Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting a handle on vandalism.

The whole vandal / liability thing is getting way out of hand. Our obsession with making everything completely indestructible is an over-reaction to the problem. In the case of making dry stone walls less vulnerable to senseless damage, or the possibility of people hurting themselves on them, we are missing the point if we have to bring concrete into the equation. The answer is not to taunt would-be vandals by challenging them to find new ways to destroy the bunker-like objects we introduce to our parks and public places, but to consider natural designs that are much more effective. In the case of liability concerns, what was God thinking anyway when he created trees and stones. How could he have been so careless as to create steep hills or ponds? In the case of vandalism what was he thinking when he made just about everything? We need to ask ourselves whether creating things that are more 'natural' and hence more vulnerable to mischief, might be more effective in maintaining damage control.
A dry stone wall works not just because it is strong and structural but also because it 'yields' to the forces of nature rather than obstinately resists them. The whole idea of yielding is the key to the problem of public installations. In the same way dry stone walls 'yield' to the vandalism of the elements, they can also assimilate many of destructive elements of society.
A vandal will be less likely to try to wreck something that is not challenging his imagination as to how to take it apart. He is also less likely to carry away or destroy the stones that he does manage to take off a wall. The whole idea is to accept the fact that nothing can be made vandal proof but that things can be designed which involve materials that can be taken apart but not actually broken or built in such a way that they can be repaired easily and quickly. We can introduce less confrontational elements into the community by tuning in to how to care for our walls, which on occasion may suffer from abuse, rather than designing war zone installations that are more abusive to our sensibilities than anything a vandal could do.


  1. Sign posted at entrance to small park in Hawaii; "nature can be sharp and pointy, use at your own risk"

  2. John I've been enjoying your posts, thanks.
    I do have a serious reply for you to consider.
    I agree that designs should be made” more effective” which goes hand in hand with the implementation of good craftsmanship and a common sense approach to the very real problem of vandalism when constructing dry stone features in public places. Using large, hard to move by hand stones as caps is a far cry from “bunker like objects”. I’ve had to comply with regulations on trails in parks projects where I couldn’t build a stone structure with over a 30 inches drop without a rail installed while a short way up the trail there are natural rock outcrops that the trail goes over that have 14+ foot drops (where one could continue to tumble down a steep cliff if they fell.) where no regulation for railings is required. Manmade structures have different requirements than natural features. That’s the reality of the situation of what we need to deal with.
    There are many studies that have been done on vandalism in parks and I’ve yet to see any support of your statement that “A vandal will be less likely to try to wreck something that is not challenging his imagination as to how to take it apart”
    Is this statement something that is the result of regulated objective studies of the facts or just your own idea that you’re putting forward as a known fact? Of course as a general rule making conclusions of solutions to problems based on non facts, just opinions that don’t agree with reputable studies is not a very good course of action for a serious problem.

  3. Not Anonymous, but rather , John S-R says....

    Good points Alan.

    It is ironic that the restrictions placed upon you as a trail maker mean you have to build things that are more permanent than most of the natural things around you.