Graffiti, with permission

By Zeina Zureikat

Graffiti has always been a contested subject, from its credibility as an art form to its perceived threat to public order.

Yet graffiti has thrived in the 21st century city and can be found on almost any surface within the urban sphere. Markings, “taggings”, “scratchings” and murals on public or private property, occupying subways, billboards and walls; graffiti exists wherever people exist.

Photo by Katrina Afonso 

Photo by Katrina Afonso 

City authorities have taken different approaches towards the elimination of graffiti. In 2004, the ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ campaign issued a ‘Zero Tolerance’ press release banning the sale of aerosol paint to teenagers and supporting the issuance of on-the-spot fines for those caught doing graffiti [1]. In France, a “community cleaning” Protestant youth group, Éclaireurs de France, took to archeological sites to restore defaced artifacts [2].

In Toronto a different story is emerging.  The 2011 amendment to the Graffiti By-law (City of Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 485) shows support for graffiti and mural art. The by-law allows for the regularization of graffiti and mural art when it “is installed with the property owner’s permission, adheres to community character and standards, and aesthetically enhances the surface that it covers.”  

There is also City’s Graffiti Panel, made up of landscape architects, community planners and those with backgrounds in art administration.  If a property owner is issued a Notice of Violation by the city (i.e. a notice to remove unapproved graffiti from their property) but feels the markings should be considered street art (and not vandalism), they can appeal before the Graffiti Panel.

Artist credit: unknown 

Artist credit: unknown 

Tangible benefits have been seen since the by-law amendment. The West Queen West Business Improvement Area saw an almost ninety percent decrease in the number of removal notices in the main stretch of the neighborhood in the first two years since the amendment[3] and the area has also seen some graffiti tourism, being named by Vogue as one of the “coolest neighborhoods in the world”[4]. The popular “Graffiti Alley”, running south of Queen Street West from Bathurst to John Streets, that has been continually covered in murals and taggings by Toronto artists, has been exempted from the Graffiti Panel helping to maintain a culture of graffiti tourism in the area.

Artist credit: Richard Mongiat, Ashley Johnson and Healther Acraman. Photo by Katrina Afonso.

Artist credit: Richard Mongiat, Ashley Johnson and Healther Acraman. Photo by Katrina Afonso.

But there are still issues to work out. By-law officers are still responsible for issuing Notice of Violations – and the property owners are responsible for removing it at their own costs, or are billed once city workers have removed the graffiti. Unfortunately many who have been issued a Notice of Violation feel it is those doing the tagging should be targeted; graffiti removal presents a great financial burden, with power-wash removal costing $1,000 to $1,500.

Additionally, a common complaint by property owners is that if they are happy with the graffiti done, and neighbors do not mind the piece enough to file a complaint, then why are they being targeted by the City, forcing them to spend money on removal [5]. Bylaw enforcement officials have been encouraged to show some leniency to property owners and allowing them extended time for removals [6]. The city has also made efforts to obtain a city-wide contract to secure better graffiti removal rates in an effort to relieve some of the financial burden on owners whose property has been vandalized (ibid).

Photo by Katrina Afonso

Photo by Katrina Afonso

The complete elimination of illegal and unwanted graffiti is impossible. However, through increased communication between the graffiti community and residents and business owners, and encouraging the donations of walls for legal murals, property owners can anticipate an inevitable facet of urban life while adding to the vibrancy of their neighborhoods.


[1] Navitas, P. The Origins of 21st Century Graffiti, How authorities should deal with it in city centres. Music-City. Sports-City. Leisure-City. A reader on different concepts of culture, creative industries and urban regeneration attempts. Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. 2008. Pg 90-97

[2] Navitas (2008)

[3] http://news.nationalpost.com/news/what-is-art-city-of-toronto-to-announce-graffiti-panel-to-answer-age-old-question

[4] http://www.vogue.com/slideshow/.../fifteen-coolest-street-style-neighborhoods/

[5] Sotomayer, A. The impact of municipal by-laws on the Toronto citizen. 2012

[6] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/property-report/art-or-crime-graffiti-pushes-cities-to-try-new-measures/article10854465/

Ariana CancelliComment