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Unwanted graffiti is in this way prevented and graffiti writers are offered alternatives.A bifurcated approach like this builds upon the idea that not all graffiti is received in the same way.Yet, authorities, and many criminologists as well, tend to see graffiti as an unambiguous signal of disorder or even crime.
More generally, the way in which policy makers and citizens think about cities and a liveable urban environment is changing.
Recent urban development seems to influence viewpoints on graffiti.
Our perspective is that there is no clear-cut distinction between graffiti and street art and that definitions based on form (e.g.
tag, mural) cross legal definitions — the works of the (in)famous writer Banksy illustrate this point (Banksy’s work is often illegal but his work has also been sold and has featured in exhibitions, for example alongside Andy Warhol).
In the words of street artist Mau Mau: ‘when it suits them, they [the Council] choose who paints where’ (ibid.).
So even when we may find that authorities are rethinking the meaning of graffiti, this is not necessarily applied to all graffiti in all places, which underscores our point that we need to consider responses to graffiti in relation to its form and context.Particularly the ‘creative city’ discourse offers opportunities to rethink the value of the creative practices of graffiti writers (Mc Auliffe ) ‘recipe’ for successful cities (the 3 T’s in short: Technology, Tolerance and Talent — the latter T is measured by the share of people working in the creative sector), urban governments have promoted creativity in all forms and places to make their cities attractive.Indeed, in some places, graffiti in the form of murals is desired by policy makers to beautify locations and attract tourists (e.g. However, city marketing may also result in a ‘get tough on graffiti approach’, as was the case in Melbourne in response to the run-up to the Commonwealth Games to be hosted in Melbourne in March 2006 (Young ).They did consider different types of graffiti for their research design and decided on ‘simple tags as the more elaborated “pieces” might be perceived as art instead of norm violations’ (Keizer et al. However, while Keizer and colleagues acknowledge that different types of graffiti are valued differently, they still seem to assume that tag graffiti (as opposed to pieces) is always a norm violation, thus disregarding the variety of meanings, also to the public, of graffiti.While the broken windows thesis is popular among policy makers around the globe, the idea that there is a causal link between neighbourhood disorder and neighbourhood crime has been criticized (e.g.Given the ambiguity in how authorities deal with graffiti, we think it is striking that the dominant approach in criminological research on disorder views graffiti unambiguously as a social problem: something threatening that must be prevented and dealt with because it would cause fear and (more) crime.This idea is most common in studies following the ecological tradition (social disorganization theory) or the broken windows theory.In this line of argument, ‘disorder’ would trigger fear (Ross and Jang ).Our study engages with and critiques this line of argument in two ways.Within ecological research, graffiti is often taken as an example of physical disorder (although it may also be seen as social disorder, see Skogan ) study on perceived incivilities and fear of crime, respondents were asked to indicate on a 4-point scale whether they thought various ‘neighbourhood problems’ capturing ‘perceived incivilities’ were a ‘serious problem’ in their neighbourhood, one of which is ‘graffiti on sidewalks and walls’ (see also, with varying questions or items: Ross and Jang ).Moreover, the broken windows theory suggests that graffiti and other signs of disorder in neighbourhoods cause not only fear but also crime, because fear would weaken social control and thus signal opportunities for crime to motivated offenders (Wilson and Kelling ) which suggests that when people see norm transgression they are more likely to overstep a rule themselves.