Graffiti’s growth needs fast, creative Valley response

The plain white surface of the alley wall along North Bend’s McClellan Street is begging for adornment.

The trouble is, the ones doing all the painting are vandals.

I had my eyes opened wide to the culture of graffiti and tagging during a recent walk around North Bend, courtesy of Police Chief Mark Toner. Probably like most locals, I didn’t know North Bend had a graffiti problem. It’s hard to notice the tags during the daily round. But it turns out that tagging is a lot like a secret language. It’s spoken in paint, and only in places where other taggers might notice, such as back alleys, the hidden sides of utility boxes, signs, hydrants, and other nooks and crannies.

Tagging thrives when it doesn’t get any mainstream attention. It’s growing in this community. So it’s time to give it a closer look.

Wall scrawls can lower property values, reduce retail sales, and according to the U.S. Department of Justice, by generating the perception of blight and fear of gang activity, it can also create real blight in our cities.

“The appearance of graffiti is often perceived by residents and passers-by as a sign that a downward spiral has begun, even though this may not be true,” says the DOJ website.

Patrons of downtown and parks may get the sense that if graffiti is tolerated, other, more serious crimes may also go unchallenged.

According to graffitihurts.org, vandals believe their actions harm no one. The reality is graffiti costs everyone: taxpayers, homeowners, communities, businesses and schools. Those who practice it risk personal injury, violence and arrest.

How do we fight graffiti? First, keep up the neighborhood. Remove litter and trash, fix broken fences, trim the landscape and ensure all lighting is working properly. Show everyone that someone cares about the place.

Second, we need to remove graffiti as soon as possible. Rapid removal is an effective prevention tool. Graffiti removed within a day or two results in a nearly zero rate of recurrence.

People should also know that graffiti needs to be reported to police. In the Valley, police ask that locals contact them when their property is tagged. You can call the main offices—Snoqualmie’s number is (425) 888-3333, the county’s is (425) 888-4433—or just dial 911. Police don’t mind, because it helps them fill in a pattern of vandalism and enforce the law.

And taggers need to know that there is the possibility of getting caught.

We could also consider turning plain McClellan Alley into a community mural. I’d like to see Scouts, youths or community groups explore the idea with property owners. Tags and scrawls stand out on a plain white wall. One covered in an imaginative work or pretty scenic view is a lot less conducive to gang signs and self-centered tags.

Imagine the side benefits of a concerted Valley effort to stamp out graffiti—thriving, beautiful downtowns and neighborhoods. Safer parks and streets. Who wouldn’t want that? Just the graffiti artists.



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