Feature Article - November 2011
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Maintenance Series: Vandalism & Graffiti

Straighten Up, Fly Right
Preventing Vandalism, Graffiti With Smart Maintenance

By Dawn Klingensmith

An Off-the-Wall Idea

Involving youth in the creation of a paint-brush (not spray paint) mural can give them a sense of community pride and ownership, while at the same time permanently obliterating blank walls that are chronically hit with graffiti.

In Houston, youth groups were paired with professional artists to create a mural series.

"There are places where murals have worked," Campbell said, "but you have to remember, vandals don't respect property."

In the event that a mural is badly defaced, it's harder to restore as opposed to simply "wiping out" tags with a paint roller.

Time and again, cities around the globe decide to "dedicate" a wall to graffiti artists; often, parks and recreation departments have art program directors to whom this type of solution appeals. These whitewashed "free walls" invite people to express themselves openly rather than making their mark on street signs and underpasses. Some cities report that the scheme works at least in the short-term, with greater respect shown to other surfaces.

But dozens of cities have found them to be ineffective over the long run, and they might even do more harm than good. They invite the criminal element to come and practice, tagging property en route, Campbell said. After a period of time, the areas surrounding the free wall also become covered with graffiti.

Also, when graffiti is celebrated as art and governments and businesses are asked to get behind and essentially sponsor it, all in an effort to get rid of graffiti everyplace else, it sends a mixed message.

Communities that nevertheless are considering a free wall need to think about who will monitor it for appropriate content; who will take responsibility for repainting it regularly to provide a fresh canvas; and who will pay for removal if the graffiti migrates to adjacent or nearby surfaces.

For a less ambiguous way to involve youth in anti-graffiti efforts, consider Milwaukee's grant-sponsored public service announcement contest in which kids were invited to write a 30-second radio spot to deter youth involvement in graffiti. Winners voiced their own ads, which aired throughout an integrated six-month campaign.

Graffiti Prevention Best Practices

Form a task force made up of police, city government, and community groups including businesses, schools and neighborhood associations.

Educate community leaders, citizens and youth about graffiti's costs. Provide curricula to schools.

Set up a graffiti hotline.

Beef up and enforce local anti-graffiti laws.

Launch an "Adopt-a-Spot" program asking volunteers to keep adopted areas graffiti-free; it helps to provide them with graffiti-removal kits and access to a "paint bank" where paint-over equipment and supplies can be borrowed from a central location. For safety, instead of arming volunteers with harsh chemical solvents, consider gentler products like biodegradable Krud Kutter Graffiti Remover (available at hardware stores) and all-natural Soy Safe Graffiti Remover (available at www.soysafe.com).

Keep a database of graffiti vandalism to log locations, photos, and estimates and actual costs, and to identify hotspots; this information can be used to identify, charge and seek restitution from offenders.

Offer victim assistance, including removal instructions or kits to induce private property owners to remove graffiti promptly.

Engage at-risk youth in activities and programs that give them a sense of participation and pride in their community.

Source: www.graffitihurts.org