Graffiti “Free” or “Sanctioned” Walls Vignettes from All Over
I read your article and I had no issue with it until the end where you seem to state that what is important is to have more of these free areas where graffiti vandals can write. I have to tell you that it is a hopeless endeavor as this has been tried in hundreds of cities across the US and all fail. Graffiti vandals have no respect for property and in every case where a free wall was set up in order to give them a place to express themselves, it ended because that wall attracts vandals to the areas and they tend to mark up the community near that wall as they travel to and from.
Over and Over again, some person will think that they have a new and unique idea, when in fact it is an old one and a failed idea at that. I only ask that you are a reporter, understand that there is a difference between the type of graffiti reported in this article, and the everyday mindless tags thrown up. Also understand that in order for a vandal to get really good at this, they have to do hundreds of these with most being just practice done in side alleys or businesses that do not want the graffiti.
I myself have no issue with these murals, what we fight here is the mindless tags thrown up in order to just vandalize property.

Thank You for your time
Randy Campbell

Randy, thanks for reading and writing. You may be right. More legitimate mural space may only lead to more graffiti. But I think it's a worthy experiment, since tagging seems to be a persistent problem anyway. Please consider adding this comment to the list of comments under the mural review, so others can read it. I suspect you're not alone in your opinion.
Doug MacCash
Look for past stories and videos at

I understand your thoughts, although I disagree that it is a worthy experiment. This experiment is tried over and over and over hundreds of time with the same exact results, so in our mind, it is a waste of time and resources. We promote three different attacks on the problem,

  • Eradication: Quick 24 hour or less removal of graffiti is key to not letting the vandals get the fame which is what promotes graffiti.

  • Enforcement, a real attempt to use the technology tools available to police to track and catch the hard core vandals in the act. Items like the Tripwire Cameras and GRIP database to start. You will never stop it completely, but we want to make reckless vandalism to communities a thing of the past.

  • Education: probably the most important yet unused aspect, teach young children in early grade school about the detriments of graffiti or vandalism in general.

Randy Campbell


The concept of sanctioned walls has occurred in over  100 US cities in the last decade
Jay Beswick

They don't work!  I have surveyed over 100 cities since 1985 and aerosol art programs act as magnets to graffiti artist who hone their skills and use organized programs to hook-up.  Brush painted murals or traditional art has had success, especially when it is planned and supported by the community its in.  If its aerosol artist being converted to brush painted art work, its a mixed bag!

I was on the Board of Directors to the "Los Angeles Mural Conservancy" from 1987-1992 and my involvement of time was largely spent on removing graffiti from sanctioned professional murals. The Olympic Murals from the 1984 Los Angeles Event, were a constant target. Judy Baca of SPARC also had dozens of her professional murals tagged.
From Spence's program, in Philadelphia, to Pysco City in San Francisco, the Huntington Beach seawall and another hundred sites all in time failed.  Positive Alternatives for Youth in Pacoima CA has a current program run by Manny Velasquez, a former co-worker of mine from COMMUNITY YOUTH GANG SERVICES PROJECT, a non profit we both worked for in the mid 1980s and he admits successes, but more failures, as he tries to transition graffiti artist to traditional artist.
At one time CAL-TRANS offered to give me freeway walls for an exchange, if writers would stop tagging the rest of the freeway system. I suspect I may of been the only one, to ever get this writing.  I tried to negotiate with these graf artist and they promised one thing to me, while telling my gang labor staff at CYGS, that they were lying to get the privilege, while planning to go on tagging the system.  After that I abandoned the belief that such an effort could be successful.
Jay Beswick


Free walls accomplish several things. The first thing they do is give graffiti VANDALS a safe place to network. The second thing they do is send the mixed message that graffiti is wrong, graffiti is a blight, graffiti is an eyesore. Oh wait, unless you do it over here, then it's okay. The last thing is free walls don't work because they are "free." Confusing? The main motivation of the graffiti subculture is the illegal nature of it. They aren't content to use legal walls only. In every instance I have observed, the neighborhood surrounding the legal wall become collateral damage. Free walls? There's nothing free about the problem they are going to cause you.
Steve Mona
Commanding Officer, NYPD Vandal Squad (retired)


Unfortunately I have a free wall in Saskatoon I have been trying to close for years and it has been a horrible failure. We have started the process of closing the wall project down.

Detective Constable Lee Jones # 459
Anti-Graffiti Unit
General Investigations Section
Saskatoon Police Service


This has been an ongoing debate for as long as I have been investigating and prosecuting graffiti, Free walls does one thing, it attracts other vandals to the area. Why would you want to bring the criminal element to your community. In every case I have seen, the surrounding community near the graffiti wall sees over 1000% increase in graffiti to their neighborhood. Graffiti walls are not free, they cost you, and they will cost you big dollars. The Venice Pit in California was a prime example of an area that gave in to the vandals, let them paint murals, then over the years, the vandals defaced all the murals so that not one of the originals could be seen. They tagged the trash cans, bleachers, trees, sidewalk, chain link fence, every vertical wall in the pit was covered in hundreds of layers of paint. Then to top it off, each road leading into the beach area was tagged, EVERY home, fence, garage door, sign, tree, sidewalk... you get the picture? There is no respect in vandals, they have no respect for any property, and you want to invite them to your community? I think that people who keep trying these free walls, should be taken to court and prosecuted for the damage they bring to the community.

Randy Campbell (CHP Retired)
President Nograf Network Inc.


Milan (Italy) Beautiful Losers" Exibition-Triennale At the exhibition there was a robot / writer who sprayed on a wall with a can the word "AMAZE".
Result: many kids have sprayed this tag on several walls of the city!!!
A local newspaper reported that, in the aftermath, there was a tenfold increase in
graffiti tags in downtown Helsinki (a City which spends $2 million per year to clean up graffiti!).
Spazio: As a result of a graffiti art exhibit, tagging increased around the gallery for a
half square mile.

City of Palo Alto   We do not have a free wall. What we do have is a skateboard bowl, in which we allow graffiti inside the bowl. Actually we just
don't remove it there. To my knowledge there has never been any advertising of allowance of graffiti inside the skate bowl. This bowl
is in one of our parks, as expected this park continually has the most
graffiti and the most frequency of graffiti in the city. Thus the
"oozing effect"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In the bowl we will get some very artistic graffiti, full of colors, mural like. So we get some taggers who drive to our bowl to do some of their artwork. Then of course we get all the small tags and scribbles as well as bottles and cans. If you talk the employee who has to clean up in and around the bowl, he would tell you that we should just close the bowl, period. Also some skate boarders don't like the paint on the bowl, saying it makes it slippery.

During the two years I've been here I have seen the constant spread of
the graffiti from the bowl to the fence around the bowl, benches, bike
path, phone and every where they can in the vicinity of the skate bowl.
Of course we don't post any signs about graffiti only in the skate
bowl, so some may assume it is also allowed to tag the path in front of
the bowl.

I think the bottom line of the free wall is dependent on
location of wall and taggable areas around the wall. In other words a
free wall in the middle of a large lawn behind the police station just
might work.  (Will Schade)


Long Beach, California.  The “Homeland” murals program, run by Dixie Swift and the Los Angeles Mural Conservancy.  Dixie Swift’s team leaders were writers who had turned the murals program into a networking operation among graffiti writers.  The two employees were arrested, and it was “a political hush hush.”  (Jay Beswick) The Denver, Colorado.  Denver utilized a flood control wall with abutments as a graffiti sanctioned wall.  In 1991, Amy Ling of the Mayor’s Office spoke at an anti-graffiti conference where she detailed the failure of this operation.  (Jay Beswick) 
This wall has since been painted over and is no longer used as a "Free Wall" 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.    “Program with Jane Golden and Spence was not the success that they claimed, and when Spence died of aides, a major part of that program was dismantled.  It was political, not successful.”  (Jay Beswick) 

Huntington Beach, California.  Nice idea but then the taggers coming to see the wall tagged the neighborhoods around the wall and also the kids just started tagging the wall without permits that were required.  (Randy Campbell)  “…tried using sea walls at the beach for ‘approved graffiti zones’, but they soon had businesses and residents complaining because of the near-area vandalism the zones brought.  Eventually the program was scrapped.”  (Jay Beswick) 

Venice Beach, California.  (The pit).  This is the most well known…the area was buffed clean, then a contest was organized and the entire area done with beautiful murals….later, the vandals came and they have tagged over the murals and destroyed the area.  What started as a nice project turned the area into a slum.  (Randy Campbell) 

San Fernando Valley, California.  Levitz Furniture Store.  The sanctioned wall not only caused damage to other walls and trees on the same property, but to every building or structure within a mile of the wall.  It was a magnet for every untalented writer.  (Jay Beswick)  (An amature, but very impressive video is available on this site) 

San Francisco, California. “Psycho City or Cycle City was probably the largest free wall in the northern hemisphere…Graffiti vandals came from all over the world just to tag and to take pictures of themselves with their tag in Psycho City.  All of the streets leading into and out of Psycho City were covered with tags from vandals drawn to the West Coast’s Mecca of graffiti.  It started with one wall on Plumbers’ Union Hall and spread to an area that covered over two square blocks from top to bottom…this was on Market Street…only 5 blocks from City Hall. 
The neighborhood had given up on it and, although vandals were arrested, the cases would be dropped by the District Attorney, because it wasn’t clear that you couldn’t tag there.  It seemed hopeless that the mixed residential/commercial area could ever be restored.  The whole area for blocks around suffered from the constant tagging.  This was proof enough that legal walls won’t work. 
On August 27, 1995 our graffiti team restored the walls by removing all the graffiti in Psycho City.  Operating a stealth mission and over one weekend, using hundreds of gallons of paint, armies of workers, high rangers and PERMISSION to remove the graffiti…On Monday, all the graffiti was gone.  Each morning, before dawns early light, we would check for retagging.  The first week we returned every day, but it only took a few minutes to remove any tags, and they never got to take a picture of the tags.  Soon, the retagging tapered off to once a week, and now, it goes for months without any tags. 
The graffiti vandals put the word out on the Internet that Psycho City was dead, and that was the end of a west coast graffiti icon…What does this prove?  Free walls do NOT work, and, with persistence, any area, no matter how bad, can be turned around.  We know, we did it!  (Scott Shaw) 

Rockford, Illinois.  The Aldeen Dam, located in a Rockford Park, was previously a place where high school students, with a permit, could spend all night decorating the walls with boasts about their schools.  In July, 1997, with the arrival of hip-hop taggers in Rockford, the Aldeen Dam became entirely dominated by hip-hop taggers only.  Almost all graffiti at Aldeen is done by the same taggers and crews that vandalize the residences, businesses, billboards, railroad cars, and signage of Rockford.  Further, the number of tags at Aldeen is proportionate to a crew or tagger’s frequency of vandalism on the streets of Rockford.  This fact alone would seem to disprove the claim that a “free wall”  might be an effective tool to combat graffiti.  Aldeen also displays the “spread-to-all-adjacent-areas” characteristic which other free walls manifest:  at Aldeen, in the areas adjacent to the free wall, there is graffiti on light poles, the grass, trees, the parking lot, trash containers, park benches, and walking trails through the woods.  (Jim Powers) 

The following comments were received as a result of our discussions on free walls from a very involved Law Enforcement officer specializing in tagger suppression......... 

When I was a part of the team in the Long Beach undercover sting operation, I suggested an area of free walls back in 1991.  None of the taggers were interested.  The reasons why they were not interested: 

1  The "establishment" was making them conform to rules. 
2  Taggers have no rules and they are anti-establisment, like the crew names depict: YPN(Your Property Next) or   MAK(Murderers Assassins Killers). 
3  If it isn't vandalism its not graffiti. It would be like asking gang members to be gang members Monday thru Friday from the hours of 3:30 pm to Midnight and not on weekends. 
Free walls will always attract the taggers that will not respect the concept and you have a Huntington Beach situation all over again.  The only reason why there is a persistence to make this "free wall"  mistake again is someones ego is getting in the way of common sense.  If a person goes to the Venice "pit" where it is similar to a free wall, all you have to do is look around the neighborhood and its got graffiti on it.  The taggers did not limit it to the pit. 

I hope the folly of free walls begins to sink in,  those people that say it is a success often times hide the disaster it causes.  I would like to visit a city the size of LA and see where a free wall concept is working. Whats really working and not working may boil down to from whose perspective. 

Bolder Colorado

Project supports graffiti

Graffiti wall in Scott Carpenter park is brainchild of two local teenagers

By Halle Shilling
Camera Staff Writer

The 100-foot legal graffiti wall alongside Rich's Roadhouse is workable, but the uneven brick surface is not ideal for the best spray-paint art.

"The indents between the brick can sometimes mess you up," said Winston Cressman, 18. "They change the lines. It's harder to get real clean edges."

Which is why Cressman is looking forward to a new 40-foot long, 7-foot high art wall completed Tuesday near the skateboard park at Scott Carpenter park.

 "The new wall is concrete, which is better," he said. The wall, estimated to cost $4,600, is the brainchild of Cressman and his friend Jory Rabinovitz, 16.

"We felt like there weren't many places really, in our area to paint and we felt it was necessary to have a legal place where kids could paint without getting in trouble and express themselves," Cressman said.

It was made possible by a grant from the Youth Opportunities Advisory Board. Rabinovitz first wrote a proposal for the wall back in 1996, but he had to wait a year to submit it at the right time.

The youth board, part of the city's youth opportunities program, approved the grant in the fall of 1997 and the City Council approved funding soon after. But it's taken nearly two years to construct. The first challenge was finding a suitable location, said Alice Swett, youth opportunities coordinator, which meant finding a place that was safe for the artists and agreeable to neighbors. After the park was chosen, the youth program had to get approval from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. The site chosen is also in a
floodplain, which meant getting special permits for construction.

Now, the wall is a blank slate — so to speak.

Only three rules apply to the wall, Swett said: no profanity or nudity can be depicted, artists must respect their surroundings and the rights of other users, and all users must keep the area clean.

"It's a continuous use wall," Swett said. "There is a code of respect. If something is good it stays up for a while and if something is bad, they paint right over it. The artists monitor themselves."

Boulder doesn't have much of a graffiti problem, said Dick Reznik, one of the city's community service police officers, though sporadic tagging — the practice of marking territory with spray painted initials — does occur.
Even so, the police department has worked with the youth opportunities department on the art wall concept.

If you are aware of any additional Free Wall programs (Pro or Con) that we have failed to mention here
Please send me the information and I will add it to this list.