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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:20:57 PM CST

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Christian Flores/MEDILL

Sgt. Munin says graffiti has blown up in recent years. "There are graffiti websites that glorify the whole thing," Munin said. "It goes up so quickly you can just pass by an area in a squad car and they come in five seconds later and only need a minute to put up the graffiti. It doesn’t take long to bomb an area."

Severe winter puts freeze on graffiti and graffiti removal efforts.

by Christian Flores
Mar 6, 2014



Christian Flores/MEDILL


On the whole, Chicago went from 21,760 combined completed graffiti removal requests in January and February 2013 to 16,528 in the same two months this year.

Chicago's spray paint ban

Although the problem of graffiti in Chicago might indicate otherwise, you cannot buy spray paint within city limits. Chicago City Council passed an ordinance in 1992 banning the sale of spray paint with the sole purpose of limiting incidents of graffiti. However, after a number of lawsuits questioning its constitutionality, the law was not initiated until 1995. The ordinance involved a three-pronged plan which, in addition to the ban, included the establishment of Graffiti Blasters (part of the Chicago Streets and Sanitation Graffiti Removal Program) and an increase in police patrolling of problem areas. Since the ban, anyone found with spray paint will be fined at least $500 and no more than $1,500.
Some say it’s an art form, some say it’s a crime.

Whether you like it or not, graffiti can be found in cities across America. But Chicago’s most recent severe winter – one that has brought over 70 inches of snow – might have lessened the incidents of graffiti.

“Climate does change graffiti patterns,” said 30th Ward Ald. Ariel Reboyras. “But as it gets warmer it’s something everyone needs to keep an eye on.”

Not only has the weather slowed down the incidents of graffiti, it has also reduced efforts to clean it up. Streets and Sanitation has completed 5,232 fewer graffiti removal requests throughout the city in January and February this year compared to the same months last year.

Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation has had to divert many of its workers from graffiti cleanup crews to snow removal duty, a practice that has been utilized in the past.

“We’ve dealt with difficult winters before,” said Molly Poppe, spokeswoman for Streets and Sanitation. “We have a flexible workforce and use them for what’s needed most. For now, it’s snow removal.”

This slow-down in graffiti cleanup is not welcome with open arms by most residents, who want to see it taken down almost immediately.

“It makes the community look blighted and undesirable,” said Barb Baronski, a 40-year Avondale resident. “It shows the people in the neighborhood don’t care.”

There are two types of graffiti: work by taggers – people who use graffiti as artistic expression – and street gang graffiti. Chicago Police District 17 Sgt. Kristin Munin said cleaning up both types can prevent repeat incidents.

“The faster the stuff comes down, the more discouraged they get about putting up new stuff,” Munin said.

Baronski lives in the 30th Ward, which has seen 153 fewer completed graffiti removal requests so far this year compared to that same period last year. She said the gang-initiated vandalism worries her more than tagger art.

“If it’s gang graffiti, you don’t want a rival gang to come through and see that, and have that escalate into violence,” Baronski said.

The 39th Ward has also seen a decrease – by 84 completed requests – in graffiti removal. Angelia Morgan lives there and said the community has to be involved in the cleanup process to prevent gang activity.

“If you leave it up there, gang members will think they own the area,” Morgan said. “They don’t own any of it, but it won’t stop them from thinking so. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen by reporting [the graffiti].”

As the weather gets warmer, Poppe said city sanitation workers will be transferred back to graffiti cleanup. And this is perhaps the first good news Chicagoans have heard this winter.