West Oakland is a gritty blend of industrial and residential usage. It has suffered the consequences of spot zoning; large tracts of land were allowed to develop heavy industrial usage directly adjacent to residential usages. Blight followed and for decades much of West Oakland was plagued by vacant, abandoned and poorly maintained residential properties. That’s not to say that there have not been some bright spots, there have been. There are blocks of beautifully restored Victorians, thanks to the perseverance of some residents and redevelopment funds.
In the 90’s small glimmers of new construction began as young people sought to move closer to work centers. Land was relatively inexpensive and there was lots of it available for development in 1990. Under-utilized public buildings, abandoned houses and warehouses were converted to “lofts”…gradually these became more and more conventional. Some large industrial lots saw new construction of the new loft housing. The prices rose, land became more valuable and large industrial owners sold, taking their profits to land less valuable in places more homogenous…more likely to support, or encourage industrial usages. The exuberance lasted until mid 2008. Industrial owners, who hadn’t been able to sell and move their businesses to land in more “industry friendly” places, were stuck. Prices began to fall, large planned projects didn’t get built. After years of discussion and argument about the size and shape of a bright new future, the discussions stopped. The meetings became more and more about crime, vandalism, the ever increasing need for street repair and clean up.
Vandalism and graffiti hit the streets with a vengeance in the decade that followed the Exuberant Era. The recession which began in 2008, hit West Oakland hard. A City long in need of fiscal responsibility, the first decade of the new century did not provide very well, if at all, for her citizens. The street scape reflects the anger and frustration of Oakland’s citizens. Years of physical and political neglect have left their marks on the streets of the inner city. The walls of stalled projects now parked like a moth ball fleet all around West Oakland, became the targets for angry spray can attacks.
When I first purchased what we now call The Ranch, one of the buildings was particularly sad and very visible. Housing the old Duck Kee Market, long a landmark and long run by the same dedicated family. My first improvement was to paint the building flamingo pink with turquoise trim. Sherman and Ruby loved it, although their store remained behind metal security doors and wire screened windows, it was pink wire and turquoise steel. And, the graffiti stopped. We were never vandalized, never a spray can target. The adjacent fence got painted raspberry red.
Since that time, for the last 22 years, I have chosen to use a vibrant (some say gaudy) color palate. It is my contention that strong, somewhat tropical colors dissuade vandalism/graffiti. I continue to test this premise and have yet to be proven wrong. You put a bright yellow building next to the usual industrial gray or beige building and see which one attracts the spray can attack. The test of my color belief has been limited by the number of building owners or walls on which we’ve been able to work. We only work on walls where we are invited to do so and for owners with whom we have an agreement. Also, the few owners who have joined us in our colorful approach to “graffiti abatement” have happily contributed to the cost of paint and a very modest stipend for the artists. The marked decrease in costly spray can attacks has a cost benefit for owners.
Taking this idea further, it is my contention that a visual story: The Mural, can immunize a building from the badly executed spray can attack. Thus, The Mural Project. The buildings on which the murals have been installed have had almost no attacks graffiti. On the contrary, the visual discussion that well executed design and color can encourage stops the violence. We have tested this, on my property and the results confirm the fact that murals dissuade graffiti.
When you think about the millions that are spent of staff time and graffiti removal, it boggles the mind. Not to mention the huge cost to owners of property and to the neighborhoods affected. The cost of one of the mural pictured here is minimal. The cost savings to owners who have the courage to overcome the “beige/grey myth”…and paint it bright, bring in the artists and create something which slows the hand of vandalism and brings a smile to the passerby…is huge.
You don’t have to like the images, think about the concept. If it causes you to think about this image, the visual landscape that you live, work or drive thru, this work has done its job. We hope there will be debate, we hope that your visual knowledge/experience is growing and will expand to meet this challenge. And we hope that we can encourage people to support this small project.
Or, try it, we believe that more walls/buildings painted brightly and with a mural, benefits owners, the community and artists. Ideally the murals would be as varied as the artists who design them. There does not have to be uniformity in this, only the addition of colorful imagery and design. Help us overcome graffiti with graphic design and color!
We would like to hire more artists, paint more walls and buildings and further enhance the urban landscape with color and image. If you would like to contribute to this effort…If you have a building that needs our attention, ideas, creative reuse or other, give us a call or contact us at