Feature Article - October 2005
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Stunning Shelters

Planning and protecting outdoor structures

By Stacy St. Clair

Towns across the United States have come up with anti-graffiti polices with varying success. Some communities have toyed with so-called legal walls, areas that permit graffiti. Experts, however, warn against the initiative after several communities in California and Illinois experimented with them and failed.

They faltered, in part, because they send a mixed message. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, a community cannot simultaneously prevent and encourage graffiti.

Studies back this up, too. Community records indicate the legal walls may work initially, but graffiti eventually spreads to surrounding areas. Data also shows vandalism arrests do not decline in communities with free walls.

Studies also suggest the media can play a role in keeping a new outdoor structure free from graffiti. Recreation managers, however, must be willing to reach out to local journalists to make sure this happens.

Experts suggest meeting with reporters and their editors to discuss the negative impact of graffiti. After outlining the emotional and financial toll of vandalism to the community, ask the media to help fight this crime.

Specifically request that newspapers and television stations avoid showing graffiti, using the tagger's name or referring to vandals as artists whenever possible. Such measures are critical because media exposure often provides vandals with a sense of accomplishment and spurs them to commit more acts.

If the news outlet must show graffiti, ask the journalists to show only a small, unrecognizable portion. Try suggesting the graffiti be shot slightly out of focus or from an angle that makes it difficult to read the tag.

In addition to a face-to-face meeting, recreation managers can share their anti-graffiti message in several other ways. Experts suggest hosting a breakfast meeting in which reporters are invited to an informal meal with neighborhood groups, law enforcement and public officials.

You can use this valuable opportunity to educate journalists about local efforts. During the meeting, officials should provide the reporters with a media kit.

Keep America Beautiful suggests issuing a press release highlighting a new study, information about a local increase or decrease in vandalism, area cleanup or mural painting efforts. All packets should include local contact information, as well as facts sheets provided by a national organization such as Graffiti Hurts.

Such efforts, however, will not ensure perfect media coverage. There will be times when journalists offer stories that seemingly contradict or undermine local efforts.

When these occasions arise, recreation managers have more options than just calling the journalist to complain. A letter to editor is often more effective because it gives readers an opportunity to hear your side in your own words.

Graffiti Hurts provides a sample letter, which perfectly details how an agency can take a negative story about graffiti and turn it into a proactive measure.