One Person's Blight is Another's Beautiful Life

When does a B pass for a U? When it's blight, an umbrella term for all that is unwell with the kingdom.

The other day, I came across an article in a local paper, and the accompanying artwork was a photo of a police officer standing alongside graffiti. The package would have you believe the town was cracking down on graffiti. But no. This is a story about the police cracking down on illegal immigrants. Except that it didn't say that exactly. The genteel leadership of the Hat City prefer to think of it as introducing new citizens to the rules and regulations about zoning, health codes, and things like that. The City of Danbury, Connecticut has an agency called UNIT, which checks out various residences and businesses to ensure they're living by the rule and letter of the law.

What does illegal immigration have to do with graffiti? Nothing. These are two separate populations. One is poor, probably non-English-speaking, and possibly in town illegally. The other, more than likely, is white, male, middle- to upper-class, college educated, and employed. In Danbury, they have in common one police officer who oversees the anti-graffiti task force and is the liaison with unit. They also have one city government who define them as blighters, causes of mars on the perfect landscape of what they call the Gateway to New England--Danbury, Connecticut.

Danbury doesn't need to burn down again because some illegal interloper drops a match or what have you. It was bad enough when the British did it. Nor should the people who play fair and square and pay their bills and taxes endure a reduced standard of living to subsidize their illegal neighbors. But this little essay isn't about that.

It's about what strikes me as an obviously flawed approach to dealing with two very different kinds of people who challenge the system--or the well-being of the free world a la Danbury--in the same way. The News-Times's presentation of the story, the police department's assigning the same cop to both tasks, and the city's free use of the idea of blight make my point.

The story brings to mind a day in the spring when I was wandering under the hgihways in Hartford to photograph graffiti. From wherever it stood, I could see the Nutmeg State's gorgeous capitol building. I doubt anybody on the inside of that building could have, or would have wanted to, see me. From wherever I stood, I could see at once the urbane wealth of the city in the form of done up neighborhoods with little bistros and window boxes, alongside brownfields, alleys, and those dreary empty spaces that just want for some sign of life.

I stood amid discarded couches, chairs, futons, beds, box springs, household rubbish, broken lamps. You name it. It was a bit like wading through an illegal linear dump. Of course, there were plenty of aerosol paint cans. But the problem was not discarded Krylon cans but illegally dumped junk. By night, those sites were home to some folks, party sites for others, wastelands for everyone else.

All blight--which I understand as anything that intellectually challenges or materially threatens the status quo, is not equal. The source of all blight is not the same. Graffiti writers, according to the research and my own experience, are educated middle-class white people with paying jobs. They are likely to be citizens. The illegal dumpers? Maybe the cops can catch them and tell us who they are. The breakers of code? Immigrants, according to the City of Danbury.

So far, according to UNIT's page on the City of Danbury's website, "UNIT has conducted 520 inspections pertaining to only illegal apartments, with 40 percent in violation and made to come to comply."

Graffiti, garbage, slum housing. The fact that all blight is not equal is not a semantic one. The B word here is synonymous with umbrella, it's the overarching word for all things unpleasant, even if they are good. Over generalizing in this way suggests a leadership that paints itself into a corner while it paints over all the stuff it doesn't like. You've got to take a look around you--meaning yourself--when you've got so much painting to do all the time.


  1. Anonymous12:04 PM

    Blight seems to be have become a term that is used generally right now to describe anything unwanted in an urban area. But as you said, all blight is not equal.

    I was interested in the name of the group - UNIT. That's very interesting, considering there's a popular show on CBS these days called The Unit. It's about an anti-terrorism arm of the US government.

  2. In the UK graffiti but one of more famous street artist 'Banksy' just sold for 5 figures.

  3. Freelance Cynic, some of today's surfers are looking for graffiti writers who decorate professionally. It's that Newtonian law of physics that what goes around comes around.


    "If it ain't white or right, it must be blight" are lyrics to be added to Connecticut's state song.


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