Seattle will hold a citywide “day of service” next month featuring thousands of volunteer opportunities at dozens of sites in an event Mayor Bruce Harrell hopes will be a symbol of how his administration plans to clean up graffiti and beautify the city.
Rather than a budget boost or a new devotion of city resources, Harrell is appealing to civic goodwill to help some of the minor, yet most visible, ills plaguing the city: litter, weeds, debris and graffiti.
The day of service, May 21, will feature more than 80 city-organized cleanup and volunteer events across the city, from Lake City, south to Rainier Beach; from Alki, east to Lake Washington.
There are events to pick up litter in Ballard, to clear trails in Jackson Park, to work on community gardens in the Chinatown International District, to sort donations at downtown shelters, to pull invasive plants from Discovery Park and to build tiny homes near the mouth of the Duwamish River.
The volunteer opportunities also offer an incentive. Three hours of volunteer work can be applied to up to $50 of fines owed to Seattle Municipal Court.
People can register to volunteer at seattle.gov/dayofservice.
Harrell, who stressed graffiti removal throughout his campaign last year, briefly picked up a roller to help cover a spray paint-pocked wall in Little Saigon on Monday morning, as he announced the day of service.
“This is going to be symbolic of how we’re going to get things done in our city,” Harrell said. “People want to help. Employers want to help, employees want to help.”
Everyone who volunteers for the day of service, Harrell said, will get two things: a sense of self-fulfillment that they did something about a problem rather than just complaining, and a T-shirt.
The city spends about $3.7 million annually on graffiti removal and has the equivalent of about 15 full-time employees spread over several city departments devoted to the problem. The city’s Find It, Fix It app received more than 31,000 requests to clean up graffiti over a nearly two-year period covering 2020 and 2021.
Seattle Public Utilities also runs a program in which the city will provide supplies to anyone who wants to clear graffiti from private property.
“I’ll buy the paint and the brush and you can help us,” Harrell said.
He was asked what’s going to prevent cleaned and painted walls and buildings from just being re-tagged and re-graffitied.
“We paint, they tag, we paint …” Harrell said.
Harrell said he’s not yet sure if the city needs to devote more money to graffiti removal. He said he wants to better understand the problem and graffiti culture by talking to people in the arts community.
“That’s just not something healthy to do,” Harrell said. “You are defacing someone’s building, and where they work and where they live and where they play.”
Linh Thai, regional manager of a nonprofit that helps connect veterans with community service work, was helping to paint over the graffitied brick wall of Khang Hoa Duong, an herbalist and grocery in Little Saigon.
The wall is illustrative of the ongoing game of whack-a-mole taking place between taggers and the city.
Just last year, the wall was a brightly colored mural featuring high-stepping paraders carrying a red dragon. Then it was graffitied. Then the wall was whitewashed to cover the graffiti. Then the whitewashed wall was tagged again, with sprawling silver and black script.
Thai, who has helped start a once-a-month litter pickup in the neighborhood, and others were covering the script with a generic taupe.
“You have mom and pop businesses like this just trying to survive,” Thai said. “Perceptions are real. We want to help the community deal with some of the intractable problems of crime and vandalism.”