Page 1806 - Week 06 - Wednesday, 4 May 2005

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communicate with each other; that they can recognise different types of graffiti, rather as Norwegians recognise different kinds of snow, even though to us it all looks the same.

Youth place some value on certain forms of graffiti and 96 per cent of participants in this research thought that graffiti is always, or sometimes, a form of free speech. Nearly three-quarters believe it is at least sometimes a form of public art.

Young people also recognise that some forms of graffiti are a form of vandalism, but the key point here is that it is not always vandalism to them. Many young people feel that the presence of graffiti marks an area as youth friendly rather than less safe. In particular, large colourful murals are considered to add value to public spaces and to be a valued part of the streetscape.

It is important to balance the views and feelings of various groups in our community. While the views of young people are important and the least likely to be heard—I do not think we saw any of them writing to the Canberra Times recently—so are those of other members of the community. It is clear that many people do not like graffiti, that some find it offensive and that some feel less safe in areas where it is prolific. It also has, of late, been used as a political football.

It is important to point out that feelings of being unsafe are based on perception. Research conducted on behalf of the New South Wales police in 1996 and 1986 emphasised that there is no statistical connection between graffiti and potential or actual violence.

Perhaps we could look at issues such as that graffiti artists are expressing their own search for identity—their response to an anonymous city which appears to have no place for them. These are deeper issues that are overlooked by both Mr Pratt’s motion and Mr Hargreaves’s amendments.

Nonetheless, in this city we want public spaces that are inclusive and welcoming to everyone. This means that we need graffiti management strategies. It is important that these strategies are based on evidence of effectiveness and are not knee-jerk, emotional reactions. The research would suggest that solutions do not lie in further criminalizing this behaviour, increasing prosecutions or feeding community anger. I quote Dr Kurt Iveson again. He says:

Any attempt to find a simple or final “solution” to the “graffiti” problem will invariably produce very blunt policy instruments which are not sensitive to the diverse range of practices and motivations of those who write different kinds of graffiti…research on Australian cities suggests that blunt policy instruments typically fail to achieve their own goals, and worse, they catch young people in a regulatory net which can result in unnecessary marginalisation and social exclusion…wars on graffiti are effectively wars on certain young people who come to be defined as enemies, unfairly scapegoated as the cause of apparent declines of shared community values. Those who may already feel alienated or marginalised are pushed further into conflict with authorities and away from any public institutions or agencies which may exist to engage them as active members of civil society. Harsh penalties for graffiti offences also bring more young people into contact with the criminal justice system, an outcome which contradicts more progressive efforts to

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