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Dirty Jobs in Government: Graffiti Removal

Graffiti databases and reporting apps help cities clean up after taggers.

by / May 30, 2013

Graffiti may be an ancient art form — even the Neanderthals etched figures onto cave walls. But it’s a huge problem for state and local agencies tasked with removing tags from walls, buildings and vehicles.

Graffiti is more than just an eyesore. Homes in neighborhoods with graffiti can lose 25 percent of their market value. And government agencies can spend millions of dollars removing this “freedom of expression.” In 2012, the Michigan Department of Transportation alone spent more than $500,000 on graffiti removal, according to  

Cities are turning to technology to help clean up graffiti faster and catch those responsible. In 2008, Riverside, Calif., began using a GPS-enabled camera to capture graffiti images and location information so that city workers could create a database and help clean up the city. In 2011, Flushing, Mich., installed surveillance cameras in Riverview Park to monitor crime. Fast-forward to today and you’ll find that many cities, such as Boston, Houston and Minneapolis, are using various platforms like SeeClickFix and other Web tools that citizens can use to report tags. To help combat the street art, Los Angeles recently launched its MyLA311 app, which allows residents to report graffiti via their mobile phone.

Not all graffiti is an urban blight, of course. Murals are a growing part of public art. There are even apps on iTunes for those who want to cultivate their skill. Taking things a step further, one local mayor in Australia is pondering having a fund that would discourage taggers by allowing graffiti artists to create murals instead.

So graffiti may now be part of the $64 billion global art industry, but many cities might rather see it restricted to the surfaces of caves.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock. Read about more dirty jobs in government

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Karen Stewartson

Karen Stewartson served as the managing editor of Government Technology for many years. She also contributed to Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.

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