Piitsburgh's War on Graffiti

Pittsburgh’s solution to graffiti is to cover it with more graffiti. Tags and other street art are being rolled over with a boring gray paint. In many cases, it’s far uglier than what they’re trying to hide. Plus, it draws more attention to the graffiti problem and actually encourages graffiti artists to strike again.

Who You Gonna Call?

Boring Pittsburgh suspects that we’re going to see a lot more of these blocky gray paintings with the re-emergence of the Graffiti Busters program. After about a year of inactivity, over 6,000 tags were removed or hidden in 2013 alone – costing the city $57,180.

“Graffiti Busters” is the City of Pittsburgh’s Graffiti removal program. It is managed by the Traffic Division of the Department of Public Works. Graffiti Busters was instituted 16 years ago with the function of removing graffiti damage from public buildings and places as reported and from private property on a case-by-case basis. All graffiti incidents should be reported by calling 311. When graffiti is reported,it starts a work order that initiates an onsite inspection and evaluation of the damaged property. At the completion of a thorough evaluation, the graffiti is removed with cleaning chemicals or by painting the damaged property. – Clean Pittsburgh Commission 2013 Annual Report

Speaking of the Graffiti Busters, remember when “Mook” used acid to etch his tag on the rear window of their truck?

YOU Clean It Up!

An interesting tidbit that you may not be aware of is that it’s technically the property owner’s responsibility to remove graffiti.

According to § 620.05 of the Pittsburgh Code of Ordinances:

(a) The existence of graffiti on public or private property in violation of this chapter is expressly declared to be a public nuisance and, therefore, is subject to the removal and abatement provisions specified in this chapter.
(b) It is the duty of both the owner of the property to which the graffiti has been applied and any person who may be in possession or who has the right to possess such property to at all times keep the property clear of graffiti.

Mixed Messages?

An irony alert went off when Pittsburgh welcomed Shepard Fairey to paste his work around the city. Local kids saw this and became inspired by it, but they didn’t get the memo that he had permission to do it legally. This implies that street art only exists for those with a budget or backing – two things that take the “street” out of street art.

The unfortunate truth is that a lot of Pittsburgh graffiti is done by high-schoolers running around with sharpies, scribbling gibberish that adds little value. If the Burgh is going to have street art, it could certainly use more artists who are capable of creating interesting images or making profound statements.


About 25 years ago, an artist named Tim Kaulen climbed the Tenth Street bridge in South Side to make his mark on the city. He painted four of his signature geese in the center of the highest point of the bridge, about 100 feet above the road. For decades, many folks (including the mayor himself) thought the images were dinosaurs. Regardless of their species, they have become icons in Pittsburgh’s street art scene.

With the recent restoration and plans to repaint the bridge, Kaulen set out to preserve the art and presented almost 1,000 signatures in petition to allow the geese to remain.

While it may be an important work of public art, we’re wondering if the preservation of the geese sends mixed messages to the graffiti community. Some artists have been caught and charged with destruction of public property, while other graffiti artists are immortalized through preservation initiatives. How do you explain to a young graffiti artist that what they do is wrong… but if they paint their stuff in hard to reach places, their work could be celebrated 25 years later.

Update 7/10/18:

On July 10, 2018, Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted this message:

“A motion before Allegheny County Council to “Save the Dino-Geese” on the 10th Street Bridge in South Side, passed by a 12-2 Vote.”

You have two options:

If you enjoy seeing graffiti and are interested in following the progression of certain graffiti artists in Pittsburgh, then you’ll want to check out pghgraffiti.tumblr.com.
If you would rather see this ugly gray paint in your neighborhood instead of graffiti, feel free to fill out this Graffiti Removal Permission Form.