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First, we observe that there has been much less attention for diverging (and conflicting) interpretations among the public.
More generally, the way in which policy makers and citizens think about cities and a liveable urban environment is changing.
Recent urban development seems to influence viewpoints on graffiti.
Given the ambiguity in how authorities deal with graffiti, we think it is striking that the dominant approach in criminological research on disorder views graffiti unambiguously as a social problem: something threatening that must be prevented and dealt with because it would cause fear and (more) crime.
This idea is most common in studies following the ecological tradition (social disorganization theory) or the broken windows theory.
Annoying paintings everywhere, [it] should be forbidden, and the perpetrators [should] clean everything with a toothbrush. There is an exception, what happens in cities, a boring wall is embellished with a nice painting made by experienced professional artists.
The citation above, of a participant in our study who describes his first image of graffiti that comes to mind, summarizes our argument: public opinions on disorder (graffiti, in this case) may vary considerably, not only between people but people themselves make different judgments, depending on what they see in which context.
It is assumed that the uninformed public, as well as authorities and media, cannot distinguish one form of graffiti from another, thus interpreting all graffiti as evidence of increased gang activity, young people’s disrespect for authority or a threat to property values and neighbourhood safety (Ferrell ).
These studies draw our attention to the ways in which norms and expectations are tied to specific places, which together construct the meaning of places and of elements, such as graffiti, in those places.
And to Even though ‘tough on graffiti’ approaches still dominate policies in countries such as Australia, the Netherlands, the UK and the US, the idea that the public responds in different ways to graffiti seems to be trickling down into policies, at least in some countries and cities.
Repressive policies are concerned with preventing and removing graffiti, for example through applying special coatings and quickly removing all graffiti (e.g. However, authorities have limited resources and thus need to prioritize which graffiti to remove first, which requires them to distinguish different types of graffiti (and for instance target offensive graffiti first, see Taylor et al. Moreover, local and national authorities do seem to distinguish between graffiti as a form of art and graffiti as crime, through mixing preventative and punitive measures with offering designated spaces for authorized graffiti (Kramer ).