Graffiti: Addressing a Real Problem with a Virtual Solution?

October 25, 2011

By: Ben Butterworth

The estimated $22 million San Francisco spends annually on cleaning up graffiti could buy plenty of iPhones – and with the release of the Graff City iPhone App, that might not be such a bad idea. The app, which was released earlier this month, allows users to virtually “tag” buildings, sidewalks, cars and pretty much anything else they can think of. This is accomplished through the use of augmented reality software that allows users to add digital information to photographs.

Don’t like how the plain white wall in Potrero Hill looks? Just snap a photo with your iPhone and let your artistic imagination run wild by using the variety of colors and brush effects offered by the Graff City app.

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Once users are satisfied with their virtual masterpiece, they can share it with friends using Facebook or the camera roll on their iPhone. The app creates a sort of online community where users can explore, view and rate the creations of other artists. Using GPS information, the app also allows users to see a real-time street view of other people’s tags. So, want to check out what other budding artists virtually created with that boring white wall in Potrero Hill? No problem.

Can An iPhone App Really Help Clean Up Graffiti in San Francisco?

The app was created by the marketing firm McCann Worldgroup in response to the San Francisco Arts Commission StreetSmARTS program. The program aims to decrease the amount of graffiti in the city by allowing artists to compete for $3,000 grants to paint murals on walls that property owners have willingly volunteered for the program. While the program has good intentions, the long process artists must go through to access the grant money combined with the limited number of walls made available limits its overall effectiveness.

Tyra Fennell, the Arts Commission’s arts education program manager, is hoping the Graff City app helps decrease illegal graffiti to the tune of “30 to 40 percent.” Fennell goes on to explain, “The goal is to give young people who might be tempted to tag or vandalize property an alternative.” Sounds like cool gamification at work.

Let’s be real - a 30 to 40 percent decrease in graffiti as the result of an iPhone app seems like a bit of a stretch. Doesn’t it? Is the Graff City app cool? Absolutely. Is the Graff City app a practical solution for reducing graffiti in San Francisco? Probably not. What do you think?

There are great opportunities, however, for those interested in cleaning up the mess of graffiti in the city.

Want to learn more about how you can volunteer to clean up graffiti in your neighborhood? You can find out here. Or want to report graffiti in your neighborhood? You can learn how here. Let’s reset graffiti vandalism.

 

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