Seeing graffiti in a whole new blight
I seldom notice graffiti.
For me, it often fades into the urban landscape — into a blighted backdrop of empty buildings, cracked sidewalks, broken windows and litter.
But lately I’ve begun to wonder whether my blase attitude is a problem.
Perhaps I’ve grown too accustomed to graffiti. Perhaps years of city living have numbed me to an ugly, everyday nuisance. Perhaps my standards are simply too low.
What got me thinking about graffiti was a phone call from Stockade resident Gerald Plante, who has been taking photographs of Schenectady’s graffiti and posting them to his Facebook wall.
Plante contends that the city of Schenectady needs to do more to address graffiti, because it damages quality of life and contributes to blight. He believes that doing nothing emboldens vandals and that they have come to view Schenectady as a place where they can deface property over and over with little fear of repercussion.
On a walk through the Stockade, Plante pointed out ugly, cryptic markings, such as the Stockade Market & Deli’s garage door, which was covered with white and blue scribbles. “This ZIP code is filled with graffiti,” he said. “When you don’t stop it, it gets worse.” As if to prove his point, a bright orange tag appeared on the market garage door about two weeks later.
After my conversation with Plante, I became more aware of graffiti. I saw it on abandoned buildings and railroad cars, on Interstate 890 and old bridges. When I stopped for lunch at a local deli, I noticed the faint trace of a tag that had been painted over years ago. I asked myself how I would feel if someone vandalized my home or business and it was my responsibility to clean it up. The answer was obvious: I wouldn’t be happy.
Even so, I wondered whether Plante was exaggerating the extent of the graffiti problem.
So I contacted Schenectady City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo, the impetus behind a city program that enlists teenagers assigned to community service through the courts to paint over graffiti.
“Graffiti is a huge problem,” Perazzo told me. “It’s a major problem, and not just in Schenectady.”
Perazzo’s initiative was launched last year as a one-month pilot program. This year it will run every other weekend from May to October. Last Saturday marked the first day of work, and I swung by John D. Marcella Appliances on Crane Street, where a crew of teenagers was diligently covering up graffiti. It was a big job, as there were tags all over the building.
I walked down Crane Street to look at two other buildings slated for cleanup. The tags were less obvious — a faint scribble on a vacant home that read “I was here” and other scratches and scrawls. What struck me wasn’t the graffiti so much as the overall ugliness of the street. The sidewalks were cracked — almost impassable in places — and there was trash all over the place. A sense of decline and neglect was palpable.
Were graffiti-ists attracted to this neighborhood because it was dirty? Or did the presence of graffiti make people more likely to throw their trash on the ground and in people’s yards? Plante likes to say that blight starts with graffiti, but even if it doesn’t, there’s really no good reason for city streets and neighborhoods to be such a mess. Would I want to live on such a messy street? Well, no, I wouldn’t.
I got in my car and drove around a little more, which gave me a better sense of the size and scope of the city’s graffiti problem. The more I saw, the more convinced I became that Perazzo is faced with a Sisyphean task, especially in light of reports that some of the buildings cleaned last fall have already been retagged and will need to be repainted.
I asked Perazzo whether her anti-graffiti initiative is enough to combat such a widespread problem.
“No,” she said. “You can never do enough to clean up the city.” But she said that tackling bits and pieces of Schenectady’s graffiti problem is better than doing nothing at all.
I like Perazzo’s anti-graffiti program. It helps property owners who might lack the funds or ability to clean graffiti on their own, and provides teens assigned to community service with a useful and civic-minded project.
But graffiti is a year-round problem, and it requires a more comprehensive solution.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 395-3193. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.