The City of Seattle has partnered with Uplift Northwest to launch a Graffiti Abatement Program (GAP). The program will focus on removing and discouraging graffiti in the Chinatown International District (CID.)
This initiative is part of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s recently announced Downtown Activation Plan now active in the neighborhood.
“To keep the storefronts clean and free of graffiti really helps to attract businesses and stakeholders,” said Quynh Pham, the Executive Director of Friends of Little Sài Gòn.
Uplift Northwest, a nonprofit temporary staffing organization, will implement the program with funding from the City. If the effort is successful, it could expand across Seattle.
“We’re starting with the CID because we and the city agree that this is an area that has been impacted severely,” said Gina Hall, CEO of Uplift Northwest.
Uplift Northwest “provides hundreds of workers to a wide variety of commercial and residential employers in the Puget Sound Region.”
Specifically, they facilitate both employment and training opportunities to those experiencing poverty or homelessness in the area.
Graffiti will be removed for free under the program, along with any graffiti on public property.
Uplift Northwest has trained 15 people in graffiti removal for the effort. They will make up three crews, each accompanied by a field operations coordinator, project manager, and a driver. Currently, there are two crews in operation actively removing graffiti in the CID, with the third one expected to be operational in a week.
GAP builds off its initial pilot program, launched in 2022 by students at City University of Seattle for their final project.
The role of project manager and driver are new additions to the program, as the pilot revealed that crews needed organizational assistance as well as efficient means of transportation. Crews were then using hand-pulled carts to move equipment.
Nonetheless, Pham worries that by only focusing on graffiti removal, GAP is just addressing the symptoms of a vandalism problem rather than its root causes. “It’s like a temporary solution and as you can see, [graffiti] comes back regularly, and it’s not sustainable,” she said.
In response, Hall said: “Studies show if you remove the graffiti within 24 hours, and then it comes back again, and you remove it again, the third time you remove it, typically it’ll stay clean longer.”
However, according to Pham, unauthorized graffiti is a multidimensional issue with many causes, so any solution to address its removal would represent only one part of a long term integrated strategy.
“The main issue is low visibility,” she said. “On the Little Saigon side, we have a lot of vacancies, there are not as many eyes on the streets. That allows folks to just come in and potentially vandalize or do other activities because no one’s there to see them.”
GAP does not address this issue and it remains to be seen whether the program can implement effective deterrence.
GAP’s results will take time and consistency, said Hall. “We plan to be in the graffiti abatement business for a while because we want to not only clean up the city and reactivate it, but we want to maintain this beautiful city where we all live, work, and play.”