Monday, 2 November 2009

New era for Tarner Park

This weekend years of work by the well-established Friends of Tarner Park group came to fruition when a new, graffiti free, ball court was officially opened.

One of the first controversies I cam across after I was elected to the council in 2007 was the vexed question of whether to enforce a ban on graffiti in Tarner Park.

The park had become internationally-renowned for its graffiti: the park looked great, and attracted visitors from across the country to add to the constantly-evolving public art exhibition.

But the deprived Tarner area was paying a price for the park having become little more than a graffiti zone: parents with young children, and others living nearby, were reluctant to use the park, and there were a number of health scares as graffiti artists left half-empty can lying around for children using either the adjacent nursery - or the park's own PlayBase, to find.

The rest of the city centre saw a massive increase in 'tagging' as well: though the work in Tarner Park was of a high artistic standard - those travelling by train to Tarner often left a trail of less attractive work on Trafalgar and Sussex Streets.

A survey of residents and park users organised by the 'Friends Of...' group found that most, reluctantly, wanted the graffiti to go.

So the ban was enforced - and it's clear the park has gne from strength to strength since.

There are events there every few weeks now: and the park is always busy. This weekend saw the new ball court opened, as a band played, and children took part in Halloween activities.

A classic case of an empowered community, supported by councillors, reclaiming green space for neighbourhood use.

But the graffiti gave pleasure to millions: not just those living nearby, and the artists themselves, but around the world via books and the internet.

And we, as a city, have a duty to provide alternate sites where unregulated graffiti is tolerated, somewhere central and accessible.

It's clear to me now that the costs outweighed the benefits of tolerating graffiti at Tarner Park, but that there'll have to be a new argument, informed by residents and all park-users, including the graffiti artists, before we close any more graffiti sites.

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