New research to help scrub out graffiti

Jun 25, 2015 -- Zero tolerance and rapid removal graffiti policies may actually increase vandalism or merely shift the problem elsewhere, award-wining research has found.

University of Sydney PhD student Billy Haworth used cutting-edge smart mapping technology to analyse data – sourced from both the City of Sydney and his own field research – to examine graffiti hotspots in the inner-city suburb of Surry Hills over six months.

Mr Haworth said the results challenged the effectiveness of the most popular anti-graffiti measures.

“Rapid removal is intended to deter graffiti writers and reduce quantities of graffiti,” Mr Haworth said.

“My research showed this approach increases the number of graffiti incidents by encouraging ‘quick and dirty’ tags instead of more diverse and time consuming designs.

“It also suggests if graffiti writers know their work will be swiftly erased, they will go somewhere else where it is less of a priority to remove.”

The project has been awarded the prestigious 2015 Esri Young Scholars Award, and Mr Haworth will now showcase his research at the world’s largest spatial conference – the Esri User Conference – in San Diego, California in July.

The Esri Young Scholars Award is an international competition, celebrating the creative use of smart mapping technology – commonly known as Geographic Information System (GIS) technology – to solve commercial and community issues.

Managing Director of the Esri Australia and Esri South Asia groups Brett Bundock said as the nation spends approximately $200 million annually removing graffiti, the research has important implications for councils, law enforcement agencies and community groups directly involved in the clean-up.

“Mr Haworth’s research provides a compelling perspective on graffiti crimes, offering policy-makers new insights into how they may treat this epidemic,” Mr Bundock said.

Mr Haworth recommended involving the local community in determining graffiti policy and using online smart maps to encourage debate.

“There is evidence that permitting local community art on free walls or traffic signal boxes reduced the amount of illegal graffiti in that area,” Mr Haworth said.

“An interactive online map with images of graffiti could encourage local residents to contribute their thoughts and perhaps identify areas where they would prefer to see street art.”

Mr Haworth will receive his Esri Young Scholars Award from Esri founder and President Jack Dangermond, when he travels to San Diego to attend the Esri User Conference.

During the five-day event – held from 20 to 24 July – Mr Haworth will learn about the latest technology innovations, and have a chance to meet 15,000 GIS professionals from around the globe. 



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