On the beat with Cape Town's anti-graffiti squad

(Amy Gibbings, News24)
(Amy Gibbings, News24)

Did you know Cape Town's Central Business District has its very own Graffiti Squad?

The continuous hard work of this dedicated graffiti clean-up team aims to keep the Mother City's CBD attractive to tourists and locals, and help maintain its economic value.

Please note, we are not speaking of masterful, creative works by talented graffiti artists displayed in public places legally, but rather of writing and drawings sprayed or scratched illicitly on a wall or surface – including on electricity boxes – in a public space, also known as "tagging".

In the Cape Town CBD these so-called graffiti tags can be gang-related, or, even if they are not, can affect community members' perception of the safety of the area due to negative associations between graffiti and crime. 

"Graffiti can have a negative impact on the community perceptions of safety in an area or space. Most people refrain from going into areas where there are graffiti as these areas are considered 'unsafe'," explains Kally Benito, assistant manager: urban management at the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID). 

"The graffiti team assists us in removing the unsightly tagging in and around the CBD. This maintains the upkeep of the area, thus encouraging visitors to come into that space. This, in turn, has a positive impact on businesses and maintains the property value in the area, as well as keeping the space looking neat."

According to the CCID's 2019 annual report, graffiti is a significant an and ever-increasing problem in the CBD. That is why the graffiti removal team works tirelessly and swiftly to counteract its impact.

Urban management

The graffiti squad is part of the CCID's Urban Management department that delivers top-up services to those by its primary partner, the City of Cape Town. The CCID is funded by business owners in the CBD.

The City of Cape Town has said in the past that graffiti tagging, especially gang tagging, has a negative impact on how an area looks, and illegal graffiti is a concern.

"It is destructive to the visual aesthetic of a city and the confidence of the people when an area has all these indicators of discord and disorder. Graffiti tagging says that this is a place where lawlessness reigns," the City has said.

But removing graffiti is a skilled task and also costly.

Bigger impact

Research by the Australian Government's Institute of Criminology, for example, found that, not only is graffiti an issue that generates widespread community concern, but it impacts on the local government, police, public transport, utility providers, local communities and young people in a variety of ways.

"Graffiti is one of the most visible forms of crime and disorder that occurs in a community and as such can become a visible sign of unruliness, social decline and antisocial behaviour among young people," the institute argues.

"Graffiti is often linked (correctly or incorrectly) to other crime types and escalating levels of criminal behaviour, as well as youth gangs."

Research in the US has found that business owners incur a loss in customers from the negative image that graffiti generates. This negative image, drawn from graffiti, often makes property values decrease, according to the American Journal of Community Psychology.

Due to the potential of graffiti in an area to act as a so-called gateway crime, it was found in areas with a lot of graffiti, crimes relating to violence, loitering, littering and other forms of property destruction can increase.

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