Saturday, August 18, 2007

Taggers Aren't the Only Criminals... and Can Anything Be Done?

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Let’s say you’re dancing wildly in a public square in Federal Way. (Ok, as Pirkle notes, such place is almost non-existent, but that’s a discussion for another day or another blog..)

But, let’s imagine that someone is wildly dancing in a public square. Cool. Art. Street art. Performance art. Not hurting anyone.

Maybe they’re doing “the robot.” A little kazoo in their mouth. Painted all silver (YouTube). You might think you were on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica (Wikipedia). Oh, to have a pedestrian-friendly public space in Federal Way. Something worth mentioning on Wikipedia or uploading to Youtube. Perhaps Symphony will be the start of a change for the better, a Place Worth Caring About (TED). Sorry, digressing.

But, they’re doing the robot and someone doesn’t put money in their hat. So they punch the guy. It’s no longer art, suddenly it’s assault. No, no the performer cries. It’s art!

This is what amuses me about many of the people who defend the taggers, or the people who do the tagging themselves. They reframe the argument.

They cry that we’re violating their first amendment or that we fail to appreciate the genius of their art.*

*Side note: News for you, paint kiddies… nearly all the stuff in Federal Way is not art. Art may be subjective, but I’m pretty sure that you can ask anyone… this isn’t art. This is the spray-can equivalent of a dog lifting its leg to say “I was here.” And, news for you: If you’re feeling insignificant, feeling unappreciated, this is the wrong way to go about it. (I know this because there is one young tagger who searches everyday for his name on this website. They have no style, no artistic flair, but they make themselves quite well known around town.)

We cry “There’s a law. You’re breaking it. We don’t want it in our city. It’s vandalism. It’s costing businesses and homeowners money to cover over your random illegible scribblings.”

Side note: It's got to be a real pain in the rear for businesses to have to deal with... if it's the first time they've been hit, they've got to send an employee to Home Depot to buy a roller and some paint and then pay them to cover the graffiti instead of do their normal job. And then store that stuff in case they get hit again. Seems like someone with a compressor and four or five basic paint colors could contract with local businesses to be a rapid response team getting it covered over faster than the tagger could even tell his friends. For $25 or $30, (or a monthly retainer for hard-hit areas) they could get the job done quickly. And hey, feel free to use this website as a guide to where find businesses to contact to get started. Just don't forget to get a permit from the city for your business.

We said that it’s a public nuisance. It makes our city look bad, it is deterrent to tourism, a deterrent to new business, a deterrent to people considering buying a home in our town. It makes people subconsciously feel less safe. And it tells other criminals that maybe the crimes they're considering would also be accepted in this town.**

**Side note: Mr. Vause - my phone number's been up on the site for two weeks now. No longer a valid excuse. And if there are none on this site that you didn't already know about and that you've contacted over 100 notices (presumably all that you know about), and everyone contacted has followed through, how does this and this still exist?

What really amuses me, though, is that anyone who doesn’t like graffiti automatically likes white, grey or beige walls (comment #28 - near the end). Or that it "spices things up" according to one of my co-workers who lives in Tacoma. I don't get that.

However.... I do believe that our city planners and many architects (if they could be called that) have also perpetrated aesthetic crimes against us with the erection of boring gray, white and beige walls in the first place, not to mention some rather hideous buildings, homes and strip malls.

Side note: The "Common" is an embarrassment and a joke. The new theater is nice, but beyond that, what a horrible vacant waste of space. It's a shame you can't impeach someone for poor management because I doubt whoever is managing this mall could successfully manage an apartment complex. Step 1: If you own any other malls, offer discounted rent to The Gap at all your malls if they'll put one in here. (If you don't own any other malls - which I suspect is true - give The Gap free rent for 10 years. The Gap goes in, you get credibility, the kids come back, the rest of the stores follow the kids. Step 2: Demand more professional looking signs from all mall stores. Step 3: Kick out all stores that sell kitchy junk that doesn't appeal to anyone but tourists. Those belong in tourist friendly places. This mall isn't, they can go to Tacoma Mall or Southcenter in Tukwilla. Step 3: Parking garage. Step 4: Office tower. That provides built-in daytime shoppers and eaters and allows you to legitimately call yourself "the heart of downtown Federal Way." Step 5: Kick out all the duplicate cell phone stores. Step 6: Movie and mall-store banners hung from the ceiling. They'll add instant color and excitement up high for free (you get the studios/stores to pay for them) and their subtle fluttering caused by the HVAC gives you the sense of movement and life that's sorely lacking. (Or, plan B - Sell to Westfield. They know how to revitalize a dying mall.)

Back of Albertsons

Side of Goodwill

But... the opposite of ugly... Goodwill and Albertsons are two examples of rather pleasant looking buildings. They’re also landscaped in such a way that make them a less desirable target for taggers who will go on to something easier. Lots of building owners in this city who are tired of painting and repainting the sides of their buildings should take a long hard look at their property from across the street. It probably screams “Easy target.” and “Hey. I am super-ugly!”

I still don’t condone it, but the person who says “I made it better by painting on it” – I get where they’re coming from. But the fact remains, if the canvas doesn’t belong to them, then it’s vandalism. (Even brick can be ugly if it's a giant wall. But I think it's extra evil to tag brick since you can't really ever make it look good again.)

Can something be done? Perhaps. An interesting idea has been floating around for awhile… freewalls (see third comment) - places where large "canvases" have been made available and artistic expression is encouraged. Seattle has one that's pretty well known - Amtrak riders see it as they enter town. Perhaps Federal Way could have a few strategically located near schools and bus stops where graffiti already occurs… if we can build skateboard parks to give kids a place to safely and legally get their skate on, why can’t we create places where those that paint could legally express themselves?

I guarantee you, while there'd be some quick tags, most artists would bring it. We’d have something worth talking about, something worth showing off. Might not stop all graffiti, but for the true artist looking for validation and recognition, you’d see their A game.

As for the rest... I have high hopes that Symphony will be a signature piece, a beautiful cornerstone, the start of a vibrant and pride-worthy downtown, a destination. As for the existing ugliness, let's pray for the wrecking ball.


FedWayan said...

I'm pleased to see you advocate the freewall idea. I was thinking of sending you a pic of the very wall in Sodo that you mention. However... right now the law in Federal Way would appear to make such a wall illegal, at least a privately owned one.

As I've made apparent, I'm more in line with your Tacoma colleague. My family got a kick out of seeing a certain tag around town, a simple scribbling of "Todd" with a hasty smiley-face. We'd be in a new part of town, see the familiar happy face, and exclaim "Hey look! It's Todd!" like, I suppose, one might do for Ronald McDonald...

What worries me about the city's "state of emergency" and FWGB's fine-toothed-camera is my worry that it is driven or supported by a desire for antisepticness. After graffiti is quashed, what next? Beggars? Postering and flyers? Roadside 1-800-GET-JUNK, Yard sale, or "FREE BBQ" signs? Tacky house color schemes? Poorly maintained lawns? (I guess business signs over 5 feet were conquered already.)

As for Goodwill and Albertsons... Goodwill must have redone their paint job recently, because last time I took a good look at the place, the blue was peeling, exposing the original red underneath. And Albertson's... thanks, that reminds me of an FWan post I need to make sometime.


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