How Big Cities Tackle the Graffiti Challenge

If you’ve been keeping up with the news over the past week, you may have noticed that the Oceanwide building, located on Figueroa Street opposite LA Live, was extensively tagged—virtually every window across all floors. This project came to a standstill over four years ago when the developer faced financial hurdles, leaving the structure in a state of prolonged neglect.

Graffiti, often seen as a form of urban expression, can range from simple tags to elaborate murals. While some view it as art, others see it as vandalism. Big cities around the world have developed various strategies to manage graffiti, balancing the need for public order and the desire to embrace urban art forms. This blog post explores how different metropolises are handling the graffiti challenge, revealing a mix of enforcement, engagement, and creative integration.

Strict Enforcement and Removal

Many cities adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards unauthorized graffiti, focusing on prevention, rapid removal, and legal action against vandals. New York City, for instance, has long battled graffiti with a combination of strict law enforcement and community cleanup programs. The city employs a rapid response team to remove graffiti from public properties, aiming to deter vandals through the swift erasure of their work. Similarly, cities like Sydney have invested in anti-graffiti technologies, including surveillance cameras and protective coatings on walls, to prevent graffiti before it happens.

Engaging Communities

Some cities opt for a more community-oriented approach, involving local residents in graffiti management. Programs like Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program transform public spaces with the help of artists, community members, and even former graffiti vandals. By redirecting graffiti efforts towards legal murals and community art projects, these programs not only beautify the city but also provide a constructive outlet for graffiti artists’ creativity.

Legal Graffiti Zones

To accommodate the artistic aspect of graffiti, certain cities have established legal graffiti zones where artists can freely express themselves without fear of legal repercussions. These designated areas become attractions in their own right, showcasing local talent and drawing tourists. Berlin’s RAW Gelände and Melbourne’s Hosier Lane are prime examples, offering ever-changing canvases that reflect the cities’ vibrant street art cultures.

Artistic Integration and Public Participation

Forward-thinking cities are integrating graffiti into urban development plans, recognizing its potential to contribute to cultural identity and community engagement. Initiatives like public art grants and sanctioned street art festivals encourage artists to work in the open, fostering a sense of ownership and pride among local communities. By involving artists in the beautification of public spaces, cities like Lisbon and Montreal are not only combating vandalism but also enhancing their cultural landscapes.

Challenges and Controversies

Despite these efforts, managing graffiti remains a contentious issue. Critics argue that some strategies may inadvertently glorify vandalism or push it into less monitored areas. Moreover, distinguishing between illegal graffiti and valued street art is often subjective, leading to debates over artistic freedom and urban aesthetics.


As urban landscapes continue to evolve, so too do the strategies for managing graffiti. The most effective approaches appear to be those that recognize graffiti’s potential as a form of urban expression, seeking to channel it in constructive ways rather than merely suppressing it. By balancing enforcement with engagement, big cities can harness the vibrant energy of street art to enrich their urban fabric, fostering communities that are both orderly and expressive.

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