Schenectady, like many cities, has a graffiti problem. What it doesn’t have, and never has had, is a serious strategy for attacking it, or even a discussion about how to. May that discussion begin today with the “graffiti summit” scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. at Proctors’ Robb Alley.
This summit is being organized by Gerald Plante, a resident of the Stockade, where graffiti on railroad bridges has been a persistent problem. It is not being sponsored by the city and its police department, as similar meetings in other cities have. That’s too bad, because it indicates a lack of concern, or at least a low priority for graffiti. on the part of Schenectady officials.
But graffiti deserves to be treated as a serious problem because the blight hurts the city’s quality of life. It also encourages more graffiti — and crime. Those tags and scrawlings, whether put there for gang purposes or just some vandal’s desire to deface, create what appears to be an anything-goes zone, where people are free to deal drugs, assault, rob, and worse. When the graffiti appears, it’s important to remove or paint over it — the faster the better.
Despite the city’s financial struggles, there are ways to do that. Commissoner of General Services Carl Olsen already has his crews help private property owners, who are required by law to remove graffiti from their buildings, do so.
But the owners don’t always call. The city needs a hotline where neighbors can report graffiti as it is being made or after the fact. It should also have a Web site where people can report graffiti and, ideally, post photos. And police, firefighters and code enforcement officers should be required to report graffiti when they see it.
While there may be liability, security or other issues when it comes to private property, there are many potential low-cost graffiti cleaners for public property. These include Boy or Girl Scouts groups, Little League teams, neighborhood organizations, prisoners from the county jail, and, for true justice, those sentenced to community service for doing graffiti or other acts of vandalism.
Plante says there are $2,500 grants available for innovative anti-graffiti efforts through Keep America Beautiful — not a lot of money but still worth pursuing. Perhaps some of it could go to paying young people to create murals rather than graffiti, which isn’t an answer in itself but could help as part of a multi-faceted strategy.
Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard, the lone city official who has tried to make graffiti an issue, will attend today’s summit. We urge other officials and residents to also attend, and learn, and start developing the kind of comprehensive approach that is needed here.