Graffiti is nothing new to New York City. In the 70s and 80s, the city was the epicenter of this form of public expression. Starting mainly on train cars, graffiti was done by young people in the city to get their names out there. Styles vary greatly from the classic wildstyle block letters to characters or figures and, more recently, an embrace of a grungy aesthetic that pays little attention to traditional standards of craftsmanship in favor of individuality, style and authenticity.
As an inherently destructive, subversive and vain form of art, graffiti is polarizing. It is a fact that graffiti, by nature, is a defacement of property, private or public. Removal (if possible) takes time and money from businesses or taxpayers. Yet it is clear that the retrospective mainstream acceptance of the styles from the 70s and 80s in all aspects of culture (pop culture, art institutions, fashion, galleries, etc.) points towards a collective agreement of the importance of the street art form.
Recently, there has been an uptick in concern over graffiti from some New York residents. This comes in conjunction with plans made by mayor Eric Adams and the NYPD to crack down on crimes that affect “quality of life” in the city. This includes the reinstatement of plainclothes officer patrols, all in the hopes of stunting gun violence in the city. This, of course, brings to mind the controversial “broken windows” policing of the 1990s, which was shown to do very little in the way of effectively curbing crime as well as perpetuating racial bias and discrimination on the part of the police. Adams continues to propose that under his administration, the city “won’t go back to abusive policing,” though he has done little in the way of explaining proposed checks and balances, outside of consultations “with the community, organizations and groups.”
Back in June, while Eric Adams was on the mayoral campaign trail, he said, “Ignoring defacements and other quality-of-life violations only allows lawlessness to spread.” Concrete metrics on direct connections between graffiti proliferation and other crime are hard to measure, with the two factors subject to numerous variables outside of themselves.
It brings the question: Which areas have the highest density of graffiti? And why? Though by no means a comprehensive assessment, it is clear that certain neighborhoods, like Bushwick, have a much higher density of graffiti as compared to neighborhoods like Fort Greene. According to NYU’s Furman Center, as of 2019, Bushwick has a median household income of $67,410 (homeowner and renters combined), and Fort Greene has a median of $113,450. With this, the serious crime rates for property damage per 1,000 residents was 9.7 and 12.2 respectively. So, on paper, Fort Greene has a higher rate of property damage, yet on-the-ground inspection proves otherwise. These statistics are provided by the NYPD and simply indicate the amount of criminal complaints in an area.
It’s likely that graffiti just goes less reported in Bushwick than it does in Fort Greene. With the higher income, it’s also possible that residents would have the funds to remove any graffiti from their property. This, of course, is conjecture, but there have to be reasons for the discrepancy between the figures and the reality.
Art by Serena Cheng