Graffiti is a fact of life for commercial building managers in major urban centres. This unauthorized ‘art’ is typically the first sign that undesirable people are loitering around a building after normal weekday operating hours and on weekends.
Graffiti vandals tend to prefer vacant buildings and, as more people work from home during the pandemic, these unoccupied spaces create more opportunity for tagging. 2020 has seen numerous high-profile incidents, from messages labelling COVID-19 as a hoax to hateful and discriminatory smears.
These have just been the most extreme examples of what is a prevalent problem, though. If ignored, graffiti will only grow and tarnish a facility’s overall image. It gives the impression that a building isn’t cared for or respected, resulting in a potential devaluation of the property.
Taking aim at unwanted tags
Immediate removal of unsolicited scrawls is necessary to prevent further tagging. Often, if a ‘tagger’ is aware a property was previously graffitied, it will mark the building before defacing a clean one as the tagger knows their ‘art’ won’t be washed away.
It is best to leave eradication to the professionals. Improper removal can embed graffiti or cause further damage to the property. For instance, power washing glass can break and crack it, and cleaning brick too aggressively may chip and damage the building material, seriously harming the finish and allowing water to seep through.
The first step in the removal process is for the abatement expert to assess the surface to be treated (brick, concrete, glass) and the product to be removed (ink, paint, stickers, posters). The abatement expert will then select the ideal product and process to eliminate the graffiti. Often, high heat, low-pressure water washing provides the best result for most building surfaces, with the least risk of wearing down the building material and compromising the property’s structural integrity. However, each surface is unique so treatment needs to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
Once the scrawls have been successfully removed, the contractor may apply a graffiti-resistant coating to protect the building surface from wearing down and/or to make future cleaning easier.
Preventing property damage
While the most important step a facility manager can take to keep graffiti off their property is to remove it in a timely manner, there are several preventive measures that can reduce opportunities for tagging. These are based on CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design), a multidisciplinary approach to deterring criminal behaviour through proper design and effective use of the built environment. ‘Designing out crime’ includes (but is not limited to) clearing sightlines and creating natural surveillance through sufficient lighting, appropriate landscaping, and low-height walls or ‘see-through’ fencing.
Good lighting is one of the most effective crime deterrents. A near-constant level of exterior lighting should be maintained at night, if possible. At the very least, bright motion sensor security lights should be installed in secluded areas. Given the current vacancy of buildings by day, owners and managers should also have the building exteriors patrolled daily.
Landscaping should predominantly include low-growing plants and be properly maintained. Tall shrubs and/or overgrown vegetation are welcome hiding places for criminals. An exception to this is the planting of climbing vines or thick bushes along low-height walls, which can impede undesirables from passing through.
John Kalimeris is managing director of Graffiti Buffer. He has been in the graffiti removal business since 2001. John is also certified in CPTED, a proactive design philosophy that can help reduce the incidence of crime. He can be reached at 416-234-9222 or email@example.com