Xcel Energy’s New Utility Boxes

Xcel's New Utility Boxes

Xcel Energy appears to be rolling out new utility boxes in Minneapolis like the ones above. The one problem I have with these is that they’re a blank canvas for taggers. The color choices seems rather ill-conceived for a urban environments.

It would be great to see Xcel get a bit more creative with the utility box design. Something that blended in with it surroundings and was less graffiti friendly would be awesome.

Longfellow Community’s Anti-Graffiti Group: R.E.M.O.V.

R.E.M.O.V. (Remove Existing Marks of Vandalism) is a local group of people who take time to clean up tags that show up in the neighborhood.

They get together around once a month to clean up new tags using free graffiti removal supplies provided by the city. Additionally, the group has set up a free Facebook group to help organize clean-up efforts.

If you’re in the area and are willing to help, consider joining the group to get updates on future clean-up efforts and to meet fellow neighbors who care enough about the community to contribute some of their time to make it even better.

Great News Regarding Graffiti Abatement in Minneapolis

Minneapolis Ward 12 City Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy’s newsletter passed along some great news about the return on investments the city has made in graffiti abatement over the past year. Small grants were given out to creative groups to come up with solutions to the ongoing problem:

Graffiti Micro-grants Producing Great Results

The Solid Waste and Recycling department recently presented results from the 2008 graffiti micro-grant program and there were inspiring! The department gave out $136,000 dollars in grants, none for more than $10,000, for the purpose of graffiti reduction, abatement or eradication and grantees invested even more – $364,936 – for half a million dollars to fight graffiti. More than a thousand volunteers donated their time to share information with their community, form quick removal teams to get it down quickly, or create murals and plant living trellises to stop graffiti from happening in the first.

The Longfellow Community Council (LCC) was responsible for two murals and there has not been any graffiti at those sites since the murals were completed. The Standish Ericsson Neighborhood Association (SENA) helped to install 10 murals. They have had very little trouble with graffiti at those sites. Graffiti there has been reduced by 98%.

A wonderful by-product of this project is that it provided an opportunity for neighbors to connect with one another, sometimes across generations. In SENA’s evaluation of the project they wrote, “Community murals are unique in creating a visibly inviting and public project. Those who may not otherwise feel included or interested in community activities for the first time get involved.”

Murals work. East Lake St between Hiawatha and 35W has changed dramatically since murals went in on many walls along that stretch. New additions along Cedar Ave also transformed walls into something interesting rather than gang billboards.

Reverse Graffiti

A guy in San Francisco has created a form of Graffiti where he selectively cleans walls that are covered in soot, leaving artistic cleanliness behind. He makes interesting statements and doing an extraordinary job pointing out just how dirty cities become.

This made me think about how my lungs deal with the soot that he reverse paints away. Ouch.

Thanks for sending this in, Hannah.

Graffiti Removal Video on MinnPost

The guys from 612 Authentic did a ride-along with me on a recent graffiti removal adventure and turned out the following video for MinnPost (you can go full-screen with the video by clicking the square icon in the lower-right after starting the video):

Here are a few “behind the scenes” comments:

1. Gabe & Jacob were going green. Their office is in the Longfellow neighborhood and they walked over before the shoot.

2. Yes, there is an extension cord running from the back of my car to under the hood. The paint sprayer uses a lot of juice. I’ve used previous models that weren’t as robust. Those could be run off smaller (400 watt) power inverters hooked up to the cigarette lighter, but the compressor based model requires a 1200 watt power inverter and that needs to run directly off the car battery.

3. Do building owners know you’re doing this? No. I don’t ask. Occasionally, a business owner will see me painting on their building and to date they’ve all given me similar responses: “I was just going to paint over that today.” They also assume I’m with the city and that they’ll be assessed for the clean-up. I don’t color-match, so they still have plenty of opportunities to take pride in their property. I think some of the challenges come from businesses who are leasing their spaces. They don’t seem to want to hassle their landlords. This leads to calls to the city with graffiti complaints (call it in to 311). The city then sends someone out to document it, then sends a nastygram to the property owner telling them to clean it up. I believe they have 10 days to do so at that point or they’ll face fines. In high graffiti areas, this policy pretty much ensures that walls will be covered unless someone steps up and paints them (or, better yet, a mural is put up).

4. Where were you in the video? I picked up paint at Paint Liquidators (3869 Minnehaha Ave Minneapolis, MN 55406) then rolled down 38th Street East and hit a few walls between Cedar & 35W. I came back on Lake Street and hit quite a few tags in the alleys on either side of Lake between 35W and Chicago.

5. What about murals? Murals help A LOT. There are many walls on E Lake Street that used to get hit all the time near South HS. They now have murals, so it’s very rare to see graffiti on the wall of a business between Hiawatha and Cedar. There are a few walls that could still benefit from murals. It’s pretty obvious which ones need them.

6. Why was I pushing my car in the opening scene? A wall in an alley to the South of Lake Street near the Taco Bell has a ton of large tags on it. I just rolled the car forward rather than turn it on to drive it 30 feet. It’s an eco-friendly touch to counter spraying latex all over town.

7. What kind of gear are you using? A Wagner Paint Crew Sprayer (Minnesota based company) (available at Menards but cheaper online), a 1200 Watt Power Inverter (available at AutoZone on E Lake St), an extension cord, and paint.

Update: There is a predictably polarized discussion of my antics on MNSpeak worth checking out.

Private Property and Graffiti Removal

Dennis Geisinger has a great update on the state of graffiti in the City of Minneapolis a year after latest graffiti law went into effect where stores selling graffiti supplies (aka spray paint) had to lock up or post “We ID” signs.

The lowdown on the fight against “tagging”

According to a review of recent posts in local issue-oriented websites and a quick run-down of recent city statistics, the jury may still be out. The number of total graffiti cases processed by the City in 2006 was 17,566, dropping 23 percent in 2007 to 13,442.

Last year, almost twice the number were on public property, 8,664 cases compared with 4,654 on private property. Out of the total, 4,467 property owners did their own cleanup. The top 10 neighborhoods with reported graffiti last year were all in South Minneapolis, with the Whittier neighborhood coming in No. 1 with 842 cases. Powderhorn was 2nd with 789, Central had 751, Lowry Hill 647, Marcy Holmes 554, Seward 388, Midtown Phillips 356, Standish 331, East Phillips 309 and Longfellow 291.

Sounds like things are on the right track.

Spray Paint Lock-Up
Spray paint locked up at Home Depot in NE Minneapolis

Along East Lake Street, the addition of new murals has definitely helped. There are walls to the West of Hiawatha that used to get hit almost weekly but have been graffiti free since murals have been added. There are also quite a few buildings that have been rehabbed with fresh exteriors that seem to be less graffiti prone. The buildings on the South side of Cedar & Lake come to mind.

Of course, there are still problems, including the still-standing Baraka Rugs / Gustavus Hall building at 17th & Lake. That thing has to go now.

One other area I think the city should consider addressing is graffiti on publicly placed private property. By that, I’m referring primarily to newspaper boxes from companies like the StarTribune, classifieds boxes including those from Employment News, and pay phones from Qwest.

Star Tribune Graffiti

Companies need to take more responsibility for their public-facing property. Residents of the city should not be responsible for cleaning graffiti off business’ private property placed on our street corners.

To me, it seems ridiculous that companies are able to visit their property to drop off fresh newspapers or classifieds (and retrieve money from machines) yet can’t find time to touch up any tags that may appear on their property.

I guess what I’m asking is for public-facing businesses – whether retail establishments, drop boxes, or pay phones – be held to the same graffiti removal standards. If your property gets hit, you have 10 days to remove tags. In the case of the StarTribune, that’s 10 visits to a graffiti tagged newspaper box without removing tags before you’ll be fined.

Personal Security Cameras Catch Minneapolis Graffiti Vandals

Three weeks ago, I mentioned that someone should invest in cameras that would help catch graffiti vandals in the act so they could cash in on the $500 rewards the City of Minneapolis is offering for tips leading to convictions.

And tonight, FOX 9 reported that a guy living in the Lyndale Neighborhood, Jim Fiala, has set up security cameras outside his house that have caught 14 vandals on tape.

Jim Fiala on FOX 9

That could bring in $7000 in just 3 weeks! Wow. Is Jim Fiala going to personally solve Minneapolis’ graffiti problem while cashing in at a rate of $500/day?

Motion security cameras are better than my deer camera idea (I ended up ordering one to test it, but it’s stuck at a FedEx shipping center), but Fiala’s in a unique situation where he lives on a street where the action is right outside his house.

Let me know if you have any suggestions for where I should give my motion detector deer cam a try once I pick it up.

New Rewards Program for Graffiti Reporting

The city of Minneapolis has a new reward program that pays up to $500 for graffiti reports that lead to convictions. Here’s how it works:

How to qualify for the Stop Graffiti Now! Reward Program

– If you see a vandal applying graffiti to a home or a business—call 911

– Provide your name and contact information to police

– If possible, take a picture of the vandal in action (Do not make contact with the vandal—just call 911)

– Complete a Graffiti Reward Program Claim Form and submit

– If your call leads to a conviction, you could receive up to $500

Hypothetically, I wonder what would happen if someone was to buy a deer camera on eBay, place it near a popular graffiti zone, and then turn in the photos of the taggers they caught on tape? How long would it take to get a positive return on that camera investment?

New Mural Coming to Lake St this Weekend

Looking for something to do this weekend? How about something in the Corcoran Neighborhood:

Teens and Adults! Help Paint a New Mural on Lake Street This Weekend

Lake St Mural BuildingYou are invited to help transform a graffiti-plagued building with your neighbors this weekend. Sala De Belleza, 1837 East Lake Street (between Longfellow and Cedar) will be the site of mural #2 in the year-long mural project underway in the Corcoran neighborhood. Stop by Saturday (9/22) or Sunday (9/23) between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm , and be sure to wear painting clothes if you plan to paint. Extra ladders and saw horses are welcomed, and all other supplies will be provided. Stick around on Sunday for a celebration of the new mural, tentatively scheduled for 4:00 pm.

The project aims to demonstrate to participants and neighbors the transformative power of art, and to replace destructive behavior such as graffiti vandalism with authentic expressions of identity. Muralist Elise Kyllo will be leading painting and design activities. A long-time volunteer at In the Heart of the Beast Theater and its May Day Parade, Elise brings over eight years experience working with young people to the project. In 2006, she led the efforts of 40 neighbors to mural the 34th and Cedar Shell gas station.

Support is provided by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) through an appropriation by the Minnesota Legislature. Paint is supplied by the Valspar Foundation.

I’m very familiar with that building, having sprayed gallons of paint onto it covering graffiti over the past few years. It’s great to hear that a mural is going up, which should take care of the problem.

Now if someone would finally do something about the old Baraka Rugs building.

Minneapolis Graffiti Video

I found this YouTube video of Minneapolis graffiti embedded within a story about the topic on the Minneapolis Mirror:

It’s amazing how many of the walls shown in this video get tagged over and over again. For example, the first part of the video shows walls along E 38th St. Regulars along that road surely recognize the walls that are hit. The last part of the video gets up to E Lake St, and the middle part seems to cover 35-36th Streets.