We want clean city

26-02-2006

The renovation of the back corner of Prague's main train station, which you pass as you take the tram from the station up towards Zizkov, is quite an impressive job which no doubt cost millions of crowns. Depressingly soon after the work was completed, graffiti started appearing on the huge concrete walls. One of them reads "we don't want clean city".

My first reaction when I saw it was that the author would be better off doing his English homework (and I'm presuming it was a he) than vandalising public property. But seriously, the real issue here is graffiti, which - as one listener recently said in an email - mars the whole of the capital, not just the suburbs: countless beautiful old buildings in the historical city centre have also been uglified by sprayers.

Why do you seem to see more graffiti here than in many other cities? It's hard to say, though I suspect it is another symptom of the lack of social feeling you often come across, and which may well be one of the many legacies of communism. That despite the fact that the kids who do it have no doubt embraced western styles of dress, music and lifestyle in general.

Before I go on, let me just say I think people should have the right to do graffiti. Inside their own homes. Everywhere else is anti-social, no? As for the argument that some of it is art which brightens up the grey urban landscape, well some of it may well be. But the vast, vast majority of it is just tags - or names - nothing more than ugly teenage squiggles.

What's to be done about this blight? Well you could increase punishments, but they rarely seem to catch these kids so that probably wouldn't make much impact. And just ignoring it and letting it accumulate on buildings (the prevalent approach at the moment) clearly isn't the answer.

I've often heard that studies show if you repair vandalised property three times the vandals will give up and move on. So if you keep painting over graffiti, they should do it elsewhere. Or, who knows, do something else entirely.

Of course that leaves the question of who should do this. You could be waiting for a long time for the local authorities to take action in this matter, so the answer may well be make building residents and other owners responsible for cleaning it up, despite the cost. That might seem a bit draconian, but it may be the only solution if, as I suspect, most Prague residents do "want clean city".

26-02-2006