City steps up its war on graffiti

Diane Gillis of the Kingsway-Imperial Neighbourhood Association, says expansive blank walls near transit are especially attractive to graffiti vandals. But if property owners are quick to paint over the graffiti, the taggers move on. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Diane Gillis of the Kingsway-Imperial Neighbourhood Association, says expansive blank walls near transit are especially attractive to graffiti vandals. But if property owners are quick to paint over the graffiti, the taggers move on.

The war against graffiti is just that.

To ensure it continues to hold the upper hand in the battlefield of walls, alleys and windows, the City of Burnaby is putting on a workshop on April 16 for about two dozen groups and businesses that often find themselves on the receiving end of spray-paint bombs.

Representatives from the school board, Transit Police, BC Hydro, Telus, the shopping malls, neighbourhood groups and business associations will talk about graffiti and some of the things they can do to stay on top of the taggers.

It's the first time all those parties are gathering to brainstorm and share ideas about combating taggers.

Kathy Wipf, Burnaby's anti-graffiti coordinator, said vigilance against the vandalism has to be on-going.

"We could be free and clear for six months and then we get blasted again and we're right back to square one," said Wipf

Since the city launched its anti-graffiti program in 2007, reported incidents have declined significantly said Wipf. That's been achieved by educating businesses on the importance of cleaning up graffiti as soon as it appears and measures they can take to discourage more tagging.

"We're there to help them out," said Wipf. "We're getting out to businesses to provide them with crime prevention information, having solutions for them."

That pro-active approach has paid off in the Kingsway-Imperial area, said that neighbourhood association's president, Diane Gillis.

"We get the message out that this isn't art work, this is a crime," said Gillis, who was also part of the city's first anti-graffiti task force. "If it's addressed more promptly, it doesn't label the neighbourhood."

Wipf said property owners are being more attentive.

"When I go out to take photos and document, it's already cleaned up," said Wipf.

Of more than 800 bylaw notices sent to tenants and property owners since 2007 ordering them to clean up graffiti, more than 90 per cent complied.

The city and area business associations commissioned murals to discourage graffiti on problematic walls and utility boxes are wrapped with graphics and images printed on special graffiti-resistant material that's easy to clean. That initiative has also been adopted by Canada Post, Telus and BC Hydro.

"Our stats have proven it deters graffiti," said Wipf of the wrapped controller boxes that also help beautify the streetscape. Since the city started wrapping its signal boxes, graffiti on those has declined to about eight or nine incidents a year from more than 100.

When windows started getting damaged by taggers using acidic etch bath that is normally used by crafters creating stained glass, the city asked art supply and craft shops to keep those materials behind the counter or in locked cabinets. It's looking at the possibility of a bylaw regulating their sale.

Wipf said the cost of graffiti is more than just marred walls and the time and money it takes to clean them.

"It brings fear into the community," said Wipf.

It's also dangerous, as taggers try to outdo each other by accessing higher, harder-to-reach areas.

As the only full-time anti-graffiti coordinator in Metro Vancouver, Wipf said she's constantly reaching out to neighbouring communities to help them get a handle on their graffiti problems. A tagger who's run out of challenges in Vancouver can easily hop SkyTrain and find fresh walls in Burnaby.

"The taggers don't know the boundaries," said Wipf. "It's not just a Burnaby problem, it's in all the surrounding communities."

-With file from Wanda Chow

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