Thursday, December 21, 2006

The shortest day

Party time

We woke up to frost this morning, and have enjoyed bright blue skies all day, quite a change from the previous couple of foggy days. Neither rain earlier in the month, nor fog has stopped people coming into the city to shop. Footfall statistics are up yet again this week, and that's a major success for the Retail Partnership's TV and radio promotional campaign. Last night members of the partnership board invaded Café Jazz on St Mary Street, and joined a hundred or so other party goers for Christmas drinks and nibbles, and an hour or so's shouted conversation in a noisy and animated environment. It's like that in a ll the bars and eateries at the moment, being the season for office parties. Despite the thousands on the street in these chill dark nights, navigating from one bar or club to another in search of total inebriation and maybe a bit of dancing, the level of crime and disorder is quite low. There's a strong police presence, but without being menacing, and this seems to do the trick, discouraging people from stirring up trouble.

Neither prevention nor cure
I was disappointed to learn today that a Cardiff crime prevention partnership measure aimed at reducing the very expensive impact of graffiti on the retail outlets and the public realm has been closed down. Over the past six months, all along the eastern Castle Grounds boundary fence, overlooking a quarter mile of car parking space along North Road, there were a series of six by four feet panels at 50 metre intervals displaying the output of local young graffiti artists working with older artists and police community support officers. It took ages for the team to gain the trust of youngsters to start with, but with the passage of time and the regular appearance of new brightly coloured works of spray-can art, enthusiasm for the project grew. To my mind it added real visual interest to the look of a long dull expanse of concrete car parking space, fringed with a huge privet hedge running alongside the main road. Now they've all been removed.

The city centre management team intensified its efforts to purge graffiti from public buildings and walls, and there certainly has been a reduction in the occurrence of new graffiti since the project started to gain momentum. But not a total elimination. There remain rogue graffitists, perhaps on the edge, unconvinced, or outsiders, with political motives - anti-globalisation, anti-Iraq War protesters, Welsh language campaigners. The message, rather than the ingenuity of the art medium is what drives their efforts. Unfortunately, they all get tarred with the same brush. When M&S got attacked by 'anonymous' anti G8 activists, causing tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage, those appearing on CCTV pictures shown to Special Branch officers were all identified by name. But no action taken, no information exchanged between one section of the Force and another. The other kind of graffitists, if they do get caught, are often given little or nothing by the Magistrates Courts to discourage them from doing it again.
Punishment on its own isn't enough. The graffiti art project gave a genuine opportunity to those wishing to express themselves artistically this way an alternative to defacing and damaging public buildings. Carrot as well as stick. A handful of people complained about the panels in place, although there was nothing on them to give offence. A few politicians decided this was not in the interests of who? I'm not sure. Many youngsters were frustrated and disappointed. A desk officer at the Central Police Station told me of parents coming in with children crying with disappointment at the axing of the project.
I figure it will only be a matter of time before the graffitists strike again at the shops and public buildings of the city centre. I for one will be most annoyed, having written in praise and support of the project's achievements. I found myself looking more at the panels on display, enjoying them for what they were, rather than wincing, avoiding looking at the ugly tags and slogans littering good clean surfaces all over town and giving real visual offence.
I wouldn't be surprised if this turns into a politicians' and bureaucrats' own goal. Serves them right. They should consult properly and not just act on the opinions of a handful of henchmen.

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