Op Ed: Reclaiming our streets


A recent tour of Woodhaven found that just over 50 percent of mailboxes, both the blue and green variety, were covered in graffiti vandalism.

Highly visible vandalism in a community does a couple of things. First, it contributes to a sense that the community is not secure. It tells anyone passing through the community that the rule of law is not respected here; that your property will not be safe. This lowers the value of your homes and reduces sales in your business district. Think about it – would you buy a house on a block that is covered in graffiti? Would you pull over and shop in a community with graffiti on all the gates?

Secondly, it contributes to the growth of anti-social tendencies of those involved in the vandalism. With each act of vandalism that goes unchecked, the excitement is diminished, therefore requiring larger and bolder acts of vandalism to achieve satisfaction in the future. Thus, the vandal moves from one act to graffiti, to a dozen, to tagging everything in his path. And, eventually, only more destructive acts of vandalism will do.

This is not art, nor is it a mere nuisance crime. It is a costly societal cancer, one that takes money directly from the pockets of homeowners, business owners and taxpayers alike.

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association recently took to the streets of our community with Assemblymember Mike Miller and City Councilmember Eric Ulrich to paint green and blue mailboxes as well as red fireboxes. We concentrated on one large zone of Woodhaven where 44 percent of the mailboxes were tagged. By the end of the day, the mailboxes in that zone were 100 percent clean. Within a few days, that percentage was back up at 56 percent tagged. Instead of being discouraged, we hit the streets again and within an hour we were back up at 100 percent clean.

By no means are we claiming to have won the war. But we are actively engaged in the battle and feel good about our chances. Why? Because we are able to go out and proudly paint in broad daylight, unafraid of getting arrested. When we remove criminals’ tags from public property, we are literally reclaiming our streets.

Our opponents, on the other hand, have to commit their acts of vandalism under the cover of darkness, fearful of being seen or caught by the police. And with each mailbox we clean, we force the vandal to come back and re-tag it, increasing the odds that they will be caught by the police and punished. Because with each and every act of vandalism, the law of averages dictate that they are more likely to be seen and arrested.

If you are interested in helping to rid your community of graffiti vandalism, contact your local civic group or your local Community Affairs officer and inquire as to what programs they have in place.

And if you live in Woodhaven and would like to learn more, please call us at 718-296-3735 or email us at info@woodhaven-nyc.org.

Ed Wendell is president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association