News from the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association

Woodhaven Grapples With Graffiti

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) has been hard at work this summer cleaning up graffiti.

We’re focusing on mailboxes and fire call boxes, which are inviting targets for vandals. We have made it our goal to keep them clean and to repaint them as often as necessary.

During our meetings and clean-up sessions, we’ve received many questions about our efforts. Here are answers to the most common ones.

Q: Why focus on mailboxes and fire call boxes?

A: They are located all over, so they’re a visible reflection of whether the neighborhood is winning its fight against graffiti. Also, unlike private property, mailboxes and fire call boxes are public property and we are permitted to repaint them at will.

Q: Can anyone paint over graffiti on mailboxes?

A: Yes. It’s a common misconception that painting over the graffiti on mailboxes is against the law. Just be sure that you’re using the right paint. Match the color correctly, and don’t paint over decals. The U.S. Postal Service and local elected officials are often willing to provide paint if you ask them, so it’s a good idea to contact them first.

Q: Why bother doing this? They’re just going to get tagged again.

A: The amount of graffiti is, in some ways, a sign of the community’s health. Graffiti represents a disregard for public property and for the people who have to look at and live near it. It hurts property values and is almost always an eyesore.

Each time we clean a mailbox, vandals have to tag it again, and each time they do, they run the risk of getting caught. The law is on our side; we can do our work openly and without fear of punishment. Vandals cannot. It’s only a matter of time before they will be caught.

Also, the more we clean these mailboxes, the easier it becomes to keep them clean. Touch-ups are quicker than painting a mailbox that has been neglected for years.

Most of all, it sends the message that we won’t give up. We are not going to surrender this small but important part of our neighborhood to law-breakers.

Q: Graffiti is art. Why destroy it?

A: No reasonable definition of art would include the overwhelming ma- jority of graffiti you’ll find on mailboxes. In almost all cases, these are ugly tags that mark territory, not the work of skilled artists attempting to provoke thought or inspiration. They don’t improve their surroundings, and virtually nobody but the perpetrators will enjoy the graffiti.

Moreover, people are not free to put their art on others’ property. If I decided to create a painting on these vandals’ homes, cars, or other property, they probably would not appreciate it. The principle here is the same: the canvas for the so-called “art” matters.

Q: How are your efforts going?

A: The WRBA has already seen a positive impact. We are closely tracking every mailbox and most fire call boxes in the neighborhood, and we are keeping detailed records that we hope will assist the police in apprehending the vandals.

In some areas of Woodhaven, the mailboxes have managed to remain untagged. These lasting results are cause for optimism. And in other areas where re-tagging occurred, the mailboxes were hit less hard than before.

We’ve also found that our numerous clean-up sessions have enabled us to get to know our neighbors better, and have also helped build community pride and a sense of ownership of our streets. That’s a victory in our book.

Q: Can I help?

A: Yes! Call us at 1-718-296-3735 or email us at [email protected].

Editor’s note: Blenkinsopp is a member of Community Board 9 and director of communications for the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association. For more information on the WRBA, visit www.woodhaven-nyc.org.

More from Around New York