In 2022 the Downtown Spokane Clean Team – which provides enhanced beautification services in public spaces inside the 80 square-blocks of the Downtown Spokane Business Improvement District seven days a week – removed more than 4,500 pieces of graffiti.
Ranging from inches in size to large tags, graffiti is an evolving and ongoing concern in downtown, and one that the Clean Team takes very seriously. Tags can be found on just about any surface, from street poles and signs, to doors, walls, railings, and even artistic murals intended to beautify public spaces and provide a sense of community.
Unlike street art, graffiti is name-based and intended for an audience of other taggers. Street art is instead based on words, images, and symbols aimed at a public audience. Street art has a strict code that artists adhere to out of respect for each other’s work and the spaces where they produce their art.
That’s why the Clean Team in 2023 is working to catalogue every tag they abate. Each Clean Team Member uses a smart phone and app called Encore to snap a photo and geotag the location of the graffiti. By tracking symbols, locations, and quickly removing the tags, the team can identify patterns which can help lead to the identification of the tagger and – hopefully – a reduction in graffiti prevalence throughout downtown.
“It’s mostly just taggers street names,” says Clean Team Lead, Troy Baumgardner. “We spend about 40 percent of our time taking care of those tags, it takes about a day or so to remove the tag depending on what it is.”
The cost of graffiti removal can be unsustainable and at the expense of other community priorities. Los Angeles has estimated it spends $7 million annually on graffiti cleanup while Chicago has spent $6 million per year and Las Vegas spends $3 million annually.
According to Baumgardner, one can of removal spray costs the Clean Team $22, and five gallons of Taginator – an industrial remover for porous surfaces – can cost upwards of $500. “It’s pretty expensive stuff, plus the hundreds of dollars spent on paint.”
Along with Spokane Arts, the Downtown Spokane Partnership (DSP) is working to bring large scale murals painted throughout the past decade in railroad underpasses back to life. Sadly, several murals were tagged beyond repair and had to be de-commissioned.
“Spokane Arts has allocated our 2023 entire murals budget to completing repairs and adding anti-graffiti coating in as many locations as we can afford,” says Spokane Arts Executive Director, Melissa Huggins. “In a few locations, the cost of repairing would have been almost as much as installing a brand-new mural.”
According to Huggins, painting is only one part of the job. “It’s not like painting a bedroom where you can decide to do it on a whim and knock it out in an afternoon; it requires design skills.” The planning process includes developing design concepts, editing, refining, and often multiple presentations to get broad buy-in for the project. Huggins says that in many cities across the U.S., the going rate is $25-$30 per square foot for experienced muralists. That cost reflects just how important and transformative a mural can be on a neighborhood.
“Murals beautify public spaces and create a sense of civic pride,” says Huggins. “A mural can also increase feelings of safety; if a space is clearly well-cared for, that’s an invitation for pedestrians to move through that space without fear.”
During Spring Clean Week 2023, over 50 volunteers are helping prepare murals for repair. The team at downtown wants to remind the public that neighborhood pride is a year-round effort. That’s why the Clean Team is keeping watch over downtown’s beautiful historic building, public amenities and artwork seven days a week, 365 days a year.
While the downtown Clean Team maintains the Business Improvement District, graffiti in other areas of downtown and throughout the City of Spokane can be reported to 3-1-1.
If you find yourself observing a tagger in action, the DSP recommends you follow the steps listed below.
- Do not confront the tagger, your safety comes first.
- If it is safe to do so, snap a photo of the tagger in progress.
- Report the tagger to Crime Check at 509.456.2233
- Report the tag to 3-1-1
- Once the tagger has left, gather any leftover items, including spray cans and lids. Offer the items to the property owner to pass onto authorities.
Spring Clean Week is presented by Republic Services
Republic Services, Inc. was incorporated in 1996 with a “can do” spirit, driving its dramatic growth and acquisitions through the years, welcoming other organizations that share its values and fiduciary discipline. Today, Republic Services, Inc. is the second largest provider of services in the domestic non-hazardous solid waste industry. Republic Services provides non-hazardous solid waste and recycling services for commercial, industrial, municipal and residential customers.