For as long as there has been spray paint, cities have busy removing graffitti. If graffitti is on private buildings, it’s the responsibility of the building owner to have it removed but when it’s on utility boxes, poles, and bridges around town it’s up to the city to take care of it. The City’s Public Service employees provide the muscle to wash, scrub and if necessary paint over graffitti tags. From prehistoric cave paintings in Spain to the hierogliphics of ancient Egypt, mankind (and womankind) seem to be compelled to leave their mark so graffitti is not likely to go away anytime soon. It’s apparently hardwired in our DNA. With that in mind we’re trying to look at other ways of wrestling this problem including encouraging graffitti as art in certain areas and sponsoring local artists to work their magic in some of our graffitti hot spots.
Once a month there’s a small working group that comes together at City Hall to talk about a whole range of pressing community matters. The group has University folks, city staff, Main Street Kent representatives and other local people who care enough about wanting to make Kent a better place that they make time to be a part of the solution.
This group doesn’t have a name because it wants to be known for the work it does not what it calls itself. We’ve found that there’s plenty of talking groups, which have an important role too, but we wanted this to be a roll your sleeves up get your hands dirty kind of group who would actually do the things that the talking groups discussed. It is a group devoted to getting things done.
One of the areas identified early on that caught their attention was graffitti. Like most cities, graffitti issues flare up in Kent now and again so this group did a little homework and then went to work. They organized a couple of clean up days, they set up a web site to report graffitti, and they have been experimenting with different cleaning products and paints to see which work best. It turns out that Sue Nelson of Nelson Designs has been on the front lines of graffitti removal in downtown Kent for years so this group is working to augment and expand the impact of her good work.
Not being willing to confine themselves to any particular ideological box, this group is also interested in how to redirect the artistic desire away from illegal graffitti and convert it into public art. They started down this path last year by sponsoring a graffitti art contest that included a $100 award for the top prize. They now exploring how, where, and if they could find a permanent wall to serve as a graffitti gallery that would become part of public art in Kent. They point to the success of the Indian Mural painted on the side of the building on Water Street as an example of what is possible with exterior public art.
I know they’re planning more clean ups this spring and they welcome more volunteer arms, backs and minds, so if you want to get involved, let me know and I can get you in contact with the powers that be.
In the meantime, here’s an interesting article of how the city of Fort Collins Colorado tackled the problem by hiring local artists to paint the utility boxes around town. We’ve got plenty of utility boxes and plenty of artists here in Kent. Why not?
Cities’ programs aim to un-paint the town
Dec 1, 2007 12:00 PM, Deanna Hart
American City and County Magazine, December 2007
Buildings and other areas defaced by graffiti vandalism can be early signs of urban blight, dwindling property values and poor quality of life for residents. Graffiti — spray-painted images often associated with gangs, but also including hate and non-threatening messages — accounts for 35 percent of vandalism cases, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and costs many communities thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars in cleanup costs. In response, local officials are creating programs to prevent and remove graffiti to restore their neighborhoods.
Until recently, the Fort Collins, Colo., Utilities Department was dispatched frequently to clean graffiti on transformer boxes throughout the city’s Old Town area, spending up to 60 hours monthly. “You’ll see [graffiti] on a number of different places wherever some of the taggers can basically get their mark seen from the streets or whenever you’re passing by,” says Kraig Bader, standards engineering manager for Fort Collins Utilities and Electric. “They’re kind of shooting for visibility of their signatures, and unfortunately, a lot of our equipment was a really nice, blank canvas for that.”
In 2006, the department teamed with the city’s Art in Public Places (APP) program, which exhibits art throughout the community, to devise a plan to remove the graffiti and reduce maintenance costs that could reach $130,000 over the life of the equipment. APP and the utilities department chose local artists to paint the transformer boxes with colorful images to deter graffiti vandals. Since November 2006, 17 transformer boxes have been painted and have not been vandalized. City officials plan to expand the program in the future.
Some communities do not understand the problems that cause and result from graffiti, and the methods needed to prevent it, says Conni Kunzler, a graffiti specialist for Stamford, Conn.-based Keep America Beautiful’s (KAB) “Graffiti Hurts” program. Graffiti Hurts promotes abatement programs that include cleanup, education, prevention and enforcement, and provides resources to communities to help them combat graffiti, including creating hotlines and directing youth who tag to community art programs. In some cases, police officials may not immediately respond to graffiti complaints. Other communities address graffiti through police gang units but lack a program specifically dedicated to removing and preventing it. “[Many] more are [now] engaged in the issue,” Kunzler says.
Some communities have formed coalitions of city government officials, local organizations and residents to discuss specific problems in their area and ways to prevent tagging. Crime prevention also is critical because graffiti is a key indicator of future crimes, Kunzler says. “Graffiti often tells [law enforcement officials] what’s going on in other areas of the city, because in any area where you have graffiti, you’re likely to have other kinds of criminal activity,” she says.
For many years, Dallas lacked a cohesive program to remove graffiti and relied on the Sanitation Department, police officials and a downtown improvement district to separately address the problem. “It was a very scattered project,” says Cecile Carson, an advisor for Keep Dallas Beautiful, a KAB affiliate. In 2005, Dallas adopted the Graffiti Hurts program to create a unified initiative to combat graffiti, including designating a single contact for graffiti complaints and creating a database to track graffiti-vandalized areas. The city also adopted an anti-graffiti ordinance that requires property owners to remove graffiti in 10 days — or request that the city remove it. Public safety officials also are educated on the new ordinance and available resources.
In 2006, Dallas officials organized the city’s first annual city-wide graffiti cleanup, Graffiti Wipe-Out. A second cleanup this year recruited hundreds of volunteers to clean graffiti in each city council member’s district. Carson says neighborhoods organize their own cleanups. “It becomes more educational, although there’s a lot of graffiti that’s being removed at the same time” she says. “Some of the sites that we painted during that first Graffiti Wipe-Out in 2006 are still graffiti-free. So, I think that means that we really made a difference.”