Monday, November 07, 2005

The graffiti solution

There 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.


At 11:10 PM, November 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, other cities paint murals in places that are graffiti hot spots. Sometimes they even get the gangs responsible for the graffiti to do the mural painting.

I'm skeptical that Houston could ever accomplish any organized response effort for graffiti since they don't even take fingerprints at the scene of a murder.

However, I would be in favor of having open season on graffiti artists. As a gun activist, we could always claim we told them to stop, saw a meticallic flash, and thought it was a gun. Any officer would be proud that we took another graffiti person off the streets.

The number of graffiti artists that exist in Houston must be a relatively small, finite number. Therefore, after a few weeks, I'm sure we could call them extinct.

Problem solved.

At 11:11 PM, November 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other response you see usually coincides knowing senators.

At 11:43 PM, November 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm afraid Tory's proposed solution would do more harm than good. The good graffiti artists would be disuaded, leaving only the vandals, the types that don't care if you erase their crappy work, or even welcome the fresh slate.

At 11:46 PM, November 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check these out:

At 7:53 AM, November 08, 2005, Blogger kjb434 said...

no graffiti is acceptable no matter how well it was done on PRIVATE property.

Who would determine if the graffiti is good enough to stay?

At 11:22 AM, November 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want to spend taxpayer dollars doing something that private citizens should be doing themselves. Get it off of street signs quickly, sure, but forget about the rest of it.

At 12:25 PM, November 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HPD officers say that removing graffiti quickly is key, if you don't want more crime in the neighborhood. Allowing tags to stay up is like letting newspapers accumulate on your porch when you're out of town -- it says clearly that locals aren't paying attention to what folks are doing on the streets.

HPD has a Graffiti Abatement team. Folks are asked to report new tags immediately to Armando Tello at (713) 247-1378. But know that this group, while dedicated, is underfunded and understaffed.

Ideally, locals will paint over tags on their property themselves and promptly. But that often doesn't happen for lots of reasons.

That's where Tory's proposed solution comes in -- and is already in place in parts of Houston and coming soon to others. The East End Management District contracts for a dedicated graffiti removal truck with paint supplies to match colors to surfaces. When someone in the district calls in a tag, it's removed almost immediately. Look around the district and there's precious little graffiti now. Neartown has talked some about contracting for similar service.

The issue, as Tory surmised, is getting permission from private property owners. However, this is only an issue the first time a place gets tagged. The owner can complete an authorization form to allow painting as often as needed.

In Neartown, Kelly DeHay has been working the graffiti issue relentlessly for most of 2005. He recently organized a successful cleanup day -- he provided paint and tools and ~60 neighborhood volunteers came out to help paint tags off of walls, fences, etc. The hard part isn't the painting -- it's generating neighborhood awareness. If anyone wants to compare notes about possible approaches for their own neighborhoods, they can contact Kelly at or (713) 298-2903.

At 10:00 PM, November 08, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Robin brings facts and clarity, as always. Thanks.

At 10:53 AM, November 11, 2005, Blogger kjb434 said...

Thanks for the info Robin. I like how the community comes together to handle the problem instead of going through the city itself

At 1:20 PM, December 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

haha you people could not be any wronger.I am a graffiti artist.I paint on the steets every night.and ill tell you this dont know what your doing.a little tip. watch the movie style wars. itll teach you things you should know before you go buff are when you do buff pisses us off and we go out the next night and do twice the damage as before.if the city left some of the better art there we would not have to go back and do it again.the longer a peice is there the more satisfied we are and the same person mostlikely wont hit it up i under stand buffing the face of signs and whatknot..but the back of a sign is useless.why spend your bullshit money trying to piss us off.

At 10:01 PM, February 01, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Houston is sorry when it comes to graffiti. For one it took forever for this city to start having real graff writers, like the mid 90's. And it took all the way to the late 90's for them to actually have skills enough to do more than just 'tags' and 'outlines'.

One of the biggest downfalls for graff writers in houston is that police don't want graff AT ALL- so there really is no public display of
murals that stay up. That alone piss's graff writers. Taking all the time to do a mural and the next week the cops threatin' the owners. That sucks. Theres only like a hand full of legal walls and they get hassled all the time to get rid of it, I know- I worked for a company that has graff on it. The city should let artists display there talents legally, when an owner allows.

Shooting graff writers? Pft!! Try that, and see what happens. You act like graff writer don't pack too, this is texas WE ALL HAVE GUNS. Payback is always a bitch.

The original proposed soulution here sounds about right. Fuck, it's already a felony if the graff writers do get caught. Plus you got this snitch on a writer get some loot thing. That's always a plus for fuckers that do it.

For the last kid that wrote all stupid- shut the fuck up! These people don't wanna know about the roots of graffiti- they don't want to be fined for having it.

Being that I onced graced the streets with graffiti- this is my opinion. I'm too old to be out there doing that shit, but I still have love it. Graffiti will never die.

At 4:18 PM, March 05, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to know if there is any data supporting the claim that 'less graffiti means less crime'. If that wasn't the intention, then it probably means that you just wanted to get back at someone probably living at, or below, the poverty line.

I seriously doubt that any of the people supporting this plan have ever actually had graffiti in his or her neighborhood, much less on their private property.

Removing grafitti once means more graffiti, and more tax payers dollars wasted on something superficial and unproductive. Great idea.

At 5:10 PM, March 05, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

It's part of the popular "broken windows" theory of crime: when your neighborhood looks run down and wild, crime tends to rise. The signs of civilization breaking down psychologically breaks down resistance to criminal acts.

I've read that graffiti has been successfully fought in other cities (and even in the East End in Houston). If it is rapidly removed, the vandals eventually give up and stop, because the whole point is to show off their "art" to the world.

At 5:27 PM, March 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think houston should have more legal walls and let the murals stay, most murals are allowed by the owner, and the hpd should not force the owners to take down the peices. graffiti doesnt cause violence. gang related graffiti should be taken down, i agree, but not all graffiti is bad. the reason y graffiti artist tag is to just throw a little something on the wall to show were they have been, or to make the hpd mad. i think that tagging is ugly, but murals and pieces are not. the more murals and legal walls you have in a city the less of the other forms of graffiti you are going to have. it seems tory is against all graffiti, when not all the graffiti is the same.

please just think about it
violence and buffing are not the answers

At 10:24 PM, March 07, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

No problems with legit murals. I don't consider that graffiti. Here's a neat idea: a web site where property owners could essentially say "I have an ugly wall that needs something cool painted on it", and let artists talk to them about doing something. Consent is good.

At 10:58 PM, June 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am a writer and i think that it is bad to do graffiti on peoples private property the only time i think people should do it on other peoples property is if its a really nice mural i dont have any problems with that and police need to stop associating graffiti with gangs most writers are not in gangs but do graffiti for art or to get their name up

At 8:10 PM, December 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

like everyone has said the more you
buff our shit out
the more were going to put our name
so give up
or give us more legal was

just try to stop me and my krew

At 3:29 PM, December 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shoot them. Period. Shoot then dead where they stand. There is no better deterrant to repeating a crime than rigor mortis. Dead men tell no tales and paint no property. They will make the ultimate decision and will decide for themselves to die. By knowing it is open season and that they can be shot dead, they will then weigh that against going forward with their action and if they continue, BANG, dead. Period.

At 9:36 PM, March 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about the commissioned graffiti art? there is such a thing.
i think that the whole wall mural thing is genius, giving them permission to actually do what they love without them sneaking around.

i almost believe that they should commission more to just cover up the ugly pee smelling areas of downtown, making it more pleasant to look at while we work.

At 2:19 PM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

u suck graffitis awesome its art

At 2:20 PM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

stop hatin on us we like it u wont stop us

At 2:21 PM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

stop hatin on us we like it u wont stop us

At 2:23 PM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

u pigs need to get it wright were not gang members. were taggers in a crew

At 11:49 PM, June 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hahaha you can't stop graffiti! no matter what methods you come up with they will always have a way around it. Paint over their stuff and yea they'll be mad, but then they'll come hit it twice as hard the next time. Who ever had that bright idea about shooting them in the act is fucking pathetic. You gonna "accidentally" shoot a little kid, ya you're tough man. You know how many spots there are in Houston? give it up... i understand that PRIVATE property is one thing but the back of a public building or whatever? come on, who gives a shit. Theres a lot of worse shit goin on in the world than graffiti I'll tell you that much.

At 6:38 PM, October 13, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...
Check it out.

At 12:05 PM, November 09, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shoot people with a spray can as a "weapon"!?!

It certainly is comments like these that make people in other large cities in America look at Houston as a ignorant, redneck infested, mosquito breeding cesspool.

I'm just so proud right now. Way to make us all look like uninformed jerks with nothing better to do with our time then paint our city grey (because grey paint blobs are so beautiful and create a drastic rise in property value- good call).

I may be stepping out on a weak limb here, but most graffiti that is NOT a gang related tag is, in fact, NOT gang related. Texas- can we PLEASE stop being so afraid of everything we don't fully understand or agree with?

Private citizens...handle it PRIVATELY. If you love grey paint, paint it grey. I'll continue to live in color.

Get a grip.

At 8:36 PM, November 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure if this has been mentioned....
WD-40 - read this post....“I have a shop in Queens, N.Y. In the past, we have had problems
with graffiti, especially on our overhead doors. One time, after
having the doors cleaned, I sprayed them with WD-40. It not only
lubricated the doors, but stopped the spray paint from sticking!”

- Bill, Queens, N.Y.
This is an amazing product - No I do not work for them and I do not get kickbacks... but I keep it in my trunk, in my bathroom and in my kitchen...
Carol C. Los Angeles

At 12:35 PM, December 21, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that in order to stop graffiti, the cities should build walls where graffiti is legal. walls that only serve the purpose of providing taggers with a place to showcase their art. after all, taggers like me only want to be recognized by other taggers, not you all. also, most LIKE ME ARE NOT IN GANGS! HPD should focus on hunting down GANG RELATED TAGGERS. Not us. Get real detectives and find the GANG TAGGERS. Or do like in Mexico, keep the good stuff up and take down the crappy work.

At 1:39 AM, February 08, 2009, Blogger Marco from Houston said...

It still amazes me that people are actually advocating KILLING GRAFFITI WRITERS/ARTISTS! For a Non-Violent crime, no less.

Broken Windows is a theory, not a fact. There are far more deep rooted causes for crime and the lowering of property values than graffiti.

Graffiti > Gray Blobs of Paint

Houston does not have a graffiti "problem". Look to NYC, Chicago, and LA - compared to Houston. Those cities laugh at our "problem". Even San Antonio and Austin have more graffiti than Houston.

At 10:24 PM, May 07, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Umm.. as a Writer for a few years, I would definitely not mind having some legal walls to put my stuff on... and as far as our city is concerned with a graffiti problem?
As Marco explained, graffiti is literally absent in Houston.

I took a trip to California, and drove from San Diego to Lompoc, and there was maybe a half-a-mile stretch only that there was not graffiti, or covered graffiti. In fact, when you get close to downtown, they don't even bother because entire freeways get hit up end to end in one night.

Now as for this new ordinance. I think it's bullshit that taxpayer money should go to ridding people's graffiti but at the same time i think it would be better to do it collectively as a community rather than single out the property owner. How is it their responsibility that somebody else decided to tag their property.

Now I am an active artist, and I paint regularly in the street, but I leave personal property and Privately owned businesses alone.

But to all the writers who stumble across this as I did. Stay Up!!

Don't quit writing.
I'm taking a break (Got probation coming up for it.) but yeah.

The ordinance is bullshit, give us some damn legal walls, if not that, please authorize it like during construction or something. For example, if a new building is being erected (god i love that word lol) when it is still in the concrete phase, it shouldn't be a big deal if writers run up on it for a night, and it's there until it gets constructed around. Don't buff it, just cover it with what you were already going to cover it with.

And as for covering tags fastly as a means of preventing it. bahahaha!
I laugh at things like that. I've painted the same goddamn spot 50 times over. Whenever it gets buffed, a new sketch gets up.

For the people who want us dead... really?
I'm really not a big fan of letting people have guns, but too the people with guns, who are really ticked off at taggers. Seriously, don't shoot us! I'm leaving your property alone, and you need to watch the fuck out. There are those taggers who are bangin' and they will most likely return fire, and then 187 the squad that follows up on your murder.



At 4:58 PM, June 10, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

iam 14 years old ad a graffwriter myself. you cannot mess with us as doing this would be similar totaking a paintbrush from an example lets say i go throw a peice up in Houston and i wake up the next day and its painted over not only am i gonna find the person who sprayed over it and paint their whole house in my tag....and then paint back over the paint. i would hit all the billboards(which the city doesnt pay for the company does)therefore if you truly dont want graffiti i suggest you put an officer in front of every wall train and window in Texas.THATS WHAT I THOUGHT...ITS NOT GONNA HAPPEN. AUTHORITY ISNT A CHoICE learn to live with it and becaome an artist yourself so i could show you up!!!!!and just as a hint JUNE 12 YOU CAN GO OUT AND SHOOT ME......THIS IS TEXAS ILL SHOOT THE FUCK BACK. as writers we are not gang members.
well and now just reading this article makes me wanna throwup. yall have better things to do.a women prolly gets raped every night in houston but yall stupid fuckers would rather be out trying to find taggers than saving there life.whose the fucked up one in this situation?Drugs rape murder all these things and Houston and you people worry about graffiti.
and the man who suggested wd-40 all i have to do is use molotow paint and it will make bad ass drips in my tag. WE ARE FUCKING UNSTOPPABLE AS ARTIST. you just dont get us. and legal walls dont serve our needs.all that will turn out to be is a bunch of toys going over the real taggers art. you should pay us for our vandalism.....from houston to dallas we will grow then we will keep on and keep on. the first time you shoot me my crew will get you with a 9 mil. thats 12 shots if i dont hit you.i suggest you control your thoughts and bottle up yourfeelings about graffiti.



At 1:24 PM, July 22, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

An email pass-along:

City of Houston Debuts Graffiti Website

New site provides information and resources on fighting graffiti

Mayor Bill White and Vice Mayor Pro-Tem and Council Member Sue Lovell have announced a new City of Houston website for citizens and organizations that want to fight graffiti in their neighborhoods. The site, provides resources for abating, or painting over, graffiti as well as information on government agencies, and groups that provide positive alternatives to graffiti.

The main section of the site, which will be regularly updated, features information, complete with contact phone numbers, and links to City of Houston departments, other governmental agencies, and community organizations that work to abate graffiti. The site also includes an interactive section, which invites citizens with ideas about dealing with graffiti to leave messages.

Citizens are encouraged to report graffiti by phone to 311. For more information, contact the office of Vice Mayor Pro-Tem and City Council Member Sue Lovell at 832.393.3013 or by e-mail at

At 11:32 AM, May 05, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"However, I would be in favor of having open season on graffiti artists. As a gun activist, we could always claim we told them to stop, saw a meticallic flash, and thought it was a gun. Any officer would be proud that we took another graffiti person off the streets."

I agree 110%

The City of Houston 311 takes up to 2 weeks if not longer to respond to graffiti. One Bullet One second = much faster turn around.

Graffiti is not art. How would you scum graffiti fucks like it if someone tattooed your face? fuckers

At 9:47 PM, February 19, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Graffiti is certainly not art. Case in point., how many of these "grafitti artists" paint the front of their own homes or their own fences or their own cars, etc.? Simply put - they do NOT paint their own property because what they do looks like CRAP. They are just vandals. They are also ignorant and will get caught. Maybe not the first 10 times, but the odds are against them and they will fall. Also, they are all COWARDS - almost always working under the cover of darkness - and they run from shadows. My daughter could probably kick their a_ _. :-)

At 8:25 PM, January 08, 2015, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Chronicle article on the city's graffiti cleanup vans:


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