Late last month, city council members Tim Burgess and Tom Rasmussen asked the city auditor to recommend ways the city could improve its response to graffiti. We didn't give the idea much ink here—mainly because, in our view, wasting city resources on something that just isn't really a problem in Seattle seemed, well, silly.



But Josh Okrent, the fund developer for the Low Income Housing Institute, offered the council an interesting (and simple, and free) counterproposal last week. In a letter to Burgess and Rasmussen, he suggested that instead of cracking down on taggers, the city should offer more walls specifically for graffiti—as LIHI has done when its buildings were heavily tagged in the past.
Almost as soon as we did this, we found that there were dozens of artists in Seattle who were eager to create beautiful work in an accessible location without the threat of police attention. ... Most importantly, the LIHI buildings where we have made such space available have almost never been "tagged" again, and I believe that making even more walls available to street artists would have the same effect. Our experience shows clearly that creating space for young people and street artists to express themselves is more effective in halting unwanted graffiti than fining and arresting them.

Will graffiti walls mean the end of tagging? Of course not. Nor will it mean Seattle's walls will fill up with overnight with beautiful "graffiti art" instead of ugly scribbles. But cracking down further on taggers seems—like Burgess's vetoed crackdown on aggressive panhandlers, or the unconstitutional poster ban—both wrongheaded and doomed to failure.

Burgess was out of the country today and couldn't be reached for his reaction to Okrent's idea. However, in a letter to Okrent, Burgess stressed that "There is NO proposal before the Council, one hasn't been drafted, and no one has suggested an increase in fees or any penalties related to graffiti offenses."