By Seth Daniel
Marco Baldassare recalls a time when he and Fenway residents spent Saturday afternoons removing graffiti from park benches, buildings and street signs.
Baldassare, Fenway Civic Association (FCA) board member and co-founder of the Fenway Graffiti Squad, said technology has improved the City’s response time to many quality of life issues, including unwanted graffiti. This has lessened the need for a local graffiti squad.
“I started it 10 years ago, but it’s kind of one of those things that was before the Mayor’s Hotline App,” Baldassare said, referring to the recently launched 311 mobile phone application from the city.
The 311 app, launched in August, allows constituents to report concerns to the city via smartphone.
“The reality is the City is very responsive to graffiti cleanup and the app makes it easier to report,” he said.
Co-founder and former Fenway resident Erica Mattison said the goal of the Fenway Graffiti Squad was to beautify the neighborhood and rebuild a sense of pride among locals, business owners and community members.
“We really saw this as a way of documenting the issues, reporting them to the city and appropriate agency and getting the city or others to deal with the bigger jobs that we couldn’t tackle on our own,” Mattison said.
She continued, “Part of it was around enforcement and having law enforcement take it seriously when it comes to property destruction. We really wanted to make the distinction between vandalism and art and we had the business support and a citation from the City and City Council recognizing our work, which made courts give serious penalties to violators.”
Mattison said the Graffiti Squad played a role in getting other neighborhood associations to adopt their own graffiti removal committees, including the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB), which has an active graffiti removal committee under the direction of Committee Chair Anne Swanson.
“They were really troubled by all of the vandalism in the alleys and the concern of what this meant to the property values, safety and so forth,” Mattison said.
Swanson said her committee of “Graffiti NABBers” consists of 35 people who work with property owners, the City, and private companies to remove vandalism from the Back Bay Historic District. Over the past 10 years they have been able to cleanup about 400 buildings, but could use a few more volunteers, Swanson said.
“[NABB’s] spent half a century serving the Back Bay. To have people come in, vandalize our buildings and scurry back from where they came from was terrible,” Swanson said, who was grateful to start the group with the help of Fenway Graffiti Squad. “I don’t think it would have ever occurred to us to do the removal ourselves.”
In the Fenway, the graffiti problem persists, especially around the fence blocking off the Muddy River, which is undergoing a flood prevention and restoration process under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Neighbors have reported the graffiti problem to the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, the Army Corps, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, but to no avail, according to Baldassare.
He said the tarp material around the fencing makes it difficult for the agencies to remove the graffiti.
Yet the mere presence of graffiti invites more taggers to spray paint their own symbols onto the remaining areas of the fence, Baldassare argues.
“It’s just not [an issue] that’s on their radar in terms of them seeing the value of [removing] it,” he said. “It kind of sends the message that it’s okay, but you’ve got to pick your battles.”