Graffiti Artists Losing Ground in New York

Is graffiti art or urban blight? That's long been the question in New York City, a graffiti hub since the 1960s, that's recently seen some beloved institutions fall.

In 2006, it was announced that 11 Spring Street – a 19th century NoLiTa building whose exterior bore two decades of spray paint and wheat paste artwork – would be demolished and rebuilt as condominiums.

And this year, the graffiti-covered, Long Island City building known as 5Pointz, which has housed graffiti artist studios for six years, is closing, after a collapsed stairwell led the Department of Buildings to demand $1 million of repairs – a sum the building owners couldn't afford.
The city has long had a conflicted relationship with the art form: The "Broken Window" theory that small, visible violations, like litter, shattered windows, and graffiti, eventually lead to more serious crime, drove city officials to demonize the spray-can wielding set in the 1980s. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority was particularly aggressive in undermining subway graffiti artists, who'd vie for territory – sometimes violently – in tunnels and trains, and eventually sent tagged trains to the scrap yard.

But others feel that graffiti should be preserved as an integral part of city history. And when I take the Q train from Brooklyn to Manhattan and see the "Masstransiscope" – an animated painting created by Bill Brand in the abandoned Myrtle Avenue subway station in 1980 – I can't help feeling nostalgia for New York's more colorful days.

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