Aristotle Lane runs out westward from North Oxford. Once it has passed the new houses, the school and the Recreation Ground, it becomes a pleasant track up over the railway and down to Port Meadow. It is not yet manicured and suburbanised in standard local authority style, though that is creeping towards it.
It is marred by one thing – graffiti. The first picture shows the wall to the south of the track. The city council did come and clear the graffiti off it about 18 months or so ago.
They made a good job of it and it stayed clear for a long time. That was at the height of a concerted effort by the council and police to eradicate both the graffiti and the perpetrators.
There are two conflicting views on the removal of graffiti. One is that a clear wall is an invitation to the “artists” to start again on a conveniently blank canvas. The other is that if the authorities leave a place to decline it will decline.
Both are true up to a point. I favour the second view – if vandals see that no-one cares, then a spiral begins. A dropped can leads to a defaced wall and so on to a burnt-out car.
The missing link is policing. I have seen an unsolicited policeman here once or twice (“unsolicited” meaning that he was passing by rather than that he had come out in response to a call) but this sort of old-fashioned street policing wins no promotions compared with the assiduous filling-in of forms and other vital tasks undertaken by Oxford’s finest.
The yoofs know that the chance of being caught is minimal and that not much will happen to them if they are caught. Furthermore, they can see that their masterpieces will endure for ever since no-one will bother to remove them.
The second photograph is taken a few yards further west, on the footbridge over the railway line. It was taken in June 2006. It looks much the same now, but worse.
The black splodges were put there in the previous year. Two men from City Works turned up with paint and brushes and set to work. I speak figuratively – they did not work by any standard recognisable in the private sector but did the public sector equivalent – two part-days of unsupervised lethargy.
The result, as you can see, looks like a badly-decorated Q-Ship. This was not a job which needed much effort, money or skill. No one has bothered to come back and finish the job.
It is possible that there is a demarcation problem here – that the bridge actually belongs to Network Rail and that Oxford City Council is unwilling to shoulder either the expense of painting or the risk that they will thereby be taken to assume responsibility for the structure. Surely two lots of even the dimmest pen-pushers can sort this sort of thing out.
Meanwhile, the graffiti spreads – it goes on over the bridge and down underneath it. I walk here every day, and realised recently that I had stopped noticing it. I had come to accept that this is how it is in Oxford now.
Meanwhile, I have had a Council Tax demand for more than £2,000 and a sticker on my dustbin whining that I had put the wrong kind of rubbish in one of their little boxes.
This is part of an occasional series called Oxford Neglect which catalogues instances of casual neglect, mainly on the part of Oxford City Council, which lead to the general air of decline which pervades the place. This is distinct from the positive acts of institutional vandalism and contrasts with both the innate beauty of the inherited city and the grandiose plans for its future.