The Secret Colour-Coded Language of Graffiti Abatement

By Alissa Walker on at

More than anything else in our cities, graffiti and its removal creates a dynamic, ongoing visual conversation that plays out across pretty much every urban surface. Over at Medium's Re:Form, Ian Besler investigates the process with Los Angeles's graffiti abatement programme, which removed one square mile of graffiti from LA's streets in 2014.

Besler visits the Office of Community Beautification's warehouse and tours the city with the crew to watch them wipe the urban slate clean in real time. Perhaps the best observation of the infrastructural impact of abatement practices is what Besler calls the Abstraction Line, that clear demarcation between the abatement and the original layer of paint, an arms-length-high line that rings the city:

The Abstraction Line is roughly 80 inches above the ground, about the height of an exterior doorway, and the extended arm's reach of an average adult standing on the ground. Like a high water line after a flood, it's visible on many porous surfaces throughout the city. Above the Abstraction Line is uncontested building material. Below the Abstraction Line is a similarly coloured, hastily laid representation of the surface as it once was — a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy — becoming more and more irresolute with each pass.

Although no criticism to the city's team, which seems to expeditiously dispatch squadrons of former gang members with paint rollers to the besmirched corners of the city in less than 24 hours, it does seem like the entire process could use a simple tech upgrade. Right now people reporting graffiti must use LA's hilariously antiquated Anti-Graffiti Request System website, where you choose from locations like "underpass" and "retaining wall" while taking your best stab at the right cover-up colour.

Colour can, of course, be subjective, so the abatement shade is often more close-enough than right on. Can someone invent an app which allows citizens to snap a photo of the tag and automatically send the proper chromatic request to the city? [Re:Form]

Top image by Ian Besler