How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification

How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification

Graffiti, as an art form, has a complex relationship with gentrification. On one hand, it has engaged the streets and urban fabric as a canvas for people to express themselves culturally and socio-politically. This expression could be a form of rebellion by ethnic minorities and disadvantaged groups in certain neighborhoods, or it can build up a sense of cultural uniqueness and social expression, giving a neighborhood a positive character and attracting newcomers. However, over the years, the latter has been an agent of gentrification, spiking up property values to accommodate richer residents and alienating the native communities of those neighborhoods.

In certain instances, artists recognize their role in this urban scheme and tweak their art form through its style, message, location, and action as direct forms of protest to fight against gentrification. From Brixton, Shoreditch, and Hackney in London, Williamsburg and Bushwick in New York, to The Canal Saint-Denis and Belleville in Paris, the use of graffiti on the streetscapes of these neighborhoods can either protest or inspire different forms of development.

How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 2 of 10How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 3 of 10How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 4 of 10How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 5 of 10How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - More Images+ 5

How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 10 of 10
Graffiti Message in Shoreditch, London. Image © Toa Heftiba/ Unsplash

The traditional purpose of graffiti was to speak out against gentrification by using neighborhoods as a space for expression. It allowed artists to use architecture as a public canvas for expressing ideas, sparking conversations among residents, rebelling against socio-political structures, and celebrating shared ideals. However, it’s been noted that graffiti, while not intentionally designed to do so, can play a role in gentrification. Calum Quirke, in his article “Urban Art as a Gentrifier,” argues that when communities endow their neighborhoods with unique urban art, it attracts creative groups and brings graffiti into the artistic mainstream, which can ultimately contribute to further socio-political inequality. Graffiti creates an art culture that quickly becomes trendy and popular as a sign of a vibrant avant-garde culture, and this creative force, against its will, tends to attract new residents with higher incomes.


Related Article

How Developers Turned Graffiti Into a Trojan Horse For Gentrification


How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 2 of 10
Shoreditch graffiti windows, London. Image © Rick Barrett/ Unsplash

The relationship between graffiti and gentrification exists on a spectrum, depending on how it is perceived: as either an art form or vandalism, or as aesthetically edifying. However, the perception of graffiti as art or vandalism is first built by the art form itself. Calum Quirke notes that graffiti can range from “illegible messy scrawls” to “aesthetically juxtaposed sets of visual images.” The former often identifies neighborhoods with high crime levels, high unemployment, and low education, while the latter is attractive for cultural development, tourism, and more street experiences. The belief is that messy graffiti, in terms of style, message, acts of vandalism, and location in the neighborhood, can create a negative perception of the environment and ward off prospective developers, unlike aesthetically juxtaposed graffiti.

How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 6 of 10
Artistically juxtaposed graffiti in Shoreditch, London. Image © Angie Kordic

The perception of aesthetic graffiti defines the story of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Originally an area where factories and manufacturing were pushed out of the eyesight of the city, it housed a diverse population seeking affordable housing in New York, including workers from nearby neighborhoods and immigrants. Artists obtained residencies in urban warehouses, creating artsy lofts, galleries, and imprinting art on the faces of buildings. Initially, the art form created tensions between the locals and new residents due to its “unfinished character”. Graffiti was seen as an act of vandalism, deemed ugly, messy, and a sign of a deplorable neighborhood. However, in the 90s, developers accepted the artistic character of Williamsburg, transitioning from “cleaning up the neighborhood” to employing aesthetically pleasing graffiti as facades of buildings. This increased the appeal of properties, giving prospective residents the sense that they were not taking part in changing the local landscape, while pricing out the locals from their buildings and essentially gentrifying the neighborhood.

How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 3 of 10
Aesthetically Juxtaposed Graffiti Message in Williamsburg, New York. Image © Chalo Gallardo/ Unspash

Shoreditch, London is one example of a neighborhood where artists recognized the role of their art culture in attracting gentrification and switched to art forms that directly protested the cause. In the 1990s, the area became popular for up-and-coming street artists and is now considered the epicenter of the London street art scene. As property prices have risen in the area and developers plan to build new luxury structures, artists have utilized graffiti art forms to directly protest against them. Graffiti messages continuously pop up in the neighborhood, highlighting the plight of locals and why new developments tend to alienate them. Some artists even engage in artistic vandalism of private properties, creating tension with new residents and drawing the attention of law enforcement to the neighborhood. Street art in the UK is still technically illegal and considered a criminal activity. Although authorities attempt to cover up these art pieces as soon as they appear, the tension tends to limit the neighborhood’s appeal to prospective residents.

How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 7 of 10
Graffiti Message in Shoreditch, London. Image © Angie Kordic

Another prime example that personifies graffiti as an agent of gentrification and now fights against it to protect its longstanding history is Brixton, London. For decades, Brixton was known for its large Afro-Caribbean population, which grew as the Windrush generation settled there from the late 1940s onwards. While its proximity to central London attracted new residents, its vibrant art culture expressed through graffiti, music, food, and various forms of street art was the main attraction. Through this, its rental market spiked with an influx of newcomers, and the Afro-Caribbean community dwindled. According to the Office for National Statistics, in just 20 years (1991-2011), they went from making up 12.58% of the population to 8%. Graffiti in Brixton evolved as a form of protest against council policies that failed to protect locals.

How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 5 of 10
Graffiti Message in Brixton, London. Image © Sabine Schwab

Walking through the neighborhood, one would see vivid examples of caricature characters mimicking politicians, direct messages addressing gentrification, artworks with an “unfinished” and “messy” nature as building facades, and new forms of artistic vandalism in the streets. Artists use the shutters of evicted businesses in Brixton as a canvas covered in anti-gentrification murals: portraying a skeleton in a suit carrying eviction notices, a Starbucks logo with blood dripping from the figure’s hollow eyes and mouth, and other powerful messages celebrating the area’s historic diversity. Through these works of art, the message against gentrification is publicized, and prospective developments that alienate the locals are fought against.

How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 8 of 10
Graffiti Message in Brixton, London. Image © Martha Love/Flickr

These examples demonstrate that the relationship between graffiti and gentrification depends on how the art form is perceived. The manner in which the art is created and its intended message determine whether it acts as an agent of gentrification or as a form of protest against it. Using direct messages, unfinished art forms, messy styles, and vandalism are ways in which graffiti can be adapted to fight against developments that displace local residents. Some of the leading cities protesting gentrification in Europe include London, Berlin, Naples, and Marseille, among many others worldwide. The current explorations of graffiti as a tool to combat gentrification provide a blueprint for how the art form can be modified to express its traditional ideals of rebellion and help communities protect their neighborhoods.

How Neighborhoods Rely on Graffiti to Protest Gentrification - Image 9 of 10
Graffiti Message in Brixton, London. Image © Fred Romero

Sign up to receive the best Underground art & real estate news in your inbox everyday.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

This post was originally published on this site be sure to check out more of their content.