Feature Article - September 2007
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Special Accommodations

Meeting Special Needs with Shelters, Shade and Other Park Structures

By Stacy St. Clair

Make a Clean Start
13 Tips to Keep Your Park Graffiti-Free

Having a proactive plan in place for dealing with potential vandalism and graffiti is key to ensuring a safe, clean park. Here are 13 lucky tips to help you make a clean start:

1. Organize a local paint-out. Local businesses often are willing to donate paint and brushes for volunteers to use for graffiti cleanup. Home improvement stores also sell "oops!" paint—cans that have been wrongly mixed—at embarrassingly low prices.

2. Keep your park clean. A neglected appearance invites vandalism. Make sure litter is picked up, fences mended and shrubbery trimmed. Your shelters also should be well-maintained, reminding would-be vandals that they're a source of civic pride.

3. Install quality lighting. Poorly lit structures are more vulnerable to nighttime vandals. One option would be to use motion-detector lights. Keeping the lights on all night makes it easier for people to see graffiti vandals, but it also wastes energy, annoys neighbors and lets vandals see what they are doing. Also, if an area is usually dark, people will notice if it is suddenly lit up.

4. Go green. Shrubbery provides natural—as well as psychological—barriers. The University of Rutgers Crime Prevention Service recommends removing large trees or bushes that block people's view of vandals. The best plant life for graffiti-prone areas is short bushes that keep people from getting too close to walls. Make sure you keep the bushes well-trimmed.

5. Remove graffiti promptly. Statistics show graffiti removed within 24 to 48 hours results in a nearly zero reoccurrence rate. Conversely, graffiti removed after two weeks has a near 100 percent reoccurrence rate, according to the Keep American Beautiful campaign.

6. Encourage citizen reporting. Educate the public about the effects of graffiti vandalism and provide a way for them to report it. Many cities have established a dedicated telephone line or an Internet site for this purpose. Be sure to respond promptly to graffiti reports.

7. Enforce graffiti laws. Help your community develop tough anti-graffiti laws and make sure they're enforced. When asked what would stop them from tagging, vandals in a recent study listed "fear of getting caught" as their top deterrent.

8. Educate local youth. Sponsor programs that explain the negative impact of graffiti. Waco, Texas, for example, developed a mentoring program in which high-school students teach fourth- and fifth-graders about stopping graffiti.

9. Use an adopt-a-spot program. Some communities provide citizen volunteers with graffiti clean-up kits to keep an area they have adopted "graffiti-free." The programs improve awareness and engage citizens in the process.

10. Keep a watchful eye. Ask local law enforcement to increase patrols around structures most susceptible to graffiti. Neighborhood watches also have proved beneficial to reducing graffiti. Some communities have begun installing security cameras in the most heavily vandalized areas.

11. Provide alternatives. Here's a preventive measure that all recreation managers should be able to handle. The Institute for Law and Justice Inc. suggests diverting criminal graffiti to positive alternatives. Options can include youth centers, art programs and civic activities such as mural painting and graffiti cleanups.

12. Create a paint-brush mural. Use a community mural to spruce up the wall of an outdoor structure frequently hit by graffiti. Murals can involve local artists, students and community volunteers.

13. Use the media. Ask reporters not to show images of graffiti in their news reports. Taggers enjoy seeing their work in the spotlight. The publicity could inspire more vandalism.