Launch Slideshow

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Common Cause

Common Cause

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    Utility boxes and street signs are the most popular targets of graffitists in Georgia's' Gwinnett County. Source: Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful

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    Graffiti is best controlled when residents are encouraged to report it and volunteers help public works remove it. Though highly effective at removing just about any type of paint, pressure-washing should be limited to tough surfaces such as concrete and hard woods.

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    To keep taggers from making public surfaces such as viaducts (above) into a canvas, former St. Alberta, Canada, city engineer Dwayne Kalynchuk championed efforts both there and in Victoria, British Columbia (below), to create skate board parks that encourage graffiti. Photo below: Dwayne Kalynchuk

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In July, a graffiti removal van began patrolling five areas in Edmonton, Alberta, identified as “graffiti-free” zones, including downtown, as part of a program that uses the comprehensive approach advocated by Wiggins. Two employees remediate 1,000 square feet of public property each week, painting over graffiti on sidewalks and benches and using solvents to remove paint on metal poles, non-painted utility boxes, and the backs of street signs.

Because solvent-based paint remover destroys signs' reflective coatings, many departments spend the extra $2.35/square foot on protective films when ordering signs, says Joline Bogdan, a marketing specialist with 3M. Like a license plate sticker, the film adheres to the sign's reflective coating, cannot be removed, and can be cleaned with a mild cleaner or rubbing alcohol/water mixture.

“The film is an added expense, but it's a lot less than having to replace the entire sign,” Bogdan says.

THE NEW GIS

Abatement is one thing, enforcement is another. The successful cities, Wiggins says, “have recognized a way to monitor progress and look at trends.”

Arrests in New York jumped 28% from 2006 to 2007, thanks to an intense coordinated effort. Police logged all 311 and 911 graffiti complaints in a database maintained by the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit, and officers began documenting the identities and work of graffitists.

Eight years ago, a retired AT&T engineer helped Gwinnett County develop a monitoring and tracking system using handheld GPS tools. Since then, three Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful employees spend three weeks every year driving all major roads and graffiti-prone residential neighborhoods. Noting the graffiti's visibility, size, and type in addition to the surface on which it appears, they upload the data to the county's mapping software and compare it to calls to the county's hotline.

The survey costs about $5,000 for labor (GCB uses private engineers) and identifies the top 10 hotspots, which GCB uses to prioritize abatement and prevention efforts. Wiggins says it's not as difficult as it sounds—as long as public works departments approach the issue with a comprehensive plan.

“Graffiti isn't a traditional public works issue, so it falls behind, and with tight budgets it's hard to justify the costs associated with it,” she says.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Launched in February, San Francisco's Graffiti Rewards Fund offers residents $250 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of graffiti vandals. Residents must be willing to testify in court as witnesses, and are notified that their information might be made available to the defense attorney. Claim forms are available at the public works department, police stations, and the District Attorney's office.

Some residents don't need financial incentives.

In 1997, Rick Stanton, community services supervisor for the city of San Jose, Calif., was hired to administer the anti-graffiti and litter program operated by the parks and recreation department. “After a year or two I didn't see the graffiti problem getting better,” says Stanton, now retired.

An annual anti-graffiti conference designed to attract regional participants from public works, law enforcement, and schools made little impact, volunteer paint-outs didn't curb the problem, and an elementary school outreach program was failing. So Stanton decided to survey every tag in the city. Using $450,000 of general funds, he and his crew identified almost 72,000 tags: $100,000 for removal materials, $100,000 for a truck dedicated for graffiti removal, $150,000 for two full-time positions charged with graffiti removal, and $100,000 for a contract with a youth group for graffiti abatement.