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Review 1 of "Do Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Strategies Deter Taggers? Voices from the Street"

...Qualitative...Criminology

Published onOct 03, 2021
Review 1 of "Do Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Strategies Deter Taggers? Voices from the Street"
key-enterThis Pub is a Review of

Vote: Reject


[For votes to count, referees must reasonably explain why they voted as they did. Thus, please explain your vote. If you voted to publish pending minor changes, specify each change, why it is needed, and, possibly, how it should/could be done.]

This does a fine job of describing CPTED and illustrating how it can have some utility in diminishing property crime. However, while this does present an interesting examination of CPTED, the way it understands and examines graffiti writing is problematic. As such, its examination of the effectiveness of the use CPTED to prevent graffiti, and why and where it should be utilized, is also problematic.

There are two primary problems with this article. One, it does not present a sufficiently robust understanding of the graffiti subculture, of how graffiti writers understand the spaces they encounter or of how they are motivated to interact with them. Two, in its discussion of the effectiveness of CPTED it never discusses the particularities of the spaces that the crime prevention through environmental design efforts are working to protect. This is a critical oversight when discussing graffiti, as the subculture has organizational rules that guide a graffiti writer in evaluating what spaces may be used for graffiti and when.

To elaborate on the first issue, Graffiti writers are motivated by many reasons, a primary one being increased reputation (“fame”). There are many other reasons graffiti writers paint (self-expression, political commentary, friendship, achieving increased subcultural capital, rebellion) this article identifies some, but what is not examined is how these motivations impact the spatial choices graffiti writers make (graffiti writers often call this ‘spot selection’). The distinctions between how people interact with space when they violate the law is a very important one and to fully understand how and why they interact with space as they do, as well as how they make the spatial choices they make, what they are doing and why they are doing it must be understood.

This article claims that there is very little known about individuals who participate in the graffiti subculture (it says this on page 2 and on page 21). However, a great deal is known about what types of individuals are attracted to this practice, what their motivations for doing it are, what the internal rules that govern where graffiti can be placed are, why graffiti writers make (or do not make) the spatial choices they make, and how the graffiti community is subculturally organized. The authors do cite some of this work (which makes their position here confusing), but I would recommend that they also look at:

  • Castleman (1986) - Getting Up: Subway Graffiti In New York

  • Ferrell  (1996) - Crimes of style: urban graffiti and the politics of criminality

  • Mitman, T. (2018) The Art of Defiance: Graffiti, Politics and the Reimagined City in Philadelphia. (full disclosure, this is the reviewer’s work)

  • Stewart, S. (1994) – Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation

  • Waldner, L. K., & Dobratz, B. A. (2013) - “Graffiti as a Form of Contentious Political Participation.”

And perhaps revisit:

  • Halsey, M., & Young, A. (2006) - “Our desires are ungovernable: Writing graffiti in urban space

  • Lachmann, R. (1988) - "Graffiti as Career and Ideology."

These works provide very good insight into what motivates graffiti writers and how the subculture organizes itself. Equally important is that they also provide a great deal of information on how graffiti writers understand space and property in terms of what are, and are not, acceptable places to put graffiti.

It is this last point that relates to the second primary issue raised about this work. It is difficult to make an argument that CPTED is truly effective without articulating the spatial prohibitions and limitations graffiti writers generally place on themselves. In terms of graffiti, we cannot know if CPTED is an effective deterrent unless we can know that a graffiti writer wanted to put graffiti on a space and were discouraged by these measures. This article does identified times when graffiti writers were deterred or prevented, but these instances are largely attributed to the often referred to reasons; perception of police presence, community surveillance, and having their graffiti quickly removed (the buff). What is missing is any discussion of the rules graffiti writers have for where graffiti should and should not be placed. Generally, while not all graffiti writes adhere to the subcultural rules of graffiti in every instance, there is agreement that homes, personal automobiles and personal property are not acceptable places for graffiti, but any abandoned property, private property (profit generating assets as Marx would say) or government funded property are acceptable places for graffiti. With these rules in mind, it is very important then to describe and discuss what the space that the CPTED is around actually is (is it a home, a park, a business, a derelict building, etc.). This is a crucial omission within this work. Without this we cannot make determinations about whether spaces are more or less desirable for graffiti writers.

A foundational component of what can make a space attractive to graffiti writers is city and community disinvestment. When a city disinvests in an area that area suffers in many ways, such as decreased public services, increased joblessness and poverty, and also often increased graffiti because the city is not interested in spending the time or money to remove it. This is something the informants’ mention (ABOT p. 13, ASKO p. 14) but goes unanalyzed. But these points about class, and poverty, and city spatial investment must matter in terms of the effectiveness of CPTED. It seems that the more city or community investment a space has the more effective this strategy will be, while the opposite is also true. A discussion about how invested the city is in terms of a particular community in relation to how attractive that community is to graffiti writers, as well as how (or if) CPTED could be effectively used in those spaces should be present in this work.

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