With graffiti vandals able to climb and scale tall structures to find out of the way, yet visible places, to spray urban scrawl, community leaders are scratching their heads as to what to do next in the war against blight.
Different community groups, city agencies, and elected officials offer a vast array of programs to combat the menace of graffiti, but nevertheless between 2006 and 2007 the city saw an unprecedented 81.5% surge in complaints.
The favorite target of vandals in Pelham Bay has become sides of apartment buildings that are visible from the six train and its platforms. Since graffiti equipment cannot be sent onto rooftops of neighboring buildings, the tag is pretty much guaranteed visibility for a long time.
“Kids are learning that the sides of buildings above ground level are where the clean-up programs cannot go, and they are spraying them all,” said Mary Jane Musano, of the Waterbury-LaSalle Community Association. “I can say that WLCA has spent at least $50,000 over the past year for cleanup efforts, but it is a vicious circle, and we have far to go.”
In more recent years, graffiti vandals have grown more brazen, climbing not only onto rooftops, but also climbing over fences and crossing into the threshold of the property of private homes to do their scribblings.
“Not only are the kids constantly putting graffiti onto mailboxes, but lately it has gotten much worse,” stated Anita Valenti, of the Pelham Bay Taxpayers and Community Association. “The light pole across the street from my house has been vandalized, and a neighbor on my block reports that someone walked onto her property, to the back of her home, and sprayed graffiti all over her house.”
Even in the 1970s, when graffiti was splashed over subway cars and the city, mired in deep fiscal crises seemed impotent to do anything about it, at least private homes were spared.
“It used to be a taboo to put graffiti on residential houses and buildings,” said Dorothy Krynicki, of the Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization, “but we are dealing with several apartment buildings that were covered in graffiti.”
Musano said that both she and other members of WLCA had gone to meetings with administrative judges in charge of dishing out penalty to youth and adults who are caught in the act of spray-painting buildings, but that most of the authorities are not taking the vandalism seriously.
“I personally think that a graffiti arrest should merit jail time, but I know that is not going to happen,” Musano explained. “However, I think that a really stiff fine coupled with a harsh restitution program where they have to spend days and maybe weeks cleaning up graffiti might work.”