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A higher scrawling 

HRM’s graffiti needs to get better, says Lezlie Lowe.

The principle of competition is a worthy one, any level-headed business owner will tell you.

Now, mercifully, the concept is being thrust in at least one right direction in our city—graffiti.

I'm not talking about tagger wars (Does such a thing exist in Halifax? All I ever see are little carpet bombs of the wretched scrawl clumped shoulder-to-shoulder in one spot. It certainly is a chummy little territorial pissing campaign those taggers have going.) No, I'm talking about HRM.

Council has been workin' it to get our attention these days with its own territorial pissing operations—licensing kitty cats (bad), dealing with abandoned buildings (good in theory, but I can't see how the plan will ever work) and graffiti.

The proposal at hand is this: remove your building's graffiti within 10 days or the city does it and you pay.

The by-law still requires a public hearing and final vote, but I'm tagging it now: this is good. Really good. It's good for the city and good for graffiti, which ought not to be thought of as mutually exclusive ends.

Council has unwittingly provided the catalyst for street artists to step up their game, because it's introduced competition into the mix.

How? Pieces will have shorter wall time in prominent places (because building owners will be cleaning up faster) and less prominent urban canvasses will be at a premium (because finding places where people won't be cleaning up will be more difficult and those spaces will be coveted). Graffiti artists are going to have to be faster on their feet.

Thank you, council. We could use a little livening up around here.

That's my ultimate hope in this whole thing: more art, better art and fewer lazy tags. We have bucket loads of can't-be-bothered taggers in this city. Some of them diddle their work on stickers and slap them on mailboxes while they're, what? Running errands? The ones that do come out into the world, I'm surprised they can heft a Sharpie, some of them. The creative malaise in their work would seem to indicate carbon monoxide poisoning, or possibly narcolepsy.

This make-better-graffiti spray paint dream of mine is, admittedly, too vague to appeal to the graffiti aesthetes (where do you draw the line between bad tags and good art anyway? How, pray tell, do you define "better" pieces?) and likely introduces one distinction too many for the blanket anti-graf grumps. (Because, for them, spraying paint where it's not officially sanctioned is bad. End of story. No discussion. Zip it.)

It's a middle-of-the-field argument I'm making here. And as unfulfilling as it may be to the staunchly pro- and anti- groups, maybe that's what it will take to get the general public to buy into an understanding of what graffiti is (or, in Halifax, what it could be).

If graffiti gets better—if it becomes more creative, thoughtful, beautiful, subtle, humourous, poignant and critical, among other things—more people will be OK with seeing more of it in more places.

What does that mean? Hopefully a bump in the number of public spaces devoted to street art, like the Nova Scotia Power wall at The Pit on Morris and Lower Water Streets. It will mean more people talking about graffiti. And, ultimately, it will make for more graffiti to see. I'm not sure that's what council had in mind when they came up with this whole thing in the first place. But hot damn, I hope it works.

Say it or spray it.Email:

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