graffiti walls, which are typically located in the laneways of other cities with such policies.
The idea was suggested by ABC councillor Lisa Dominato and Green Party councillor Pete Fry last year in their member motion on exploring new policies to discourage nuissance graffiti.
But more recently, the discourse has been on potentially using such a concept for discouraging graffiti specifically within Chinatown, where businesses and non-profit cultural and community organizations have been facing an onslaught of not only costly graffiti repairs, but also other vandalism damage, property theft, and public safety issues.
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According to City of Vancouver staff in an internal memo to city council last week, they looked at what over 20 cities around the world do for their sanctioned graffiti walls.
Examples of sanctioned areas in other cities include Hosier Lane in Melbourne, Sydhavnen in Copenhagen, Raleigh Free Expression Tunnel in North Carolina, Venice Graffiti Pit in Los Angeles, and Toronto’s Graffiti Alley.
Although such areas are intended to strategically centralize graffiti so that it becomes manageable, City staff note that “a common challenge of existing programs [in other cities] is that graffiti spreads to areas near the sanctioned wall.”
“In 2008, the City of Ottawa monitored three legal graffiti free walls over a one-year period. They found that when a graffiti wall is covered in tags adjacent areas are tagged. This results in an increase in graffiti in the surrounding community. Similarly, in 2018 in Kamloops they found that graffiti free walls did not reduce vandalism, and may make it worse,” state city staff.”
Furthermore, their research suggests sanctioned graffiti walls have been most successful when they are spearheaded and maintained by an urban art organization.
For the next steps, city council will now consult with the Vancouver Mural Festival, as well as business improvement associations (BIAs), the Chinatown Legacy Stewardship Group, and the street art community to learn more about their interest on a potential initiative. In particular, City staff will explore the considerations on determining a potential location and the management approach to make such an area a success. After this consultation and further research work is complete, City staff will provide city council with another update.
Additionally, City staff are looking at other measures to mitigate and manage nuisance graffiti, and the potential of creating policies that mandate temporary construction hoarding to be used as a canvas for public art.
Earlier this week, city council approved allocating $500,000 in additional grants to 22 BIAs to help cover their escalating expenditures towards graffiti abatement. This is in addition to $500,000 in grants approved in 2021.
The largest 2022 recipients are the BIAs of Chinatown and Downtown Vancouver, which will each receive $50,000.