Spatio-temporal analysis of graffiti occurrence in an inner-city urban environment (Applied Geography)

In 2010 I completed a Master of Applied Science (Spatial Information Science) at the University of Sydney. Working with Dr. Eleanor Bruce I produced the thesis entitled ‘Graffiti and Urban Space: A GIS Approach’. The work examined spatial and temporal patterns of graffiti occurrence in the City of Sydney local government area, utilizing both council supplied data on graffiti removal, geocoded and analysed in ArcGIS, and graffiti incidence data collected using a handheld GPS and ArcPad. Cluster analysis was performed to determine graffiti removal hotspots. The research presents graffiti as a diverse urban culture, provides evidence for the ineffectiveness of ‘rapid removal’ and ‘zero tolerance’ approaches to graffiti management, and highlights benefits of a GIS approach.

Graffiti in Surry Hills, Sydney, 2011. Photo: Billy Haworth

The purpose of this project was to employ spatio-temporal analysis techniques within a GIS to test some of the popular claims about the effectiveness of rapid removal graffiti policies. The policy informs that rapid removal will deter graffiti writers and reduce overall quantities of graffiti. However, research has suggested that this approach does not reduce overall graffiti but rather triggers changes in location and form. Findings of my research provide evidence for the latter.

This project demonstrated the value of GIS in spatially assessing diverse phenomena in the urban environment. The project provides important quantitative evidence to complement existing qualitatively derived theories. Previously, quantitative work that had been undertaken in this area focussed almost exclusively on criminology. Significantly, my work extended spatio-temporal analysis of graffiti to examine the broader spatial practice of urban graffiti writing as a diverse cultural phenomenon. The project findings contribute to formulating better informed strategies for graffiti management – an important and relevant task for cities the world over.

In 2013 I published the work in Applied Geography with Dr Eleanor Bruce and A/Prof. Kurt Iveson, and the paper can be downloaded here (behind a pay wall – sorry). The citation and abstract are below.

In 2015 I won the prestigious Esri Young Scholar award for this project. Read more here.

Haworth, B., Bruce, E., Iveson, K. (2013). Spatio-temporal analysis of graffiti occurrence in an inner-city urban environment. Applied Geography, 38: 53-63.

Abstract:

Graffiti management often presents policy challenges for municipal authorities. However, the inherent diversity of graffiti culture and its role in defining urban space can be neglected when formulating response strategies. This study investigates spatio-temporal trends in graffiti across inner-city Sydney, New South Wales to support alternative perspectives on graffiti and its role in urban landscapes. Graffiti removal incidence records were geocoded to examine graffiti distribution across the City of Sydney Council Local Government Area over a six-month period. Graffiti removal ‘hotspots’ were identified using spatial cluster analysis and shifts in graffiti activity were examined through trend analysis. Specific sites within the Local Government Area were identified as a focus for repeated graffiti removal activities. Finer spatial scale GPS based mapping for a selected graffiti hotspot area in the suburb of Surry Hills showed diversity in graffiti form. While the rate of return may have decreased in the Surry Hills case study, the overall number of graffiti removal incidents increased. Rapid-removal policies can change the location, form and diversity of graffiti encouraging ‘quick and dirty’ forms of graffiti over more complex design works. Spatio-temporal variability in graffiti occurrence across inner-city Sydney highlights the need to consider graffiti as a diverse urban phenomenon when attempting to understand its occurrence and formulate response strategies.

Leake Street graffiti tunnel: Accepted and ‘cool’.

Hidden below the chaos of London’s busy Waterloo Station lies a very different place where the interactions of the people in this bustling city are evident in a very different way. The Tunnel is an authorised graffiti area where writers can practice their craft without the fear of the societal consequences associated with writing in the majority of other places in the city. Works include anything from tags to more artistic forms of street art such as pieces or throw ups. I’ve even seen recently more elaborate forms of visual art and sculpture. Subject matters might be anything from identity or political messages to professions of love or contemporary culture. There is an image below of a great piece paying tribute to the late cultural icon, Amy Winehouse.

The thing that strikes me about this place is how ‘cool’ it appears. Speaking generally from the view of a society, why is graffiti and street art considered ‘cool’ when it’s all together in one legal place, but not when it appears in its more organic and perhaps true form on our city’s streets and walls? (Though, I know there are many people who would still consider this cool, and some even cooler simply for its illegal nature). Is it a bit ‘not in my backyard’, whereby people don’t care what is going on as long as it isn’t in their own space or interest? The ‘broken windows’ concept proposed by Wilson & Kelling in 1982 is also worth mentioning here. The concept states that a broken window left unrepaired gives a sense to the community that nobody cares, leading to more broken windows. Similarly, leaving graffiti unchecked can lead to an increase in graffiti in the area, thus adding to a feeling of disorder and disrepair. Perhaps with graffiti contained in one place that is not somebody’s personal space these fears are reduced. I admit, even I probably wouldn’t appreciate someone defacing my home.

But I still think there is a place for graffiti in our cities, and the simple existence of a space like The Tunnel shows that some people at least acknowledge that. For me that is probably what I find ‘coolest’ about this place. This is especially cool when compared to other places that do not have such spaces, such as the City of Sydney LGA for example, which currently has no legal space for graffiti writing, and is so heavy-handed in its removal of graffiti that graffiti was defined on their website (2004) as “any inscription, word, figure or word design that is marked, etched, scratched, drawn, sprayed, painted, pasted, applied or otherwise affixed to or on any surface of any assets and includes any remnants of same such as adhesives, glues, tape, shadows or colour variations remaining after removal.”

Everyone has differing views on graffiti and street art, and often in the end that doesn’t really matter anyway. Policy makers and people with authority still make the decisions for its management, and graffiti will continue to occur anyway, whether authorised or not. In my opinion, though, I think this place is rad. I love the art, I love the juxtaposition of paint and colour with the otherwise empty, utility feel of the unused tunnel. I love the interactions you witness between people; I love watching artists paint. I love the vibe, and I love the exposure. It’s definitely one of my favourite places in London.

Photos by Billy Haworth