Sunday, June 09, 2002

Saying goodbye to graffiti

New proposal would allow faster removal

By Gregory Korte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At the corner of Mohawk and Stonewall streets in Over-the-Rhine stands a vacant, 118-year-old building spray painted with graffiti.

        Across the street, a cabinet shop sits unblemished.

[photo] Councilman Pat DeWine inspects a graffiti-laden building on the corner of Mohawk and Stonewall streets in Over-the-Rhine on Friday.
(Greg Ruffing photo)
| ZOOM |
        The difference, says Councilman Pat DeWine, is that the cabinet shop's owners complain to the city, which sends a crew out to remove the graffiti.

        Cleaning the vacant building takes four notices to an absentee landlord, a possible appeal hearing, and weeks or months of red tape — all to get the owner to consent to have the city remove the graffiti.

        Mr. DeWine on Saturday proposed an ordinance to cut those legal requirements. His proposal: one notice, five days.

        After that, the city will enter the property and clean it.

        That's not an insignificant time difference, Mr. DeWine said. National studies show that the longer graffiti remains in place, the more likely it is to return.

        Robert Butterworth, who works in the Mohawk Street cabinet shop, has a simple explanation for why that is. “They don't want to spend all night painting something that's not going to be there tomorrow.”

        “Graffiti makes people feel less safe, it diminishes property values,” Mr. DeWine said Saturday as he stood in the 200 block of Mohawk Street.

        “It takes away from the quality of life, it leads to more crime. If you tolerate this, you create an environment where crime is going to flourish.”

        City officials have not yet reviewed Mr. DeWine's plan, and Public Services Director Daryl B. Brock did not return phone calls.

        In a report to City Council last month, Mr. Brock said the city's two graffiti-removal crews cleaned 230 properties in March. Of those, 63 percent were in Over-the-Rhine, Corryville, Madisonville and Evanston.

        Linda Holterhoff, the director of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, said the city crews — armed with power washers and paint — do a good job keeping up with the graffiti.

        But she said cutting the bureaucracy would be “extremely helpful.”

        “The process is really business- and resident-friendly. It doesn't cost anything to get the graffiti off, but we do need permission to enter the property to clean it up,” she said.

        Mr. DeWine said his concern isn't just with graffiti, but its effect on property values and the quality of life in the city.

        Under the “broken windows” theory of crime, graffiti and vandalism can contribute to people's perception of how safe a neighborhood is.

        “I think it sends a strong signal about whether we're going to maintain orderly and safe neighborhoods,” Mr. DeWine said. He noted that the highly lauded crackdown on crime in New York City began with graffiti on subway trains.

        Though graffiti seems to be the least of Mohawk Street's problems — drugs, prostitution and violent crime are almost daily occurrences at the corner — Mr. Butterworth said the vandals contribute to the blight.

        “None of them can spell, and none of it makes sense,” Mr. Butterworth said as he looked at the seemingly random array of multicolored letters and symbols. “They'd flunk art class, too.”

       Enquirer reporter Lew Moores contributed.


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