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City of Madera Attacks Graffiti and Builds Community

Case Story

Summary

Neighborhood engagement and self-help networks are important building blocks of healthier communities.  Neighborhood blight and neglect can lead to poor health and costly clean up, so when officials in the City of Madera noticed a dramatic increase in graffiti, they turned to the community for a quick resolution. With a strong commitment from the city council, the Neighborhood Revitalization Department launched an “information and removal” campaign which mobilized more than 1,500 volunteers. The program is credited not only for a decrease in graffiti, but for helping form vibrant neighborhood social and self-help networks throughout the community and led to the creation of a Citizen’s Academy to actively educate and engage community volunteers on an ongoing basis.

Highlights and Results

  • The program helped reduce graffiti tags by 54% in the first year, and by 85% by the end of year two. New graffiti is rare.
  • More than 21 community networks now exist throughout the city, bringing the community closer and giving residents a venue to express ongoing safety concerns.
  • Due to the success of the program, the city created a Citizen’s Academy to cultivate residents who want to learn more about the public process and to educate those who seek to serve on boards, commissions, or hold an elected office.
  • Residents in the City of Madera feel more empowered to create change in their community.

Lessons Learned

  • A small investment (graffiti kits) can amount to big results with the help of volunteers.
  • Government organizations are more likely to support a mission when it is supported by community residents.
  • With just a little coordination, community residents can organize effective groups.
  • Collaboration with other agencies can leverage resources and increase the impact of the program.
  • Quick removal of graffiti is a deterrent to repeat vandals.
  • When residents find their stake in their community, they are likely to become more involved in other ways if the local agency can find effective ways to tap into their interest and commitment.

The Rest of the Story

In 2008, the City of Madera had a graffiti problem and it was getting worse.  There were 24,000 graffiti hits (or tags) in that year, and 55,000 more projected in the coming three years.  The potential cost of graffiti removal over that time was estimated at $750,000.

Realizing this could be a costly and unhealthy problem that could plaque Madera for years to come, the city council made a strong commitment to tackle it by appointing a community involvement staff member. The City of Madera then contracted with a consultant to study the problem and suggest solutions.  Their recommendation: collaborate with the community.
At the first meeting convened by the city, 80 residents indicated their willingness to be a part of the solution. Those individuals were provided with graffiti removal kits (costing $18.50 each) that included materials and instructions for removing the unwanted tags in their neighborhoods.

As community interest grew, the city hired two “graffiti consultant coordinators” to work out of the Neighborhood Revitalization Department and serve as leads for the volunteers. The coordinators spoke at community events and before groups including schools, congregations, and the chamber of commerce to educate the community about the city’s anti-graffiti efforts. The offers for help began to pour in with more than 1,500 residents eventually volunteering to help in some way.

Momentum continued to grow and soon the Public Defender’s and District Attorney’s offices, the California Highway Patrol, CalTrans and other agencies joined in the effort. The groups gathered for monthly meetings, ensuring that all resources – human and financial – were coordinated and available.

With a huge force of community and government support, the city of Madera successfully turned the tide.  Acts of graffiti declined by 54% in the first year and by 85% at the end of the second.  By the end of the third year, new graffiti was rarely seen.  

Success in this area led to new opportunities in others.  Building on the enthusiasm of community residents to get involved, city staff (now called “Community Outreach Coordinators”) began helping to build networks of neighbors throughout the city. More than 21 of these networks now exist in Madera, each composed of between 9 -140 households. 

While it is the outreach coordinators who initially help connect the groups, it is the residents who make the continual commitment to meet to socialize or spend time identifying key issues to make their community a better place to live.

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