If you've ever walked the Greenway between West Ham and Plaistow, you'll know there's a bridge over the District line where graffiti artists play. The two long walls make ideal canvases, often for several sprayers at a time, or perhaps just one earnest bloke in a woolly hat pondering quietly which aerosol to wield next. It was an ever changing display, as each new arrival had to decide which bit of the old canvas to paint over. I can't claim that the end result was a coherently impressive work of art, nor anything you'd travel out of your way to see. But the graffiti walls kept part of the local community occupied, and truly livened up this sewertop corner.
Here's the bridge in spring 2010, for example.
And then someone at the council took offence. Newham has Graffiti Control Officers, and they have their work cut out in other parts of the borough keeping a lid on offensive or plain ugly scrawl. The Greenway bridge they'd always given a wide berth... until one day suddenly two fences appeared. One set of metal railings went up on each side of the bridge, supposedly to bar access, except they were both at easily jumpable height. Any semi-determined tagger would have had no trouble clambering over the top, or indeed stepping up onto the ledge at either end and walking casually behind. As my next photo shows, these new railings proved absolutely zero deterrent whatsoever.
Here's the bridge in spring 2012, colourful as ever.
So now Newham has taken extreme measures. i) They've posted a stern warning on the railings which states "Graffiti is a criminal offence. Any persons found damaging or defacing property will be arrested." ii) They've painted the walls an incredibly depressing shade of grey, plus adjoining chunks of the parapet too. iii) They've only gone and hired a bloke to sit in a car at the end of the bridge to keep an eye on proceedings, lest graffiti erupts.
Here's the bridge in summer 2012, zero tolerance.
It's hard to describe just how miserable the end result is. Where previously there was a bright and lively stretch of street art, now there's a dour grey canyon watched over by a grumpy sentinel. The only remaining colour is the bright pink of Newham's warning sign, plus a splash of tagging sprayed defiantly on the ground.
You'd think this clampdown must be Olympics related, except we're five minutes in the wrong direction from the route thousands of spectators will be taking from West Ham station to the Olympic Park. They won't be coming this way, so they wouldn't have seen anything. Instead this appears to be part of a determined council campaign to wipe out graffiti in the borough, whatever the cost.
There are plenty of places where graffiti is a mess and best removed, but to go to the effort of installing barriers and a security guard on the Greenway bridge, surely that's a ridiculous over-reaction? What we have here is a joyless clampdown wasting time, salary and resources protecting a wall that was doing nobody any harm. Welcome to Newham.