By Brian J Pape, AIA
It was a perfect day for street activities, cloudy but mild with temperatures in the 60’s. Just like dozens, perhaps hundreds, of others in precincts throughout the city’s five boroughs, we saw the opening round in the next chapter of the on-going fight against urban blight and graffiti.
The Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and City Police Chief of the Department Rodney Harrison organized a “Spring Clean Up: Combating Graffiti” day for all of NYC, with community input for designated cleanup sites. Assisting in the organization and coordination are: Alfred Baker, Director of Media in the Office of the Deputy Commissioner; and community liaison Alan Silverstein, who arranged meetings with the NCOs (Neighborhood Coordination Officers) for each precinct, and also coordinated the activities of a group of young high-school student volunteers who belong to a group called the Explorers. The Explorers are a diverse ethnic and racial group, male and female, from throughout the city.
WVN participated in two of the Manhattan precincts, the 13th and 6th. Paul Vlachos and Alan Silverstein joined me as we started at 11:00 a.m. in the 13th Precinct at 19 East 19th Street. Nine Explorers joined with police officers for the 13th Precinct, Sgt. Nikishin, NCO PO Kevin Zorn, and PO Eddie Solarno. All police officers at all the sites volunteered their time, off-duty, and all were painting, some in police jackets, some in street clothes. (The 13th Precinct had four sites scheduled for the day.) We scraped loose paint from the roll-down metal shutter and all the surrounding walls and frames, while pedestrians from the neighborhood streamed past the loft building. The donated paint of dark gunmetal gray was a good match to the surrounding paint, leaving a cleaned-up appearance as we finished this project.
Within an hour, we had moved on to 6 East 17th Street, which was a parking lot surrounded by building walls covered in multiple illegal tags. Once again, we scraped some loose chips of peeling paint and proceeded to cover the multi-hued graphics with reddish paint mixes, similar to adjacent colors (after the attendant had moved cars away from the wall).
Then on to the third location at 7 West 17th Street, another private parking lot with walls on all sides covered with illegal street art. Once we got the paint supplies unloaded, we left the police officers and Explorers to finish up.
The WVN ‘crew’ then moved on to the 6th Precinct site at Hudson and West 11th Street, at the former Philip Marie Restaurant. The 6th precinct had five sites scheduled, and this was one of the most prominent and sensitive locations. One of the most active Community Partners, Alan Silverstein had made arrangements to meet the officers in charge of graffiti in the 6th, including Community Affairs Officer Evrim Can, NCO Supervisor Sergeant Daniel Houlahan, NCO Jeff Maddrey, Officer Pete Plessa, and Officer Pat Defonzo.
For Hudson and West 11th Street, the side wall paint had to be matched with the cover-up paint, and Police Officer Pete Plessa said they used a paint matching scanning application on their phones to come up with an exact match at the paint store. Indeed, when we left the site, you couldn’t tell where the old paint stopped, and the new paint started; perfection!
As we’ve reported previously, this clean-up day was only the latest effort and an opening round in the next chapter of the on-going fight by the police department to work with the community to get the graffiti cleaned up. The 6th precinct reported about 33 cleanups this past year of various graffiti locations. When new graffiti appears in the neighborhood, one of their officers checks it out and contacts property owners.
Just as we reported the arrest of the painter of the “Magic Trick” tag, the painter of the large “Texas” painted on the wall above the shuttered Riviera Café at West 4th Street was tracked by the police, who were able to arrest that person doing similar painting elsewhere, according to NCO Sgt. Houlahan.
There is a way for all of us to help: call 311 if you see something, and anyone can donate paint and supplies by contacting 6th Precinct Police Officer Pete Plessa, who will coordinate your donation. Barrow-Bedford-Commerce Neighborhood Association, the 13th St. Alliance and the 14th Street BID, and other groups, have donated supplies for cleanup projects. NYPD’s new email address Graffiti@nypd.org is monitored around the clock by a dedicated officer
In 1999, the City of New York implemented the first full-time free service for graffiti cleanup offered to business and residential properties. Under the Graffiti Free NYC program, complaints of graffiti are filed with 311 and the City’s crew schedules the appropriate cleanup, either by painting over, using paint remover, or by power-washing. The program is coordinated by the city Economic Development Commission, the Department of Sanitation, and the Mayor’s Office. Unfortunately, it is currently not functioning due to City budget reallocations.
Why is the Graffiti Free NYC program important? Real estate is one of the greatest depositories of wealth and assets for the city, and historic district real estate is vulnerable and precious. Historic materials can be irreparably damaged by graffiti and improper cleaning. Graffiti on face brick, stone or terra cotta cannot just be painted over without degrading its character. The power-washing equipment that the Graffiti Free NYC program purchased is a valuable tool in the proper cleaning of historic materials.
So, until our communities can convince the city to reactivate this essential equipment for the on-going fight to get the graffiti cleaned up, we are working with ‘one hand tied behind our backs’ as the saying goes. We need local donations of supplies, and lending of ladders too, to reach higher walls.
PO Natasha DeLeon from Patrol Borough Manhattan South mentioned that she can assist and arrange another such cleanup event, working with the police commands that fall under their jurisdiction. Stay tuned for that announcement soon.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “Green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board Landmarks Committee and Quality of Life Committee, is Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, is a member of AIANY Historic Buildings Committee, and is a journalist, especially on architecture subjects.
How It Works
In response to my repeated calls to the Police press department to discover who was in charge of their very new anti-graffiti program they sent me a video clip of the new youngish Police Commissioner, Dermot Shea, announcing the program in March while surrounded by a gaggle of nodding police officers and even a few youthful PAL members.
Commissioner Shea was fresh and passionate on the subject—this is a war on graffiti that depends on us—the public—emailing in a photo of the graffiti and then us joining with the police to remove it—wow this is new, joining with the police to erase a crime (a very nice elderly lady called me to stay she reported a patch of offensive graffiti to the sixth precinct and before she could join them in the task they rolled paint over it—she was disappointed!).
Ready, here is the address to write to report graffiti… firstname.lastname@example.org
At the suggestion of our local Community Partner Alan Silverstein (they support the local NCO officers and act as a liaison with the local community), he invited the local neighborhood coordination officer from the 6th Precinct Sergeant Daniel Houlahan (now there is an old-fashioned police name) and officer James Miller to visit WestView headquarters at 69 Charles and talk very cautiously of the then very recent guilty verdict for a police officer. How, I speculated inwardly, were our local police taking it? (they had nothing to say and I felt they had not taken sides) They were all friends and were anxious to cooperate.
I asked if they had a son of age would they want him to become a policeman and both quickly said yes.
Now in the press release announcing the program they offer that this new NYPD strategy “Builds upon the deeper human links officers have created with residents they serve through our neighborhood Policing Philosophy.”
The press release also recognizes that with the iphone and computer, citizens can email the offending graffiti right to a police officer that is charged with doing something about it (and please send a cc to WestView).
The Graffiti coordinator who gets all the images we send to him on our computers or phones then distributes them to local police stations and civilian community partners who go out together and remove the graffiti—sounds like fun.