How I Voted: WSWCA October 14, 2014

After the meeting of the Washington Square West Civic Association Board meeting of October 14th, 2014, I realised that there were many questions put forth by members of the community regarding the vote of the board in favour of a project to place art on some large traffic control devices that the city has installed in our community. This made me think that the community deserves to know why I voted the way that I did on this issue, but also on all issues. Therefore, I have established this page on my website, and I will always post, as a service to the membership of the WSWCA, the reasons that I voted as I did. They deserve to know what I was thinking.

Several years ago, the City of Philadelphia installed VERY large and rather ugly brown metal boxes to house traffic light control equipment. We appear to be the only neighbourhood subjected to so many of these contraptions. When they installed these devices, they caused damage to properties, created spaces perfect for criminals to hide, and produced large blank surfaces that are perfect for graffiti vandals. Every single one of these large devices has been vandalised with the exception of one; that would be one installed on the north-east corner of 10th and Lombard. The difference of this particular unit is the owner of the adjacent property took the time to paint a delightful “mural” of a garden box onto it. There is nothing preventing the City from coming in an painting over this artwork. I always found this interesting and proof that vandals want clean surfaces and will avoid vandalising artistically painted spaces.

The Civic Association spends much money every year on graffiti abatement. Part of my task as a member of our communities town watch program is to report and document graffiti as we find it, so I tend to be very aware of this quality of life issue. When this proposal was introduced many months ago, I was very excited about it, and took careful note of the opinions of the community members in attendance. All seemed excited by it. I also discussed the issue with people in my immediate vacinity; they all loved the idea.

There was another aspect of this project that really excited me, it would use art created by students of University of the Arts, living in our community. Thinking about how many of these boxes there were, and the probable cost per unit, which we always knew was several hundred dollars per unit, it was no surprise that the total cost of the project would be around $5,000.

When the final proposal was put forth at this meeting, I was further excited to learn that the expected lifespan of the material proposed for this project would last approximately 5 years, that seemed to be a reasonable cost per lifespan and would potentially save the Civic on future graffiti abatement costs. Therefore, I voted in favour of this project for the following reasons:

  • it would present a more attractive appearance in the community
  • it would reduce the need to fund graffiti removal
  • it utilised art created by, and would seek to further involve students from the community
  • it offered a unique solution to a problem that might bring more attention to our community
  • my neighbors all seemed very interested in, and supportive of, the project.  They are always the gauge I go by.

I wish to address two points.  The vote was not for the Civic to pay $5,000 for this project, the vote was to promise support UP TO $5,000 for a project that had a potential to last 5 years.  This would be used as a promise to make the project happen; and as was stated at the meeting, we could then solicit community members interested in supporting the project to donate to, thus reducing the Civics portion of funding.

The other item is that some have accused those who voted in support of the project of “pushing it through,” and voting as a block of individuals who had supported another project.  One accusation stated that it was pushed through to accommodate a board members personal vacation schedule.  These statements are not true.  This project had been discussed at several board meetings, we had seen image proposals twice.  The approximate cost was always known, or certainly should have been by anyone in attendance at those public meetings.  There was a time sensitivity on the project, not because of an individual board members vacation schedule, but because of the holiday vacation schedule of the students at the University of the Arts.  In order for the students working on the project to get the appropriate credit, and to be able to advance the project in the next semester, a final vote was needed.

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