Writing on the wall

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In New York and on the web, people have been talking about Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, who was arrested last week for tagging a graffiti portrait of two friends in the Union Square subway station.

When I first moved to New York in 1996, the city was making a huge effort to curtail graffiti (along with other petty crimes like public drinking, turnstile jumping, and yes, broken windows) in an attempt to prevent larger crimes. The connection is still controversial, though The Economist recently reported on an intriguing study done in the Netherlands, which found that trash, graffiti, and other signs of vandalism doubled the number of people who were willing to litter and even steal.

Those findings notwithstanding, I don’t see any reason we have to take a “zero tolerance” approach to graffiti. In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, there are a number of empty lots enclosed by ugly metal fences. Were it not for fantastical images like the ones above and after the jump, there’d be no reason at all to linger on those blocks, and you’d hurry by as quickly as you could, and the street would feel even more deserted than it already does.

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One thought on “Writing on the wall

  1. Graffiti is encouraged in some cities, while scorned in others. In Pittsburgh & Philadelphia, graffiti walls have become not only acceptable but encouraged citiscape art.

    When I worked for the AIDS Institute (NYSDOH) we actually funded a graffiti group in Yonkers. It encouraged young people to do something productive and artistic.

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