Get ready: the clean team is coming to scrub a wall near you. Suddenly, the city has given itself the right to decide if that burst of colour is a high-concept creation or just junk. How would they know? Property owners we talked to don't seem to mind the flood of self-expression.
Where: Behind Golden Beads and Crafts on Queen West. What one employee says: "Graffiti? What graffiti?" (Owner could not be reached for comment.) Where: Laneway off Dennis’s House of Vintage on Queen West. What store manager says: "I wouldn’t consider it an eyesore. In fact, it brings people to the area. If the city ordered us to remove it, I’d have a problem with that." Where: Behind Textile Importers Ltd. on Queen West. What former owner says: "We've sold the building. It doesn't matter." Where: Back of Stephenson's Rental on Richmond West. What store employee says: "We originally thought it would be a good idea to let artists do their thing, but we're looking at having a service come in and remove it." Where: Wall behind condo at 500 Richmond West. What property manager says: "It's stylish. We have photos of the graffiti framed and hanging in our main lobby." Where: Public washrooms in Bellevue Square Park. What a city official says: "We don't do enforcement on our own property. But that doesn't mean graffiti won't be removed as part of regular park maintenance." Where: Behind American Apparel on Queen West. What store manager says: "I personally like it. You see people back there all the time taking pictures." Where: Garage door at back of World Sewing Centres on Queen West. What store manager says: "It has nothing to do with me. I didn't agree with it. I don't care either way." Where: Behind Lilith on Queen West. What store owner says: "I've heard cops say how great they think the artwork looks. Sounds like the city wants us to spend more money spreading toxic chemicals to cover it up." Where: Off Augusta south of Queen. What shop manager says: "Some of it is nice, some is messy. Some tourists don't like it. And we want to attract tourists." Where: Back of house on Richmond West. What owners say: Couldn't reach them, but thought we'd include this piece anyway since we were so intrigued by the winged wonderment of it all. Where: Laneway next to Orbital Arts on Augusta. What shop owner says: "It's by a couple of teenagers who hang out in the Market. We thought it would be a nice outlet." Where: Behind the Drake Hotel off Dovercourt. What Drake's art curator says: "We recognize the city's need to have standards, but we're not into regulating cultural activity. We see the Drake backyard as an open canvas." Where: Storefront on Augusta. What shop owner says: "I paid for it. It looks better. No one paints over it."
The plan Dispatching a "clean team" to wipe city streets clean of graffiti.
The targets Any and all public spaces, including spaces already transformed by city-sponsored graffiti projects and privately owned buildings on which the owner has given artists permission to paint. Talk about a whitewash.
What city officials say It's vandalism. It's out of control. We're just responding to residents' complaints.
What critics say The keep-it-clean, tourist-obsessed freaks at City Hall are confusing "tagging" and graffiti. One is mostly a mess; the other is public art, a means of expression for the disenfranchised.
Who's to say what's art anyway? City politicians. They'll have the final say should business owners refuse to comply with cleanup orders - yes, the same politicians more interested in pacifying residents concerned about property values than in the cultural and social significance of graffiti.
Why it all smells like coercion The city is threatening to fine businesses that refuse to take part in the cleanup, or do the cleanup itself and then add the costs to business owners' property tax bill. In other words, you can pay now or you can pay later.
• Paint companies and private contractors are lining up to be corporate sponsors
The cover The Clean And Beautiful City Initiative. City 'crats are pushing this attack on urban art under the aegis of the mayor's vaunted beautification plan - which wasn't supposed to be a Rudy Giuliani knockoff but an enhancement of public spaces.
Why this culture sweep is misguided For every wall the city cleans, a dozen artists with spray paint will be waiting to make their mark. The city seems to be forgetting that inspired graffiti art has street cred and actually keeps messy taggers away.
What other cities are doing Those that aren't following Vancouver's example by covering over every last square inch in white paint are providing warehouse space for aspiring artists to get their yayas out - although the latter alternative tends not to attract serious street artists.
What the cops think Don't ask. A speech by the force's anti-graffiti guy, Heinz Kuck, to a cop gathering last week was entitled Journey Deeply Into The Deviant Mindset Of The Graffiti Vandal. Very creative.
The paradox The city increased funding for youth mural projects in this year's budget.
Brush-offs and strokes Eldon Garnet, internationally renowned artist
"Graffiti is not just a single entity. Lumping it into one mass definition doesn't work. It has its necessity within a location and within a social group. The more sophisticated graffiti that has political social content should be respected. It's a marker of territoriality and expression. It's an outlet."
Dennis Reid, chief curator, Art Gallery of Ontario
"It sickens me when I see people spray-painting on old stone buildings. What the hell are they thinking? I can't imagine the citizenry wouldn't want to clean up the mess as much as we can, but at the same time, there are those occasional pieces that are inspired and we should be pausing over."
Janna Van Hoof, Style in Progress, urban art group
"To have councillors deciding what is art is really ridiculous. I also have a problem with critics saying graffiti is all gang-related. If it were gang-related, we wouldn't be able to have an expo with 100 different graffiti artists from Canada and the U.S. peacefully painting together."
Kim Belshaw, city bylaw investigator
"We'll be focusing on high-pedestrian areas. The less time the graffiti stays there, the less value it has to the artists, and they'll eventually go away. Many pieces of graffiti may appear to be authorized by business owners but actually aren't. It's vandalism."
Dave Meslin, Toronto Public Space Committee
"What a waste of resources to go after kids with markers while companies like Viacom and Pattison Outdoor Advertising are erecting massive illegal billboards and murals all across Toronto. The rule seems to be that defacement is a crime unless you're wearing a suit and work for an ad firm."