If you’ve been noticing less graffiti colorfully sprayed on Ann Arbor buildings lately, it’s because the Ann Arbor City Council has taken it upon itself to force local business owners to clean it up. City Council passed an ordinance last year in an effort to keep Ann Arbor businesses clean of graffiti. Instead, it wrongly punishes property owners by making them pay for the removal someone else’s graffiti. The future of the city’s anti-graffiti ordinance will be uncertain as the city council reviews the policy in the coming months. Because this ordinance unfairly punishes business owners and could damage the city’s urban character, City Council must take the upcoming opportunity to repeal it.

The anti-graffiti ordinance was passed by City Council in January of 2009 and went into effect in May. The ordinance calls for Ann Arbor property owners to remove graffiti from their facilities using their own time and resources. After receiving notification from the city, business owners are required to remove the graffiti from their property within nine days. Property owners who fail to comply with the city’s request in the designated time are required to pay for the city to remove the graffiti. A report on the effectiveness of the ordinance will be available in the coming months, at which point City Council will review the policy to determine its effectiveness.

The anti-graffiti ordinance’s enforcement is irrational — it punishes property owners for something they didn’t do. Property owners shouldn’t be held accountable for the fact that their property has been tagged with graffiti. Yet, this ordinance treats them like they were holding the can of spray-paint. If the city considers graffiti a form of vandalism, then this ordinance punishes the victims of a crime. Property owners shouldn’t have to pay to remove graffiti they didn’t create.

In fact, City Council shouldn’t force anyone to get rid of graffiti if they don’t want to. Graffiti shouldn’t have to be removed just because the city has labeled it as unsightly. For many, graffiti is a unique form of urban art that adds to Ann Arbor’s modern character. Graffiti is part of the urban landscape and residents shouldn’t have to remove it if they find the art attractive. This is exemplified in Graffiti Alley, located on East Liberty Street next to The Michigan Theater, which is an enormous collection of graffiti artwork. Even Ann Arbor councilmembers have recognized Graffiti Alley as a landmark. But graffiti can be art no matter where it’s tagged, and property owners shouldn’t have to scrub it away if they deem it art on the same level as the graffiti in Graffiti Alley.

And this ordinance is unnecessary because, contrary to the perception of City Council, graffiti isn’t an overwhelming concern in Ann Arbor. Occurrences of graffiti in the city are limited and usually confined to areas like Graffiti Alley. The ordinance makes it seem like Ann Arbor is coated in layers of spray-paint — but it’s not.

The anti-graffiti ordinance wastes property owners’ time and money to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Graffiti isn’t a mess — it’s art. City Council should realize this, and stop its antagonism of expression.

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