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Community considers prevalence of graffiti in Queen Anne, how best to handle future vandalism

April 26th, 2010 by Thea

[Editor’s note: For the sake of reporting on graffiti in Queen Anne we have included some photos of vandalism in the neighborhood. However, in an effort to not endorse or encourage vandalism, we have chosen photos that are blurred or show only part of a tag).

Two months ago Queen Anne residents woke up to find graffiti 15 feet tall sprawled across both walls of Counterbalance Park, at the corner of Queen Anne Ave N and Roy St. The next day Alex Braun, the manager of both buildings adjacent to the park’s walls–The Willis condominiums and the Barclay Court retail building–set to work to wash the paint away.

The first eleven feet of the wall had been sealed, and so the paint easily lifted off the concrete. However, the concrete above the 11-foot mark was unprotected, causing the paint to soak in. It took several weeks before the clean-up was complete and the tag entirely removed.

Although graffiti in any urban environment is not uncommon, the size and nature of this particular incident sparked discussion in the Queen Anne community. Some residents claimed vandalism had increased in recent years, while others said graffiti always had been and always would be part of the neighborhood landscape.

Braun has personally cleaned graffiti off the walls and buildings near Counterbalance Park “countless times” in the 11 years he’s been living and working next to this Lower Queen Anne corner. “It’s always been the same at my building,” he said.

“Last week alone I had–and you have to understand that I also clean up the traffic signs and parking signs that are right outside my building–so those included, last Tuesday I had two big graffities on the building–big like three feet long and a foot wide–and two on signs. So that’s a total of four on Tuesday. And then on Friday morning I had three more, so that’s seven just last week,” he said.

According to Braun, this incident was the second largest he’d ever encountered. The first was back in the early 2000s, and resembled a similar pattern, however this time the lettering was eight feet high and spanned across the entirety of just one of the walls. And though tags of this kind are infrequent, he says in his experience graffiti around the neighborhood has always been prevalent.

“Over the years, quite frankly I’ve lost track of it,” he said. “I only keep track of the really big ones.”

We called Seattle Public Utilities, the department responsible for cleaning up vandalism on public property, to find out if the number of reported incidences had in fact gone up in recent years. After weeks of back and forth, we discovered that SPU does not keep records of the numbers of incidences reported at a given address, in a specific neighborhood or citywide.

“We can give you the last date a report was called in at a specific address,” a SPU representative said. “But that’s it.”

The frequency of incidents citywide means SPU resources are often spread thin, and it is frequently left to the residents–like Braun–to decide how to handle vandalism on both public and private property. Two weekends ago the Uptown Alliance sponsored a graffiti clean-up at Counterbalance Park. Volunteers spent the day painting the top half of the wall, above the 11-foot mark, with primer and another coat of paint to better protect it against a repeat attack.

“The Parks Department could not spend the money to have the wall repainted. So the Parks Department provided us with paint and primer, and then the Uptown Alliance organized a community effort to have those walls painted from the 11-feet up to the very top,” Braun said.

Still, many in the neighborhood disagree over what the best course of action should be. Some suggest the city should hire artists to paint murals over large public walls to deter tagging.

“Personally I think they should open up those walls and allow people to actually put up awesome art. When some of those graffiti guys get time they can make big intricate pieces that would look more unique and interesting than any other city park, especially at night when they were lit up by those lights,” reader Macrus wrote.

However these projects are often targets for even more vandalism, as was the mural at Dexter underpass last year.

“I would not even dignify that aberration by calling it a tag or it’s creator a tagger. He is a petty vandal, through and through,” Rodstewart wrote of the Counterbalance graffiti. “Let’s not kid ourselves here. Real tagging requires planning, skill, technique, and patience.”

After the vandalism of Counterbalance Park, we decided to put the question of how to handle graffiti to the community. Here are some of the responses we got:

Nate wrote,

I frequently take my child to the various parks on top of Queen Anne and am a Queen Anne resident. The playground equipment is nearly always covered in graffiti, sometime vulgar. Stop signs, news paperboxes etc… often have graffiti on them as well. Something needs to be done to clean up the streets, remove this graffiti as soon as it appears and arrest those responsible. Seems we are tolerating it and should not be.

Carol E. wrote,

I am from Chicago, and when I moved to lower Queen Anne I was shocked at the amount of graffiti. In my Chicago neighborhood it gets removed ASAP. The Chicago city council outlawed the sale of spray paint within city limits, which I always thought was ridiculous since they could buy it in the suburbs. But maybe it did make a difference.

Amyalayne wrote,

How about increase funding to the Seattle PD so we can have more patrols in the area? I agree with Carol in that when I lived in CA, graffiti was removed right away and the city just doesn’t seem to care here. In a lot of cases the business owners should also be responsible for cleaning up or coordinating w/the city for removal too. The graffiti has been horrible in the three years I’ve been in lower QA. I think there also needs to be more street lights. There are many dark areas of lower QA (and upper for that matter) that just don’t make it that safe to walk around in anymore. Another idea would be to grow some ivy that covers those walls. If it’s happened once it will happen again I am sure.

Although Braun agrees that this will not be the last time graffiti is seen at Counterbalance Park, he still believes the best way to tackle the tags is to continue to clean or cover them as soon as possible.

“If they tag us again, which I know they will, we’ll just paint over it,” Braun said. “The best thing is to paint over it or remove it, and yes they will come back, but you know, they’re only going to come back two or three times and then that’s it. In my case, with my  building, I noticed that when I first started there we had a lot of graffiti from a lot of famous taggers. And I was right on top of it and just had it removed the day after, as soon as I was able to,”  Braun said.

And as summer approaches, Braun says vandalism will only increase with the warmer weather, when paint sticks more easily. “If you have a rainy cold day, there’s very few taggers out there because they know the paint doesn’t stick very well on a wet surface,” he said.

Still, in the hopes of deterring potential vandals, Braun advises community members continue to remove graffiti as quickly as possible.

“Yes they’re going to come back, but once they see that you’ve removed it, they realize that you’re on top of things and they’re not going to go there anymore because they know that you’ll just erase it–you make their soup sour, which is what they don’t like. It’s been working for me in my building, and I’m going to continue taking them off as soon as they come up,” he said.

A community group called “Neighbors Working Together for a Clean and Safe Queen Anne” has taken a Block Watch approach to deterring vandalism, posting fliers around the neighborhood warning that the area is patrolled by Graffiti Watch Volunteers.

To report vandalism to Seattle Public Utilities, call the graffiti line at 206-684-7587. Get tips on how to prevent and remove graffiti here.

Graffiti – Gauging the impact of a costly public nuisance

This story is part of a special collaborative project between this site, The Seattle Times and its local news partners:

Neighborhood views: From Redmond to West Seattle, several local sites take a closer look at graffiti in their neighborhoods.

Help map the trouble spots: Know of a place were graffiti is out of control? Send the info to The Times and a photo for our map.

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