SEATTLE — A new partnership will work to wipe out graffiti in downtown Seattle as the city prepares to host Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.
Mayor Bruce Harrell announced the relaunch of the Graffiti Abatement Partnership, which will focus on Seattle’s downtown core and Chinatown-International District. The city is contracting with Uplift Northwest to handle the program’s daily operations.
“We know that graffiti and tagging not only detract from the vibrancy of our neighborhoods, but also have tangible impacts on our small businesses whose storefronts are defaced and on marginalized communities who are targeted by hate speech,” Harrell said in a statement announcing the relaunch.
We must combat a surge in graffiti with a One Seattle approach, building partnerships with the community to find thoughtful, sustainable solutions that improve the quality of life for everyone in our city.
Uplift Northwest will offer a training program to prepare crews for the work, and it is modeled after a pilot program that focused on the Belltown neighborhood last year. The relaunched program will employ three crews of graffiti removal specialists, a project manager, and a field operations coordinator supported by Uplift Northwest.
“There’s a need. We see it all throughout our city. There is a need here,” said Zzaj Collins, the community impact manager at Uplift Northwest. “It’s a lot more than just graffiti removal. It’s how do we maintain the history in our community? how do we make sure that everyone feels safe?”
The relaunched program will employ three crews of graffiti removal specialists, a project manager and a field operations coordinator supported by Uplift Northwest. The teams will be dispatched by the city of Seattle to find and remove graffiti on private property.
“Right now we have a team of five out there who are doing some site visits and figuring out exactly what we need in terms of paint, pressure washing, what it’s going to take to remove the graffiti,” said Alex Dieffenbach, the chief business operating officer for Uplift Northwest.
Typically the city handles graffiti abatement on public buildings and will order private property owners to paint over taggings or potentially face fines, but the burden on the CID has been ongoing.
“When we consider the expense of graffiti removal for a small business, it is a big project for a family business to handle,” Collins said.
Uplift Northwest will take on this task, and it comes as the city tries to spruce up ahead of hosting the All-Star Game, but Dieffenbach said the clean-up is not about being in the national spotlight.
“While I think it will help to make the city look better for the All-Star Game, that’s not our primary objective here,” Dieffenbach said.
Instead, the nonprofit is trying to help the people it trains to able to transfer those skills to other jobs, while at the same time making Seattle a more welcoming place.
“When you invest in beautifying our cities, people feel safer. People feel more connected to each other,” Collins said.
Property owners will not be billed for this graffiti clean-up work. According to the mayor’s office, the costs will be paid for through the existing Clean Cities fund from Seattle Public Utilities as well as through budget savings.
In an email, a spokesperson for Mayor Harrell wrote, “we feel this effort will make significant impact and difference for communities and small businesses who have experienced unwanted graffiti without resources to remove it.”
This program will complement the work of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), Seattle Center (CEN) and Seattle Parks & Recreation (SPR) teams that remove graffiti from city property and assist the Metropolitan Improvement District (MID) on their abatement efforts.
Since 2019, incidents of graffiti reported by the public have grown over 50%, including nearly 20,000 reports of graffiti and tagging in 2021, according to the mayor’s office.