Tag Archives: criminology

Banksy’s Favourite Criminologist

Going paintspotting with Alison Young around Melbourne suburbs of Brunswick and Parhran is like going for a walk with any other enthusiastic, informed observer of street art and graffiti. Walking around, looking down lanes, camera ready trying to see the splash of aerosol spray paint, the paste-up or, even, street art sculpture.

Except that Alison Young is not just another fan of Melbourne’s street art but the Professor of Criminology at the University of Melbourne and is Banksy’s “favourite criminologist in the world”. (And how many criminologists does Banksy know?)

Alison Young book

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination is an academic book, full of citations and an extensive bibliography but don’t panic. The academic nature of this should not put off interested readers, as it is well written and does not require a background in criminology or sociology to understand. The book comfortable ranges in styles from the personal narrative to post-modern philosophy.

Street Art, Public City is not solely focused on the laws that prohibit street art and graffiti or the way that they are enforced. Although there is some old-school criminology in Chapter 5 where Young examines aspects of law enforcement: the appellate process on sentences for graffiti, the lack of distinction in the law between vandalism and graffiti and the political use of James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s much referred to “broken window” hypothesis. Young avoids technical language using “the legislated city” instead of ‘nomosphere’ to describe the intersection of law and urban space, while including such technical language in the footnotes.

Street Art, Public City presents a broad view of street art and the city, examining the way that we imagine the city, the issue of public and private space, the multiple uses and versions the city. This is informed by Young’s own exploration of street art in Melbourne, New York, Berlin, London and other cities and her many conversations with street artists. Previously Young, in collaboration with the artists, Ghostpatrol and Miso, wrote Street Studio – the place of street art in Melbourne (Thames & Hudson, 2010) that features interviews with Neils Oeltjen (aka Nails), Tom Civil, Tai Snaith, Ghostpatrol, Ash Keating, Al Stark, Miso, Twoone, Mic Porter, and the Everfresh Crew.

Street Art, Public City is focused on the situation that the art is presented, the affect on both the artist and the viewer. The focus on the situational aspect makes Young’s approach, including her explorations of cities, almost Situationalist especially considering her conclusion of learning to live with the paradoxes that street art generates. The actual street art is not really discussed in the same depth. That said the influence of the art galleries and the art market are examined in some detail.

After so many books on street art that are basically eye candy, picture books with more photographs than words it is a relief to actually read a book about street art. There are fifteen colour photos at the front and a few more black and white photos scattered in the book’s six chapters. Photographs of street art only tell part of the story as there are aspects of street art that cannot be captured in a photograph. Photographs cannot show the duration, very important with ephemeral street art, nor the motivation of the artist and the reaction of the public. Photographs do not explanation the situation and it is the public situation where street art is created and displayed. Street Art, Public City gives the reader more to consider about street art and the city than simply more images.

Alison Young, Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014)


CCTV or not CCTV (Act 1)

Melbourne City Council’s plans to spend $60,000 on installing two CCTV cameras in Hosier Lane and Rutledge Lane could destroy a world-class cultural asset. The street art in Hosier Lane is Melbourne’s 3rd most popular tourist attraction. You can read in The Age about the council meeting where Fletch (of Invurt) spoke to Melbourne City Council and got them to defer the decision.

Rutledge Lane, September, 2012

There are so many levels to this issue that need to be discussed from the philosophical, the political, the aesthetic, criminological and the practical, empirical evidence. After so many meetings, emails, phone-calls and other communications… I don’t know where to start.

Concerns for the future direction of Hosier Lane emerged after the departure of Andy Mac, who lived above the lane for over a decade and established Until Never Gallery in the same building. Andy Mac acted as an unofficial curator for the laneway, a moderating influence on the madness of this graffiti tolerance zone. It is a beautiful and dynamic place. There is often someone painting in Rutledge Lane when I visit. Earlier this year I was showing my parents the lane and my mother started talking to a guy spraying the wall. The guy, Wons proved to be an excellent cultural ambassador for graffiti, explaining that: “the work underneath had been ruined with tags…‘capped’ is the correct term”. (Cheers Wons – see Arty Graffarti for the piece that Wons was doing at the time.)

Looking up Hosier Lane with wedding party arriving. Hosier Lane is a popular site for wedding photos.

On Friday the 7th I was listening to a paper by Prof. Saul Newman, Reader, Dept. of politics, Goldsmiths, University of London at the Victorian College of the Arts. Prof. Newman argued that there is a need for anonymity in the coming politics, considering Giorgio Agamben’s state of exception, and the desire for governments to have a monopoly on appearance. Issues including Foucault’s interpretation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon were being discussed. Philosophy is not isolated from the world and current events; it is, in away scouting out new territory, way ahead of the frontline. This time philosophy proved prescient and on the weekend I plunged into this current issue of trying to stop the installation of CCTV cameras in Hosier Lane.

What are the problems that the CCTV hopes to solve? The most important issue on the mind of Mayor Robert Doyle was assaults – there have been several assaults in the two lanes and reducing assaults should be a high priority.

Will CCTV cameras do this? I’ve been looking at systematic reviews of the effectiveness of CCTV cameras; a systematic review is an independent assessment of all the evidence gathered from multiple studies. According Skinns to “the introduction of CCTV had no effect on the personal crime offences such as assault.” (Skinns, D (1998) ‘Crime Reduction, Diffusion and Displacement: Evaluating the Effectiveness of CCTV’ in Norris, Moran and Armstrong (eds.) (1998) Surveillance, Closed Circuit Television and Social Control, Ashgate) The only strong evidence for crime reduction due to CCTV cameras is when they are used in car parks to stop vehicle crimes.

There are a range of other problems with installing CCTV cameras include the targeting of minority groups by police and the supply of data to US intelligence via TrapWire (see Darker Net). Trapwire has prompted Anonymous to call for the destruction of all CCTV cameras (see their video) adding another problem to this mix – the likely destruction of these expensive cameras. This is not the ravings of a conspiracy theory blogger; the residents of Hosier Lane are concerned about damage to their property as a resident’s window was broken when the mirrors installed in the lane were broken.

What would be the likely outcome of installing CCTV in Hosier or Rutledge Lanes? Even though there are street art permits for some part of the lanes the artists that worked in there will not feel anonymous and worry that they will be tracked through the network of CCTV cameras in the city. The consequence of this will be to drive the better artists away leading to a reduction in quality of the art in the lane and ultimately the loss of this unique cultural location without any reduction of assaults.

Various artists, Hosier Lane

Wisely Melbourne City Council has already installed lockers for bins to prevent fires being lite in them and budgeted for increased street lighting in Hosier Lane (a parallel systematic review about street lighting found a reduction in crime by 20%). This is a complex the political, the aesthetic, criminological and social issue and there must be a better way to spend $60,000 (plus maintenance and the cost of staff to monitor the cameras) to reduce assaults in Hosier and Rutledge Lane. The story continues in CCTV or not CCTV (Act 2).

Security camera (artist’s impression)


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