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Can graffiti be managed? Here are some alternatives

Dealing with illegal tagging on an enforcement basis only doesn't work. Canadian communities and property owners are trying instead to engage the graffiti community

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Phillip Carter, principal at Phillip Carter Architect on Queen Street West in Toronto, was heartbroken to find graffiti defacing a wall of the heritage building that houses his office. But he’s philosophical. ‘Police have better things to do than catch guys on roofs with spray cans.’

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Mr. Carter, however, is turning to alternative methods to combat tagging. He plans to join a city-wide initiative to make his wall an authorized mural site. As part of the StreetARToronto (StART) program, several street locations have been designated as official mural sites.

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Here, at the corner of Greenwood Avenue and Gerrard Street, a grey wall now bears a mural of children playing. Legal murals, says Constable Scott Mills, who has been heavily involved in graffiti-management programs such as StART, tend to discourage further illegal tagging.

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A whole block of buildings in Toronto's Little India on Gerrard Street now sports colourful murals after being designated a mural site.

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Better communication among graffiti artists, residents and the business community is bringing a professional attitude to street art. Some optimists even predict it could lead to graffiti tourism. Other business improvement areas are working to turn alleyways into virtual art galleries.

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Recently, property developer Urbancorp launched an initiative to transform a railway soundproofing wall in Toronto’s west end that had been repeatedly tagged. It has now become a giant legal mural seen by thousands of commuters each day as they ride the rails downtown.

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‘I strongly recommend that owners work with artists,’ says Urbancorp vice-president David Mandell. Corporate donors supplied scaffolding and artists received a small stipend. The move paid off – the wall has been a hit with the Queen West Queen neighbourhood. ‘You may not want a mural on your building, you may like your brick and architectural features, but you may not have a choice in this type of urban environment,’ Mr. Mandell adds.

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