Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lacking in energy

Yes, I've been quiet for a few weeks - because there has been little to report. Thanks to the wet weather of late, not much damage was wreaked over the school holidays. I've made my rounds of the usual trouble spots and seen nothing worth following up.

The only thing I have noticed is that Energy Australia is taking 11-12 days to process vandalism reports. It used to take them a day or so. They have no hope of removing graffiti within 2 weeks if it takes them nearly two weeks to look at their web reporting system and log an incident. I bet that before long, the following will happen.

  • I will report some graffiti
  • 12 days later, Energy Australia will get around to reading my report
  • A week after that, I will report the graffiti again
  • A day later, a contractor will remove the graffiti
  • 12 days down the track, Energy Australia will read my second report and send a contractor out to perform a clean up
  • The contractor will report back that there is nothing to clean - the report is a dud
  • Energy Australia will start to think that false reports are being logged
  • Trust will break down
That would be a lousy outcome.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How slow can the wheels turn?

I conducted a graffiti survey of the Five Dock shopping area with a Council staff member last week. During that survey, we noticed graffiti on the signage outside Five Dock Public School. This is not the first time this has happened - I have reported graffiti on school property a number of times over the last few years. Or should I say, I have attempted to report graffiti on school property.

The Education Department makes it insanely difficult for members of the public to report graffiti. When we first moved into the Five Dock area, we were visited by the bloke that ran the neighbourhood watch scheme for the Five Dock Public School. He asked us to keep an eye on the school grounds, and to report anything of note. We were given the obligatory fridge magnet, and over a two year period, we saw two groups of vandals being caught by the Police in or around the school grounds.

I won't go into the convoluted process that the Education Department forces public schools to follow in order to get graffiti removed, because it is much too boring. I am so over it, when I saw this spate of graffiti, I didn't bother trying to follow it. Instead, I emailed these photos to the Minister for Education and told her to take care of it.

I sent that email on Thursday. It is now Wednesday, and the graffiti is still there.

Looks like even the Minister has problems getting the Department to undertake the exceptionally simple task of organising someone to wipe these signs with a rag and a bit of metho. I know that method works - I have cleaned these signs myself that way, and each took a minute at most.

What is perhaps more annoying is that there are staff at the school this week (even though it is school holidays). Some construction work is underway (Julia Gillard pouring our money into a large pit presumably), and staff are on site during the works. I can't understand why it is beyond one of them to walk around the school once a week looking for this sort of damage. The school is small - you can drive around it in a minute. Is it really that hard to drive around the school when arriving or departing, doing a quick survey as you go? Or do the teaching staff view this sort of things as somebody else's problem?

Canada Bay CSPC meeting tonight

Tonight, as in Wednesday 14 October.

The CSPC is the Community Safety Precinct Committee - a public forum that brings the Police, local councils and members of the public together to discuss...... community safety. (Warning - if you click on that link, it takes you to a 14mb PDF which takes a while to download).

6.30pm, Five Dock Library.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I have the easiest job in the world

I occasionally get asked how I find the time to report all this graffiti and pot holes and broken signs and downed power lines and fallen trees and abandoned cars and piles of rubbish etc etc.

Easy - it doesn't take much time at all! I don't spend my days roaming the streets like some sad person with nothing to do. I spot this stuff during the course of my normal routines - going to the shops, taking the kids somewhere, going to work, visiting friends and so on.

If heavy rains have opened up a large pot hole on the main street through Drummoyne, and I go crashing through it in my car whilst driving up to the supermarket, then I don't just ignore it. When I am stopped at a red light, or I've reached my destination, then I'll scribble a quick note on the sticky pad that I keep in the car, noting the problem and location. After I get home, it only takes a minute or two to go to the appropriate website and report the pot hole.

It isn't that hard! I'm not the poor sod that has to go out there in the rain and shovel tar into the hole, or the bloke that has to clean away the graffiti or fix the street signs or trim the fallen trees or tow the abandoned cars away. I'm sitting in front of my computer, warm and comfortable whilst other people do all the hard work of actually fixing the problems. Reporting them is a breeze.

If you can read the paper online, or order a book, or search for and find a cinema where a particular movie is playing, then you have the skills to find out how to report things that you might see. If you see say a bank building with graffiti on it, it's pretty easy to find the website of that bank and to lookup the "contact us" page and find out how to report the graffiti.

Apart from a pen and pad of sticky notes, the other tools of my trade are a compact digital camera and my mobile phone. I do a lot of walking, and I always have the phone with me - and it has a camera built into it. The quality is not that good, but it's sufficient for me to photograph a problem, such as a vandalised RTA cabinet, and clear enough for me to make out the asset tag. I always take a photo of the street signs at the nearest intersection, so I have a memory jogger of where the problem is located. Once a week or so, I upload the photos to my PC, sift through them and log a batch of reports. I might have to refer to Google Maps to nail down the location, but the photos usually do the trick.

How hard is that? If you walk for exercise, or have a dog that needs walking, then all you have to do is make this promise to yourself - "I am not going to walk past that mess for the 50th time this year and do nothing about it. I am going to photograph it, go home and report it."

That's it. A few minutes out of your day. Depending on what the mess is, and who you are reporting it to, you should get the pleasure of walking past it in the near future and seeing that the mess is no longer there. You can then think, "I did that", and you'll find that you walk with a spring in your step from that point on.

Try it. You might like it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mindlessness at its worst

A playground in Drummoyne.

Every flat surface has been covered in graffiti.

Every rubbish bin in the area has been vandalised. Every power pole has been vandalised.

Our council goes to a lot of trouble, and spends a lot of our money, to make our parks and public spaces as beautiful and pleasant and user friendly as possible.

And then these jerks come along and spoil it for everyone. What kind of sad mentality is that?

All you have to do is ask

When the weather is good, I'll sometimes take the kids over to the park that runs along the Hawthorne canal in Haberfield. Last time I was down that way, I noticed that the fence on the bridge over the canal was very rusty and had broken in places.

I wrote to Ashfield Council and pointed this out to them, and discovered today that they had fixed the broken fencing - and replaced some other sections of fence as well.

I keep on saying that organisations like our local councils do not have a "magic eyeball in the sky" that sees little problems like this. Councils rely on residents reporting problems to them - things like pot holes in roads, uneven foot paths, fallen trees, overgrown shrubs along tracks and so on. I don't expect these things to be fixed immediately, but they'll never, ever get fixed if councils don't know about them.


This might look like a lot of graffiti, but trust me - for this site, it's a pittance. It's been some months since I have been back to this location, but I have noticed a few trends since I started asking the RTA to clean it up.

First, after each cleaning, it is taking longer and longer for the wall to fill up with graffiti, and there is less of it. The density of graffiti is perhaps half what it was a year ago. When it does return, it takes 3 or 4 times as long for the same level of graffiti to be re-applied. Constant cleaning is demotivating some vandals.

Secondly, the vandals have moved away from spray paint to other forms of markers. This wall used to be 100% spray paint. From what I can tell, the current crop of graffiti is 0% spray paint. I don't know if that is because spray paint is harder to acquire for nefarious purposes, or because this particular group has a thing for other media. As you can see from the image above, some of the markers that they are using wash off in the rain. Are they getting desperate?

Thirdly, the markers that they are using are not as effective as spray paint. The one above appears to be a fat crayon, and that is easy to remove.

Tell me though - is there one scintilla of artistic merit in any of the items above?

1 in 10,000

Never let it be said that I am a stick in the mud - someone that enjoys looking at boring, grey utility cabinets on the side of the road. I have been gently prodding the RTA and Canada Bay Council over the last few months to get an arts program going to brighten these eyesores up; and to make them less palatable canvases for vandals. The RTA and Council are quite open to the idea, but there is much paperwork to be done before anything can start. Unless someone can find a magic pot of money, it might have to wait until next financial year.

Here is an example of a cabinet that has been "arted up" in a non-authorised manner. Frankly, I quite like it. After viewing thousands and thousands of meaningless, badly scrawled tags, this is a revelation. When viewed against the muck scribbled on the side panel, this cartoon is a work of art comparable to the Mona Lisa.

I suspect that it is unauthorised due to the messy production qualities.

The front panel has been prepped by being painted with a darker shade of grey than these cabinets normally have - but the brush strokes are rough and hurried. Sloppy even. The cartoon has not been painted onto the cabinet - it is actually a cut out. The shadow has been painted onto the prepped surface, and the cut out cartoon then glued onto that. It hasn't been glued on very well - it's peeling at the top. Some sort of varnish has then been hurriedly applied over just the cartoon - presumably to prevent it from being vandalised!

Being a fan of cartoons, I like this piece. I'd prefer that it was authorised, but I'd rather have this sort of stuff going up instead of idiotic tags.

Of all the so called "graffiti art" that I have looked at over the last two years, I have only seen two examples that showed some level of artistic talent. This is one of them. 99.9% of graffiti around our area is not "art". To call it "art" is a vicious and nasty slur on all artists. It is juvenile territory marking and adolescent boasting of prowess and 'fearlessness' (which is why it is done at night, when no one is looking), and it should be recognised as such.

I am not reporting the above piece, because it stands as a reminder as to what art is and what graffiti isn't. It clearly shows that almost all graffiti around here is trash, and displays why graffiti should be removed as rapidly as possible.

I hope the person or persons that did the above work sign up for the RTA/Council program when it gets off the ground. There are lots of boring utility boxes at intersections in Canada Bay that could benefit from their talent.

Monday, October 5, 2009

More willful blindness

A post office. Location - inner west.

The letter posting box out the front has been this way for weeks. It's not like this is out in the sticks with no Australia Post employees around. At least two of them walk in and out of that door 20 feet away several times per day - yet they fail to notice this. Or they notice it, and don't bother to report it.

On top of that, a contractor arrives once a day to empty this letter box. He parks right in front of it and sees it from this angle. He fails to see it, or report it.

Everyone thinks it is somebody else's problem.

There's none so blind.... those that will not see. Five seconds after taking this photo:

I turned around to see this car waiting at a red light. An Energy Australia car. The company responsible for the defaced kiosk that I was standing next to. The driver, presumably an Energy Australia employee, was no more than 30 feet from a bit of vandalised Energy Australia asset - and I guess he/she couldn't give a stuff.

I watched where the car went after the lights turned green, and walked a few hundred metres of that same route. Along the way I saw this:

Not this - this was in the other direction.

But I also saw this.

How willfully blind do you have to be to drive past 3 clearly vandalised assets that your company owns, and to ignore them all?

It would be even worse to find that the employee in question lives in this area, and passes these same assets twice a day on their way to and from work. That would be really dedicated blindness.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Getting bent

Some rather frisky fellows have taken a stroll down one of our nearby streets and bent all the street signs as they've passed. I counted half a dozen today where the signs are pointing at the ground rather than up the street in question.

"So what?", you say. "What's a few bent street signs?"

Someone from Council will have to come out and fix them up, that's why. Signs are there for a reason - to provide directions. When they are no longer able to perform that function because they are damaged or worn, then they have to be fixed or replaced and returned to a state where someone unfamiliar with the area can use them as intended.

What will it cost though to send someone out to fix them?

Well, it's probable that it will not be one person, but two. Someone to climb the ladder and someone to hold it. Plus you have the cost of providing a vehicle (such as a Falcon Ute), a ladder, tools, mobile phones and so on. Then you have the back office costs of supplying a supervisor to allocate and control the work, a depot to work from, offices in the depot for the supervisors and tool storage and so on.

I'm thinking sending a crew out to fix a bent sign will cost at least $250 if it has to be replaced. They might do one trip, determine that the sign is beyond repair, return to the depot, order a new one, then revisit to fit the replacement sign. That's an hour of travel time all up, another half hour or more on site to remove the old sign and put the new one up, plus all the on-costs of superannuation etc etc.

Once again, you say, "So what, the Council has plenty of money."

No, the Council does not have plenty of money. The only way for the Council to get plenty of money is for it to take more money from you and me. Or just me, if you are the type of unproductive person that enjoys breaking public property. If you think $250 is not a lot of money, then you are making a lot more money than me. Prove to me that it is not a lot of money - pay the full cost of replacing all those bent signs. In cash. Out of your own pocket.

Oh, so suddenly that's a lot of money, is it?

If there is one thing worse than people referring to a problem as being someone else's, it's spending someone else's money. Government money always seems to be free, and there appears to be plenty of it. It is not somebody else's money - it is our money, and I wish people would remember that. When public property is damaged, it is our property that is damaged. We, the public, paid for it, and we, the public, have to pay to put it right.