Project Lead: City of Ghent, Community Artists and the public
Ghent is a wonderful city in the Flanders region of Belgium. Although I could write a lot about the values of the city, the creativity that happens with neighborhood projects, and the social democratic culture in the city–I want to focus on one small thing I noticed happening in the city. This is the thing of graffiti streets.
Ghent is a medieval city with a long history, with human presence dating back to the Stone Age. Like many European cities, there are many historical buildings that have lasted for centuries and continue to be used by the city in some way or another. As a result the city of Ghent has created “Graffiti Streets.” These are streets dedicated to graffiti of all kinds, at all times. This was a way to discourage people from doing graffiti on historical buildings and in turn giving them spaces to do graffiti.
In addition, the city partners with artists to encourage them to use these graffiti streets, as well as other spaces, to do their public art. I’m sure there are some graffiti artists in Ghent who have issues with being given designated space to do their art, or being relegated to certain areas. However, I think this idea of making space for graffiti and public artistic expression benefits the city more than it hurts it.
In places like Brazil, street art is legal. Brazil makes a distinction between tagging (pichação) and the Brazilian street art style called grafite. They encourage and allow street art from Brazilian artists as well as peaceful graffiti. This has added a huge element to the urban fabric of Brazilian cities. In Ghent, the graffiti streets also enhance the urban environment. It is quite wonderful to see the integration of old historical buildings and contemporary street art in Ghent’s city centre. You turn down a small street and all of sudden you are walking through a colorful world that is as relevant, and sometimes more relevant, than the timeless historical buildings lining the cobble stone streets.
While graffiti streets may not solve all the problems of tagging, graffiti, and defacing historical buildings–it is a great idea to channel and highlight a very important aspect of urban culture. Repressing art and public expression is not the way to go, but maybe creating more space for it within cities is an opportunity, some cities like Ghent and Brazil, understand.