JUST when we thought we had won the battle against graffiti in Roland Park, the library, the neighborhood parking garage and parking meters recently were hit with "tags," the most elementary form of graffiti, quick signatures made with spray paint or markers.
Police say neighborhood graffiti typically is done by teens 12 to 19 years old. Most of them either live in the area or attend local schools, police say.
Whoever is to blame, results are the same. Signs, walls, the flagstone landing at the library have been defaced. The results are costly. A single street sign marred by graffiti costs $60 or more to replace, according to city figures. Money, time and energy better spent on other projects and services too often is used to remove marker and spray paint.
Two years ago, graffiti became a noticeable problem in Roland Park. Almost overnight it seemed that every column and wall in the business district parking garage, located near the intersection of Deepdene Road and Roland Avenue, was tagged. Street signs, commercial walls, residential garage doors and fences were peppered with signatures of local graffiti "writers," as those who practice the form call themselves.
Property owners went to great expense and effort to remove the tags -- sometimes even resorting to sandblasting -- and repainted with paints that promise to make future removal easier. Additional lighting was installed in commercial areas and alleys. Neighborhood residents phoned police when they saw suspicious activity and called government agencies when public property was hit.
Crackdown on teens
Jeff Pratt, owner of the neighborhood Schneider's Hardware Store, refused to sell spray paint to those under 18 without parental consent.
Those who followed city recommendations to remove graffiti immediately and report it to police found their walls hit less often. Weekly, sometimes daily, outbreaks decreased to every two to six months.
Graffiti, however, did not disappear. Street signs, utility and mail boxes and light poles often were marred by tags. In places out of public view -- bridge undersides, culvert walls, rarely traveled alleys, the back of Poly-Western grandstands -- graffiti artists painted murals.
Last summer, the back of the post office had one tag. By fall several surrounded it as well as a large head. Now the adjacent cement pillars have been tagged, along with nearby parking meters, street signs and the library for the first time. Graffiti begets graffiti.
When removal is not swift, "legal yards," safe havens for "writers," are inadvertently created.
Graffiti writers want to showcase their work to the world and to their peers. When it is removed quickly, so is the opportunity for an audience.
One graffiti writer says it is an offshoot of writing on bathroom walls. Years ago, teen-agers used to carve initials in trees, or use markers or lipstick on restroom stalls. For generations teens have found public writing a way to proclaim themselves and defy authority at the same time.
One neighborhood psychologist says graffiti, like most delinquent behavior, should be taken seriously. It represents an attempt by someone in pain to feel better through a short-term form of relief. Of course, being affluent doesn't leave one immune to such feelings.
The problem, however, passes from one generation of teens to the next without the involvement of concerned adults.
Several years ago, a group of neighborhood teens were caught tagging garages. They were required to remove their marks in the bright light of a weekend morning. That exercise is believed to have ended those teens preoccupation with graffiti. Accountability like this may deter other taggers, so may other modes of constructive self-expression.
An artsy approach
Participation in the fine arts -- music, dance, drama, art and creative writing -- helps adolescents communicate ideas and express emotions. Studies show overwhelming evidence that teens who regularly engage in arts programs connect better in school and with their communities.
Those who seek end such delinquent behavior should encourage teens to pursue creative means of self-expression and offer homes, schools, communities that foster open dialogue, mutual respect, responsible action. The short-term solution is to remove graffiti immediately and call police.
To ignore graffiti is to give up on our teens and to encourage ugly tags that mar the beauty of a Baltimore spring.
Kathy Hudson writes from Roland Park.
Pub Date: 4/06/98