“Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better-looking place,” wrote the quasi-anonymous British graffiti artist Banksy in his 2005 book “Wall and Piece.” The Ann Arbor City Council disagrees. It chose to instead prioritize graffiti removal and created an ordinance that punishes owners of tagged properties. With post-election changes in the City Council, it’s time to repeal the ordinance that punishes property owners, terms graffiti as vandalism even if it’s desirable, and let Ann Arbor become a better-looking place.

In January 2009, the Ann Arbor City Council unanimously passed an anti-graffiti ordinance that requires property owners to clean up the graffiti on their property within seven days of receiving a notification from the city. If the property owner doesn’t comply with the notice within the allotted time, the city will clean up the graffiti and make the property owner pay the cost of its removal. The ordinance, which took effect in May, will be up for review within the next year.

This ordinance is designed to prevent supposedly unsightly graffiti by punishing property owners who don’t clean up the graffiti themselves. But this just punishes the victim of the crime instead of the perpetrator. After graffiti occurs on a property — usually against the owner’s wishes — the city increases the owner’s hassle by making them pay for its removal. Given the state of the city’s economy, many people will not have the means to remove the graffiti immediately.

But what if people don’t want to remove the graffiti? Graffiti can be a crucial part of a city’s character, especially for a city like Ann Arbor, which prides itself on being a freethinking, liberal arts community. Much of the city’s graffiti — like the word “duck” written in cursive writing in various obscure locations — evokes curiosity rather than disgust. The more popular stencil graffiti, where paint is sprayed through a cutout stencil, requires skill and is the method of choice for many local graffiti artists to make an artistic or political statement. Graffiti can enhance a city’s feel like just like any other form of art.

Artist considerations aside, Ann Arbor just doesn’t even have a big graffiti problem. Connoisseurs of the art form, like University alum Preston Hart — who showcases the “duck” artist’s work on Flickr — have to actively seek out occurances of graffiti. Making its removal a priority is a waste of the city’s time and is unnecessarily costly to property owners.

Tuesday’s City Council primary saw Stephen Kunselman defeat three-time incumbent City Council member Leigh Greden for the Ward 3 Democratic nomination. With Greden — a principal sponsor of the ordinance — gone, the new City Council will soon have a good opportunity to revisit this issue and reexamine its priorities. At the ordinance’s next review, the Ann Arbor City Council should vote to repeal the ill-conceived anti-graffiti ordinance and reverse this attack on the city’s property owners — and its character.

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