My community recently put a lot of time and money into getting a new play structure for the local park. To celebrate, the whole park got a face-lift with a fresh coat of paint. Then, one day, with that "new park" feel still lingering in the air, the first slash of graffiti appeared. And once there was one, dozens more followed. "Tags" were everywhere competing for space on the slides and the benches and all over the beautiful new play structure.
This is not an uncommon story -- many communities can relate. Municipalities across Canada have implemented programs designed to curb graffiti, and the small city of London, Ont., recently made headline news for passing Canada's first bylaw banning the sale of graffiti tools to minors.
Another initiative noteworthy for its success is the City of Vancouver's Graffiti Management Program, which has seen the incidence of graffiti reduced by 85 per cent since the program started in 2002. Daniel Paquin, Vancouver's Anti-Graffiti Coordinator, says there is a series of steps community members can take in order to reduce graffiti in their neighbourhoods.
1. Report it
Paquin says the first step to cleaning up graffiti is reporting it. He points out that in addition to being an eyesore, graffiti is also a crime and recommends calling the police (using a non-emergency number) to help them stay on top of the problem.
It's equally important to notify your municipality and many Canadian cities have set up graffiti hotlines to make reporting as easy as possible. In Vancouver, Paquin says, calls to the hotline are dealt with immediately. "If it's on city property, our contractor will remove it within 24 hours," he says. "If it's something racist or sexual in nature then it needs to be removed ASAP."
2. Remove it
"Speed is of the essence," says Paquin. "The sooner you remove the graffiti, the less likely it's going to reoccur." He says most graffiti falls under the category of "tagging" -- groups of youth spreading their name or "tag" around; when their tag is removed quickly the impact is lost and they give up.
There are several ways to get rid of graffiti:
• Some cities will do it for you. Call your municipality (the graffiti hotline if there is one) to inquire.
• Hire a commercial graffiti removal company. Your municipality may provide a list of contractors.
• Do it yourself. The City of Winnipeg offers pointers online.
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3. Paint it out
A benefit of reporting graffiti is that your municipality may give you a hand in painting it out. Vancouver offers a free paint-out kit containing everything you need to get started, including paint, tray, roller and gloves. Other cities across the country have similar programs.
Paquin says that to clean up a large area, like a neighbourhood park, citizens can organize a "community paint-out." In Vancouver, these paint-outs are an official part of the Graffiti Management Program and the city helps with promotion and by supplying a van full of equipment. Paquin says these events can be worthwhile no matter where you live. "Get a bunch of volunteers together and approach the city," he says. "Say, 'we would like to clean this up -- are you willing to supply us with the paint?'"
4. Prevent it
While following the above-mentioned steps will go a long way to preventing further graffiti, Paquin says there are other things you can do.
Educate. Vancouver police report that taggers range from teens to those in their early 30s. Each year the Graffiti Management Program distributes leaflets and makes presentations in Vancouver schools. While these sessions appeal to students' sense of right and wrong, they also clearly outline the consequences of graffiti vandalism. "We tell them you can be arrested," says Paquin. "Our prosecutor and the courts have accepted this, and it's a $500 fine." Find out if similar programs are in place where you live and, if not, suggest they be started.
Get involved. Paquin says it can be as simple as asking a question. "If your kids have a duffel bag or a backpack full of spray cans, ask them, 'What are you doing with those?'" he says. As well, he says seeing community members, including parents and neighbours, taking an active part in keeping the neighbourhood clean can make potential taggers think twice about their actions.
Finally, Paquin says, if you can't beat them, join them. Mural programs, which put a positive twist on street painting, exist in several Canadian cities and offer a combination of benefits by providing local artists with a legitimate chance to display their work, bringing character and interest to communities, and discouraging further graffiti.
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