Toronto Graffiti blitz

Some visual perspective on the Toronto graffiti blitz

There's been no shortage of coverage dedicated to the Toronto graffiti crackdown, which got underway in early 2011 with over 2100 hundred removal notices issued to properties around the city. First the Globe wrote about citations received by the Brick Works, then a slew of stories surfaced about homeowners on Maria Street who had to fight to keep murals on their property, next came our article on the crackdown taking place on Queen Street, and finally OpenFile revealed the sheer scope of the blitz via a search of the Municipal Licensing Standards (MLS) investigation website. Since then, the talk hasn't really died down much.

The latest news, courtesy of the Post, is that Mayor Rob Ford has agreed to have a sit down with a local graffiti artist to talk about the City's clean up efforts. According to the article, the artist's message to the mayor when they set up the meeting was "that if you assign bylaw officers the task of judging art and they make a mistake, you risk angering the community and triggering more illegal tagging."

This is a good point, and one that many have raised before. The current language of the graffiti bylaw leaves far too much room for interpretation regarding what constitutes an art mural. A review of the bylaw is in the works, but that hasn't seemed to deter MLS officers from handing out violations. So what are they targeting?

The one thing I haven't seen take place — at least beyond an examination of the photos of the two Maria Street properties — is specific visual documentation of the type of graffiti that's being cited for removal. As heated as the debates have been, in the absence of a careful consideration of what MLS has actually been up to, it's not possible to criticize or laud their efforts with any degree of fairness.

Toronto Graffiti crackdown

On Sunday afternoon, I documented the properties that have been sent removal notices on Queen Street West between Dovercourt and Bathurst (minus a few where no graffiti or clean-up efforts could be detected). Although what follows below is but a small sample of the many violations issued across the city, one thinks that, like any survey, it should give us some insight into the wider whole. Here are some initial observations:

  • Some property owners have been slow to comply with removal notices (most of which were sent out in late February)
  • MLS is being honest when it says murals aren't really being targeted
  • Along this stretch, it would appear that only two (maybe three) pieces that have been cited might fall under such designation
  • The vast majority of what's been slated for removal are tags and weathered throw-ups.
  • The graffiti targeted is generally visible from the street
  • The alleyways where murals are more frequent along this stretch have been entirely ignored thus far

When asked if alleyways will be targeted in the future, an MLS representative told me that they "are not being focused on with immediacy right now, but I can not speculate when this may change. Our over-all intent is removal of all graffiti (that do not have the appropriate exemption pursuant to Chapter 485). Currently staff are dealing with previous outstanding notices and orders and are following up on recent notices issued in February."

If West Queen West is a reliable example, MLS appears to have a pretty decent batting average when it comes to what graffiti should and shouldn't be cited. And coupled with the fact that there's an appeals process that can be used to save the pieces that one could argue are murals, the crackdown doesn't appear as misguided as I once thought. It's still unfortunate that business owners get hit with the cleanup costs, but most of the graffiti here isn't worth fighting for. Should the focus shift to the alleys and thus more murals, I'll renew my beef with the mayor.


620 Queen West


630 Queen West


665-671 Queen West (second and third floors, east walls)


690 Queen West (previously commissioned piece)


706 Queen West


708 Queen West (not part of recent blitz)


732 Queen West (third floor, west wall)


744 Queen West (already painted over on third floor)


749 Queen West (mural?)


751 Queen West


757 Queen West


764 Queen West (third floor, west wall)


789 Queen West (third floor, west wall)


870 Queen West (business owner must deal with the fence)


875 Queen West (recently removed from along fire escape)


936 Queen West


944 Queen West


968 Queen West (scrubbed off)


970 Queen West


974 Queen West


1030 Queen West


1032 Queen West


1033 Queen West (strange, this is a construction site)


1056 Queen West


1068 Queen West


1075 Queen West


1084 Queen West (third floor, east wall)


1086 Queen West (oddly not cited by MLS)


Lead and second image depict graffiti at 730 and 1090 Queen West, respectively.

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