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Graffiti Watch tackles neighborhood tagging

By Tony Sonita, Point Park News Service:

Jeff Neubauer, 64, of the South Side use a paint roller to reach graffiti on the 15th Street Bridge.  Photo by Evan Skowvron | Point Park News Service
Jeff Neubauer, 64, of South Side, uses a paint roller to reach graffiti on the 15th Street Bridge.
Photo by Evan Skowvron | Point Park News Service

South Side resident Steve Root says keeping his neighborhood clean is not just a goal but a mindset.

As a member of the South Side Community Council and head of the neighborhood’s Graffiti Watch, Root organizes regular events aimed at painting over graffiti in the area.

“We’re trying to keep South Side clean and beautiful,” Root said. “It’s really important.”

Root moved to South Side in 2006. After visiting New Orleans to help with post-Hurricane Katrina cleanup, Root decided that South Side needed to be cleaned up as well.

“I contacted the South Side Community Council, and we began to start tracking graffiti in the area and painting over it if we could,” Root said.

The process received support from both the South Side Community Council and Pittsburgh police.  Comprised entirely of volunteers, the Graffiti Watch meets regularly to identify tags and paint over them.

“We’ve divided up South Side into 10 zones. Volunteers for each zone find examples of graffiti, and we paint over them,” Root said. “People are constantly on the lookout. It’s a constant effort to keep South Side clean.”

Gail Matchett, a director of the South Side Community Council, also volunteers regularly for Graffiti Watch. She said that the volunteer work is important to the overall look of South Side.

Graffiti covers the 15th Street Bridge on the South Side near Carson Street. Much of it is on top of what Graffiti Watch has previously cleaned up.  Photo by Evan Skowvron | Point Park News Service
Graffiti covers a portion of the 15th Street Bridge on South Side near Carson Street. Much of it is on top of what Graffiti Watch members previously cleaned.
Photo by Evan Skowvron | Point Park News Service

“Since the (Pittsburgh Police) Graffiti Task Force was shut down, we’ve been trying to keep on top of everything with volunteers only,” she said. “It’s been hard.”

In April, acting police Chief Regina McDonald disbanded the task force, citing the need for its three officers to deal with other, more-pressing needs.

“I thought it was a big mistake,” Matchett said. “The task force has been so important to our efforts. Their help led to arrests and restitution for the city.”

Pittsburgh City Council District 3 Councilman Bruce Kraus said he agrees with the need for the police task force.

“It’s a team effort,” Kraus said. “Graffiti Watch is one part of it. We need the whole team.”

Pittsburgh Police Lt. Ed Trapp did not immediately respond to a request for comment on either graffiti or the Graffiti Task Force.

South Side resident Meg Burkardt heads out with a wagon full of supplies to clean up graffiti. This is Burkhardt’s second time out with Graffiti Watch. Photo by Evan Skowvron | Point Park News Service
South Side resident Meg Burkardt heads out with a wagon full of supplies to clean up graffiti.
Photo by Evan Skowvron | Point Park News Service

Graffiti Watch volunteer Jim Sheridan said that despite the loss of the Graffiti Task Force, tagging in South Side seems to be on the decline.

 “I think we’re winning,” he said. “Drive through some of the harder-hit areas. They are washed with tags, and it’s disgusting. Drive through the South Side then. The place is beautiful. We’re winning.”

Root agrees, saying the graffiti was much worse in 2007.

 “Now we’re getting it under control,” he said.

Even though he said he believes the graffiti problem is getting better, Root said the Graffiti Watch must stay vigilant.

“If we ignore it, we’ll lose balance,” he said. “There are many sites we’ve painted over that weren’t tagged again. That shows that if you paint over it, the less likely it is for it to be tagged again.”

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