The wisdom of San Jose’s privatization of graffiti abatement is still in question. Contractor Graffiti Protective Coatings went $166,700 over budget in its first year. The greater issue is the failure to utilize a holistic approach that includes murals in its long-term strategy. San Jose was the poster child for a community based abatement strategy without murals, when it began passing out buckets of paint to its citizens and organizing teams of volunteers to go after graffiti. When Rick Stanton was the Graffiti Abatement manager from 1997 – 2007, he claimed to have reduced graffiti in San Jose by 99.88%. However, Stanton’s initiatives do not appear to have lasted long past his tenure and the vast network of volunteers has crumbled. Why else would San Jose still be spending $800,000 / year on graffiti abatement? Stanton’s work was directly informed by the Broken Windows theory, which has also had numerous holes shot through it, while still being the manual for abatement in most urban epicenters.
The increase in graffiti in San Jose appears to support what the Community Rejuvenation Project has argued all along. Simply painting over graffiti again and again is not an effective solution. San Jose spent ten years and innumerable resources to virtually eliminate graffiti only to have it creep back in less than five. What San Jose and other cities in the Bay Area need is a holistic approach to abatement that incorporates murals, youth development and community engagement. Murals are a permanent solution to repeated vandalism. They do not provide a blank surface to be repeatedly written on. They create a sense of community and neighborhood pride that a blotchy paint job does not. And they can connect to the very youth who have writing on the walls in the first place. The aerosol aesthetic has always tapped into the spirit of the youth because the spray paint movement was one that was developed entirely by youth. The best solution to abatement is to cultivate the creativity of the children through murals rather than continuously try to erase their expression.