Grafitti remedy worse than the grafitti

Slopping green paint over graffiti ruins the brickwork permanently. Leave the graffiti there until the day when we have competent people in charge who will address the real problem, not just paint over it to meet their targets.

The principle was a good one. Oxford City Council (presumably the dreaded and dreadful City Works) announced in October 2007 that it would tackle graffiti and similar visual eyesores. Residents were encouraged to send in photographs and the council committed to deal with obscene and racist graffiti within one working day and other graffiti within 14 working days.

The photographs go up on the council’s web site along with a statement as to when it was or will be fixed. This splendid commitment (I mean that – this is in theory how local government should work) was coupled with a statement that a major culprit in North Oxford had been apprehended by Mr Plod on one of his rare visits to the area.

Since then, the amount of graffiti near my house has doubled and the council’s remedy – splashing green paint over the mess – is not only a cure worse than the problem but provides a splendid canvas for the next spate.

Have a look at the city council’s web page for October 2007. The second photograph down is, it says, of a stretch of wall 50m north of Walton Well Bridge. It is covered in graffiti. There is a proud note saying that the graffiti was “removed” on 17 October 2007. Scroll down the page, however to 25 October, and there is a photograph of the same stretch of wall. By now, however, it has been painted a lurid shade of green – and the green is covered in fresh graffiti. We know it is fresh because the earlier mess was only “removed” eight days earlier according to the first photograph. Except it was not removed – it was covered in green paint.

Take another example. On the page for November 2007 is a photograph of grafitti on the brickwork at the Port Meadow end of the Aristotle Lane bridge over the railway. It is shown as having been removed on 16 November. What the workmen actually did was again to paint the brickwork green – or, rather, to paint part of it green.

Aristotle Lane bridge brickwork close up

You can see from the photograph that they left a strip of brickwork – and rather nice old brickwork it was – unpainted. There was a weed tree there at the time, which they hacked down later. Not long afterwards, the graffiti gangs came and sprayed some more purple paint on the green.

You can also see that these dedicated men from the council did nothing about the graffiti on the bridge itself – that may belong to Network Rail, and debates over ownership seem more important than actually achieving anything which improves the neighbourhood.

What is the point of picking off one little bit and leaving the rest? What sort of dim, unfocussed little pusher of council pens imagines that the green paint is either an improvement or a solution? The paint will never go away – a decent piece of brickwork is now permanently spoilt. The ghastly little oik who ordered this could have left the graffiti for a future generation with more brain and aesthetic sense willing to tackle the whole problem properly instead of picking off bits of it. Graffiti can at least be removed by someone with the right equipment and the will to do the job properly. The paint cannot be removed.

Here is a longer view of the botched job.

Aristotle Lane bridge mid view

And this is what it looks like from across Port Meadow.

Aristotle Lane bridge from Port Meadow

What we have here is an illustration of Bagehot’s famous indictment of pen-pushers:

It is an inevitable defect that bureaucrats will care more for routine than for results

The dull-minded little plodder in charge of this is only interested in being able to report that something has been done, and to attend to a percentage of the reported incidents within the requisite period. He is unconcerned about the overall visual context, doesn’t give a toss if the actual effect is better or worse, and does not think (we could end the sentence there really) about anything beyond ticking his boxes.

The real solution here is not to have thick oafs from Oxford City Council slapping on green paint to selected bits of the problem in order to meet their targets, but actually to tackle the problem. The problem is youths with spray-guns. The present strategy of police and city council is to drive low-level nuisance away from the city centre with CCTV and local alcohol bans. It seemed obvious to the rest of us that this would simply drive the problems outside the central circle of bright lights and out into the suburbs. The bureaucrat cares not – his routine task was to clear the city centre.

I have thought of a way to get the bridge cleaned. All I have to do is to spray racist and obscene graffiti over it and the council is bound to fix it. Their green paint will look fine on the bridge metalwork. The flaw in this plan is quickly pointed out to me – the night I do that would be just the night that PC Plod would give himself a rest from all that important paperwork and catch me at it. I think I’d better think it out again.

I don’t expect much thinking from the dozy yokels at Oxford City Works, but will they please stop painting the town green.



About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Aristotle Lane, Bureaucrats, Graffiti, Oxford, Oxford City Council. Bookmark the permalink.

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