So I’m here driving up the Southwest Freeway and it’s fairly obvious this corridor is a tempting target for taggers here in Houston. Right at the 610, Southwest Freeway interchange, one of the busiest in the entire state, you can see red, spray painted scrawl on the cement along the roadway. It’s hard to even tell what that says there. About a mile away near Fountain View on the other side of the freeway, huge, white spray painted letters, probably 15-feet tall or so, again hard to read but clearly visible to thousands of commuters who drive by here every day.
“For any motorist that’s traveling, it’s unsightly. It’s not something they want to see. Especially that particular are of 59, it’s beautiful. They’ve done a really good job out there. We want to make sure we keep in clean.”
Danny Perez is with TX-DOT’s Houston office and says it’s a constant struggle to stay one step ahead of taggers. The agency spends about 50-thousand dollars a year on a contractor who takes down the graffiti as fast as it appears.
“It’s not good for the city’s image. It’s not good for the community and people in the community and we want to make sure we just go out there and address it and try to get it removed and not give them any opportunities to go back and tag it.”
It’s hard to tell what the graffiti along the Southwest Freeway even is, whether it’s just the work of a tagger or some sort of gang communication. Patricia Harrington heads the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Task Force. She says it’s hard to predict where graffiti will show up next.
“What more folks are seeing are graffiti coming up in new places and there’s new vandals out. And I think certainly along the Southwest Freeway where we’ve seen some new tags up, they’re very large and so they’re a lot more noticeable. Have we seen increases, you know, I can’t really say. I would say just from my viewpoint, it’s very consistent.”
The city pays to have graffiti removed from public property. Harris County has a similar arrangement and TX-DOT takes care of the freeways. Harrington says communication has improved among those entities in recent years.
“You know, if it’s on a freeway sign or on a drainage detention wall or whatever, and we’re not actually responsible for the maintenance we at least have a connection with those departments so that they can go in there and take care of the abatements.”
Getting caught tagging on state or city property often results in a slap on the hand, usually a misdemeanor. Prolific taggers, if they’re caught, can face felony charges. Houston Mayor Annise Parker says it boils down to this.
“Graffiti is a crime. Graffiti is not art. If it’s on your property, it’s art. If it’s on my property, it’s a crime. It’s not something that you ever stop, it’s something that you manage.”
The city, county and TX-DOT all encourage motorists and residents to report graffiti as soon as they see it.