During the height of the pandemic there was a change in my neighbourhood, James Bay, Victoria’s oldest community. Graffiti was growing. It was everywhere. Power poles, buildings, walls, commercial buildings, bus shelters. Utility boxes. One day a neighbour said “It’s starting to look like a ghetto around here.” She was was right. I had some paint around in the condo building I live in. So I took some and painted over graffiti on a few wooden power poles. Damn that felt great. With a little effort I was beating these little $#@!)%&!#! at their game. I moved on to a few metal poles, a black park bench was easily touched up with some black paint. I wasn’t sure if I should be doing this so I got up early in the morning with my paint and touched up some more. I eventually did the metal Canada Post box with red Tremclad metal paint. Sometimes various fluids helped clean things up.
I asked my local community association if there was any guidance on this and they put me on to the City of Victoria. They were happy to help. They have a program called “Victoria Together Against Graffiti”. Not only did they okay what I was doing, they encouraged it with some guidelines and direction. They gave product and boxes to create “VTAG Kits”. The program was a formal way for community members to fight back graffiti. They asked if I could inspire others to help and coordinate for the whole neighbourhood. So I did. I wrote a letter to the editor in the neighbourhood newspaper looking for help. I used social media. Soon I had an army of around 30 people. People of all walks of life equally fed up with graffiti were armed with kits that included brushes and a few colours of paint. We had brown for the brown wooden poles and “pressure
treated green” for the green poles. Greys for concrete. Some of the volunteers told me it was a wonderful way to spend a nice summer morning, cleaning up the neighbourhood, meeting neighbours, feeling great about it.
Over the months people kept coming for more supplies, more paint, more brushes. I kept the area around my home free of graffiti. My goal was I didn’t want to see it in view of our condo, but soon, I too was painting poles up and down roads in the area. Take that! Damn it felt great. I kept communicating with
the volunteers. As they shared stories with me I spread their good news to others. I met wonderful people. I found out several did “graffiti removal almost full time. Ken S. told me “I used to golf but I was lousy at it and it was expensive. So now I remove graffiti! It’s far more satisfying”. He funded his supplies himself until I got him going with our “official supplies”.
Once I painted some poles in front of some residences and an owner came out almost in tears, so joyous to have this #$@!*! “art” in front of their home finally removed. People just didn’t think it was possible or “allowed” to paint these poles or boxes or concrete. Some worried what others may think if they got caught! I said “What, they’d give you heck for improving your neighbourhood!?” Others tried in vain for months to have the utility companies clean their property up.
A few wondered what else they could do to improve the community? Trash pickup?
Over spring and summer we knocked back the worst of the graffiti until it was 95% gone. Soon a police constable was asking how we did this. “Could you inspire other communities to do the same?” We met with a few of the more active members with City personnel and the police. We learned both organizations have areas in their departments focused on this issue of graffiti. We learned if you keep beating down the graffiti eventually they get the message and move on or quit. And they largely have. I spoke at a City of Victoria online
seminar for others who want to get involved in other neighbourhoods in the city.
The effort has been very rewarding. I’ve met some terrific people. I’ve receive all sorts of smiles from people walking by as I am painting a power pole. Many have thanked me. A few wondered what the hell I was doing. But when I walk up and down the streets and can’t see any graffiti it sure feels great.
The Victoria Police department was so happy with our work they presented a couple of us with a “Civic Service Award”. Our names will go on the wall of honour in the police department.
We aren’t done. We know we’ll have to continue to watch for graffiti tags and keep painting over. But we’ve come a long way. Now it’s minimal work ensuing we’re free of this blight. And I have a whole lot more friends in my neighbourhood!