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Answered Why does Portland have so much graffiti

Answered: Why does Portland have so much graffiti?

Graffiti can be found everywhere in Portland, Oregon. Why?

Although graffiti has long been part of the city, some say the increase of graffiti in Portland can be traced back to social unrest during the pandemic, particularly during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Beyond this, there’s also been a rise in taggers marking gang/group territories

But of course, it can also just be part of the popular creative trends now. Many reflect back to these graffiti tags as a method of visual expression among street artists. 

That aside, just because graffiti can and should be considered art does not preclude it from having negative consequences. It can literally pave the way for other types of property destruction, as well as more theft of graffiti-related items. 

Let’s go deeper into the sources of graffiti in Portland so we can find out how it all began, what effects it has had, and what’s being done about it.

The Beginning of Graffiti in Portland

The Beginning of Graffiti in Portland

The beginning of graffiti in Portland can be traced back to The Lovejoy Columns.

The Lovejoy Columns – painted on the pillars of the Lovejoy Ramp between 1948 and 1952 by Greek immigrant Athanasios “Tom” Stefopoulos –  are the earliest known instance of “graffiti” in Portland, Oregon. 

The painting features depictions of Greek mythological gods, anthropomorphic trees, lions, owls, and doves. True to its name, the artists followed symbols and representations in Greek myth to produce this graffiti.

Even though it was technically against the law, this artwork was kept for many years. Ten of the painted columns were saved during the 1999 demolition of the original ramp thanks to community activism on the part of Portland architects and artists.

These were then re-incorporated into the brand-new Pearl District urban environment.

Since then, many forms of graffiti have been painted all over the city as street art. According to the Portland Street Art Alliance’s history section, the city had a thriving mural scene in the 1980s. 

In the mid-1980s, Hip Hop graffiti made its way to Portland from Southern California.

Several well-known graffiti sites include the pedestrian subway under SW Front Avenue near the Ross Island Bridge and the tunnel where SW 18th passes under Highway 26.

Portland’s Graffiti Scene Today

Portland’s Graffiti Scene Today

Nowadays, graffiti has spread throughout the city. Opinions on it are mixed, but a fair number of locals see it as a negative sign.

Many say what makes these pieces a symbol of danger is when graffiti is used by gangs to mark territory. It acts as a sign of chaos and social unrest, which naturally causes some to view it less than charitably.

This has not stopped people from adding to the graffiti. According to a 2021 Oregon Journalism Lab article, the city’s Office of Community & Civic Life reported a nearly 400% increase in graffiti incidents during the year.

In addition, recent research indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing social unrest has significantly contributed to graffiti in many cities across America. 

Portland, obviously, is one of those, with some residents using spray paint cans to protest the Portland police and the revival of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. 

How is Portland addressing its graffiti problem?

How is Portland addressing its graffiti problem

Graffiti in Portland has increased to the point where it’s actually becoming an expensive issue. The city has invested in programs to help reduce the growing problem across the city. 

The Oregon Department of Transportation hired a third-party contractor in 2021 to assist with the removal of spray-painted symbols and messages that had defaced miles of freeway throughout the Portland region. 

Cleaners were sent out to the freeways to clean bridge pillars, sound walls, and other structures. Moreover, the said department granted a contractor $2 million earlier this year to remove graffiti as well as litter.

Likewise, additional funding is being approved for ODOT to pay for city cleanup initiatives. But none of this comes easily, and the funding isn’t free — it’s all paid for with tax dollars, and it costs taxpayers every year.

However, even though solutions have been made, the paint is often removed and painted over, and then the taggers return right away.

Arresting those responsible for such vandalism appears to work, at least temporarily. This simply demonstrates that city codes and enforcement still have the ability to address the issue of graffiti. 

There is also the city’s Graffiti Program, which supports public art murals and environmental design as alternatives to unauthorized graffiti. It’s one avenue to distract taggers from illegal graffiti and drive them towards more meaningful initiatives.

1. The Graffiti Program

The Graffiti Program

The city believes that starting the Graffiti Program will help find a long-term solution to the issue. It offers Portland residents free or low-cost graffiti removal assistance as well as accepts all graffiti-related complaints.

The Graffiti Program’s four primary duties are as follows:

  1. They collaborate with outside contractors to regularly and instantly remove illegal graffiti throughout Portland.
  2. Assist locals, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations with the removal of graffiti at no cost or at a reduced cost.
  3. Provides tools and instruction on how to remove or paint over unauthorized graffiti to support community volunteer cleanup efforts.
  4. Team up with neighborhood groups like the Regional Arts and Culture Council to protect public art murals from damage caused by unauthorized graffiti by applying a protective coating to them.

2. Using Environmental Design to Prevent Graffiti

Using Environmental Design to Prevent Graffiti

Environmental design is another tool for preventing the spread of graffiti in the city. This method, known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), is used by city planners and architects to make communities safer.

Portland through the Office of Community & Civic Life provides free consultation and training on CPTED techniques. We’ve listed a few examples to give you some ideas.

  • To stop unwanted tagging and graffiti, improve outdoor lighting and commission murals.
  • Install vine-covered lattice-work trellises on the building’s side to reduce open space.
  • Planting low-maintenance bushes or trees along the sides of buildings.

Regardless of the good and bad aspects of Portland’s graffiti, it, in its entirety, serves as a reminder. It’s a constant visual expression of some Portlanders’ feelings and thoughts, especially when it concerns the community. 

It’s a means of communicating a message, whether it is inspirational or calls for action. After all, the goal of graffiti, like other forms of art, is to tell a story or express oneself.

It may well be part of that story now to see where Portland goes with that graffiti – will we accept it as an integral part of our community or regulate it further?

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