Feature Article - October 2005
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Stunning Shelters

Planning and protecting outdoor structures

By Stacy St. Clair

Got graffiti?

Of course, no patrons want their wedding—or weekend picnic—to be plagued by a vandalized shelter.

No matter how quaint George Lucas tried to make it in his 1973 film, American graffiti is a real problem.

In fact, it's a crime.

Graffiti makes up 35 percent of all vandalism in the United States, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics. The federal government estimates the country spends roughly $12 billion each year to clean it up.

Of course, it's more than just a drain on tax dollars. The National Association of Realtors estimates properties located in areas with heavy graffiti lose 15 percent of their value.

And, in the recreation industry, graffiti-riddled structures can impact patronage. A gazebo sullied by vandalism gives the impression of a neglected park. Even worse, it may suggest that more serious crimes—such as theft and assault—also may go unchallenged there.

When purchasing an outdoor structure, you're also accepting a civic duty. You assume responsibility for keeping it crime-free, protecting property values and making patrons feel safe.

"It's very insightful to prepare [a graffiti-prevention plan] for new construction," says Bob Hills of the Maryland-based Anti-Graffiti Project. "Most people think of it as an afterthought."

The first step in combating graffiti is understanding it. Experts classify it one of four ways: hip hop, gang, hate and generic non-threatening messages such as "Class of '91" or "Billy Bob Loves Charlene."

About 80 percent is hip hop, or tagger, graffiti. Gang graffiti accounts for about 10 percent, according to Keep America Beautiful Inc.

Most studies show that taggers usually are males between 12 and 21 years old. Only 15 percent are females.

Arrest data from 17 major cities shows up to 70 percent of street-level graffiti is done by teenage boys from the suburbs.