How much control do cities want to have over their public spaces: a look into mural regulation

  • Eynat Mendelson Shwartz Technion Institute of Technology, Israel
  • Nir Mualam Technion Institute of Technology, Israel
Keywords: murals; control; regulation; street art;


In recent decades, murals have become a common phenomenon in urban landscapes, weaving artistic and cultural expressions into the city. They have become a major avenue for public expression, reflecting and influencing the social, political, cultural, and aesthetic values of the city. Some murals are created as acts of resistance while others are promoted by local governments as means of promoting urban development and social reconstruction. Because of their artistic character, location, and public exposure, murals incorporate tensions that present challenges to policymakers, owners, and those involved in their creation. For instance, murals are both a public and private phenomenon, situated in the public domain but located on specific properties and created by specific individuals.

Through the years, the importance of the visualization and design of urban environments has grown.  Local governments are seen in many places around the world as responsible for the city's public spaces, taking on the role of regulators, mediators, and facilitators. Furthermore, they have the difficult task of balancing public and private rights and interests, such as maintaining public order and protecting individual rights and freedoms.

But do cities want to be able to control all of their public spaces? The answer to this question is not simple and contains many considerations. Their ability to control public spaces is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, as the level of control increases, local governments are granted stronger tools to shape their murals to better suit the city’s vision, but on the other hand, this ability may collide with the freedoms of property owners and artists, weakening the city's creative forces and emasculating informal activities.

In this paper we focus on the regulation of murals. We will look at the cities of Portland, which recently re-establish its mural policy and Tel Aviv, known for its many street art and graffiti. We will examine their approaches towards murals and who they view their role in governing public spaces, and address the amount of control they choose to have over the city's murals. By doing so, we will highlight the dilemmas local governments face when promoting mural policy and how mural policies affect the ability of property owners and initiators to promote murals. We believe this information will also aid artists and activists to better understand the framework in which they are working in and the decision-making process of municipalities.

How to Cite
Mendelson Shwartz, E., & Mualam, N. (2020). How much control do cities want to have over their public spaces: a look into mural regulation. SAUC - Street Art and Urban Creativity, 6(2), 59 - 70.