Provo is struggling with a rash of graffiti in the city's central neighborhoods and commercial areas. It's hardly a unique problem. Cities all over the world, large and small, are dealing with the same thing. The key is to establish a reliable way to remove the unsightly paint quickly.

A proposed city ordinance would shift the main responsibility for cleaning graffiti from the affected property owner to the city. It would require the city to clean the mess within 48 hours. This balancing act between property owners and municipalities is a delicate one. The most responsible party, the person who painted the graffiti, usually can't be found. Owners ought to bear some of the responsibility for cleanup, but there is no denying that graffiti is a community problem.

Perhaps a cooperative approach would be best.

In the Houston suburb of Conroe, the city requires property owners to remove graffiti within 10 days or face a fine as high as $500, according to a recent story in the Houston Chronicle. But any owner who wants help fulfilling this responsibility can get free removal service from the city, provided the owner will sign a liability waiver. For its part, the city hopes to assemble a reliable group of volunteers to get the job done.

It's an approach that musters the involvement of all segments of the community impacted by the crime. Property owners should not be removed from responsibility, but they should not be unduly burdened by it, either. Meanwhile, nothing builds community pride quite like a volunteer effort to keep things clean. Utah already is known for its impressive volunteer efforts. Provo surely could find many people willing to erase this problem if given the right tools.

Immediate graffiti removal is important to a city. In the early 1980s, an article in The Atlantic Monthly changed the way many cities approach crime. Titled "Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety," it presented evidence showing how communities that quickly fix the visible signs of crime (broken windows, graffiti, etc.) can prevent a general decay in attitudes that can lead to larger crimes. This idea later helped many large U.S. cities reduce crime rates.

Provo is right to tackle this problem. City leaders would do well to spread the burden, thereby spreading the feeling of civic pride, as well.