The graffiti solutionThere have been reports lately about the worsening graffiti problem in Houston. Private property owners are legally required to clean it up, but there doesn't seem to be much enforcement.
I think the secret to reducing graffiti is to undermine the motivation of the "tagger". They're trying to impress people and show off their tags. How can we demotivate them cost-effectively? Obviously, more enforcement and catching them is not very practical. The solution is to wipe out their tag immediately. As soon as it's discovered, by a citizen or police on patrol, it should be called into 311 and a 24-hour response team should be sent out to paint over it with some neutral color. Ideally, it shouldn't live more than a few hours before it's wiped out.
This should totally demoralize graffiti taggers. Why go to all that work when your "art" will become a gray blob by sunrise? Nothing to show off.
I don't really think the cost of this response team would be all that much. It could even be a single guy with a power painter, ideally with a cherry-picker truck like Centerpoint linemen to get to those difficult places. I think it should be run by Harris County just like the Motorist Assist Program. That way it will cover the whole county rather than just pushing taggers outside the city limits.
What I'm not sure about are the legal issues of painting private property. It's not really any extra work to clean up - it's just another layer of paint. Maybe the response team has to wait to get permission from the owner, but I think if they explain the strategy they could get pretty quick approval from most owners. A phone rep could even work to secure owner permission before dispatching the team to the site.
If anybody has heard about graffiti solutions that have worked in other cities, I'd love to hear them in the comments.
Update 2/1/06: The police seem to be looking into it.
Update 11/14/08: An innovative coating that prevents spray paint from sticking.
Update 7/22/09: A new City of Houston graffiti web site.
Update 1/8/15: Chronicle profile of the city's anti-graffiti vans.