Photo by Jessica Keller: This mural painted on the back of a building in Uptown is colorful, but Heather Pihl, of the Uptown Alliance Tidy Uptown subcommittee, warns because the piece includes ‘graffiti-style’ lettering, taggers might be encouraged to tag other property nearby so their graffiti receives attention. Pihl said, otherwise, murals on empty walls are a good way to prevent tagging.
Photo by Jessica Keller: This mural painted on the back of a building in Uptown is colorful, but Heather Pihl, of the Uptown Alliance Tidy Uptown subcommittee, warns because the piece includes ‘graffiti-style’ lettering, taggers might be encouraged to tag other property nearby so their graffiti receives attention. Pihl said, otherwise, murals on empty walls are a good way to prevent tagging.
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While graffiti is more of a problem in Uptown than in other areas of Queen Anne, community leaders are advocating for residents to become aware of the issue, as well as be proactive in their neighborhood.

Queen Anne resident Heather Pihl, who is a member of the Uptown Alliance Tidy Uptown subcommittee, spoke to the Queen Anne Community Council Public Safety Committee about graffiti at its meeting last week.

Committee Chair Robert Kettle said he invited Pihl to speak because of her familiarity with the topic. In addition to her participation on Tidy Uptown, which has made tackling graffiti one of its priorities, Pihl’s background includes working for the city’s anti-graffiti program from 1995 to 2000, a crime prevention coordinator with Seattle Police Department and as a volunteer coordinator of FAWN, a linking of block watches along Aurora that worked to reduce the impacts of run-down motels, from 1998 to 2008.

Pihl said Uptown and upper Queen Anne are facing very different graffiti problems. First, between Climate Pledge Arena and numerous other projects, a lot of construction is taking place in Uptown, causing regular disruptions to neighborhood activity and fewer pedestrians on the streets. There are also vacant store fronts. In upper Queen Anne, however, there is regular pedestrian traffic and open shops from one end to the other.

“So there’s a feeling that there’s a lot of activity going on all the time,” Pihl said, adding this activity and atmosphere deters would-be graffiti vandals.

In a recent walkabout the neighborhood, Pihl did find some graffiti, but not anywhere to the extent that Uptown is experiencing.

Two of the incidents, which she reported to the city, and which have been subsequently removed, were gang graffiti. Because they were the only graffiti in their locations, Pihl said she thinks they were isolated incidents.

Of all the types of graffiti in the city, only 1 percent is gang-related, Pihl said, and the letters and words are plainer and easier to read than other kinds.

“So, I’m just letting you know, but I’m not particularly concerned about it,” she said.

With the exception of an offensive drawing and word above a business that Pihl thought was possibly hate related, and which she reported to the city, the remaining graffiti she noted in upper Queen Anne was standard tagging.

Most graffiti is done by taggers, Pihl said, who are generally white males between 12 and 23 who come out at night and mark buildings or property that have either not been tagged or to tag over other graffiti with their own letters or symbols.

Pihl said while she doesn’t think upper Queen Anne will see graffiti creep up the hill from Uptown, she recommends residents address any graffiti that they do find immediately.

First, in the case of public property, she advises contacting the property or building owner in case they aren’t aware. She also recommends filing a report with the city, either using the Find It, Fix It app, or the city’s graffiti-reporting system.

Pihl said removing graffiti as soon as possible is best, but people should avoid drawing over it with marker, like she saw in a few instances in upper Queen Anne. She said city staff would rather people report the graffiti so they can remove it rather than do it themselves or draw over it.

“It just becomes a huge mess,” Pihl said.

When removing graffiti from property, building owners should use paint that matches the color of the rest of the building. Pihl said, for whatever reason, taggers are more inclined to re-tag a wall or section of a wall that is painted with a lighter color. If that isn’t possible, then the paint should be a few shades darker or layers so the colors bleed through an prevent people from seeing the graffiti underneath.

One proactive step Pihl recommends, which the Tidy Uptown members are exploring in Uptown, is to commission an artist to paint a mural on a blank wall.

Not all murals are created equal, however. One piece that was painted in January on the back of a building near Dick’s Drive-In features bright colors, stars, arrows and the words, “It’s all good.”

Pihl said, while the bright colors are welcome, she has reservations about that mural because it incorporates “swooshy swoosh” graffiti lettering. She doesn’t recommend murals that incorporate graffiti art because it may encourage others to tag nearby to draw attention to themselves and “affiliate” themselves with the legal piece.

“Having a legal piece is a sought after goal,” Pihl said in an email. “The point of tagging is to be prolific, outdoing other taggers, and what happens is they will tag newspaper boxes, public property, buildings, etc., on the way to and from the legal piece.”

Pihl recommends murals with subject-related art.

“There are just so many kinds of murals that you can apply that beautify the neighborhood that relate locally,” she said.

For more information on the city’s graffiti prevention and removal program, go to https://www.seattle.gov/utilities/protecting-our-environment/safe-and-clean-seattle/graffiti.

For more information on removing graffiti, visit https://www.seattle.gov/utilities/protecting-our-environment/safe-and-clean-seattle/graffiti/remove-graffiti.