Crowdsourcing the Neighborhood Watch

It used to require volunteering a few nights a week, monthly meetings, and perhaps putting your name on a list at town hall. Now, one way of being a good citizen is as easy as logging into vandaltrack.com. Graffiti is one of those neighborhood occurrences that often blights an otherwise charming scene. Recently, someone took it upon themselves to tag every corner in my neighborhood with the word “POOP!” in tall, unmissable white letters. VandalTrak is a website that lets me log, track, manage, and report graffiti incidents from a single source. That information, in turn, is submitted to the city council and keeps the police informed so that they can respond to graffiti hot spots. The site asks users to document the graffiti in picture form, so even after it’s washed away, the evidence is still accessible online. The site also gives users a helpful list of contractors in the area who can clean up the damage if you don’t want to commit to the elbow grease to get it done yourself.

On the other side, crowdsourcing has also helped businesses fight unwanted tagging by inviting other graffiti artists to create established murals for businesses instead. Rag & Bone, a clothing store in New York City, had seen years of tagging with the building’s former tenant and to discourage future tagging, launched a graffiti contest for any artists interested in competing. Artists simply needed to email a sketch of their design for the 10’ x 15’ space and then visitors to the Rag & Bone Facebook page were able to vote for their favorite sketch. Winners were selected and the store has cut down on the graffiti nuisance that once plagued them.

This goes hand-in-hand with other sites that combat crime, online tip centers, and other ways to report to the authorities about neighborhood crimes and nuisances. But graffiti’s a little more complicated – the conversation always circles around to: “is it art? Doesn’t it actually express a part of our community?” There are even crowdsourcing sites that set out to answer that question. But whatever you feel about the issue, it’s now harder than ever to do so under-the-radar.

Are there other forums where we can report safely to our community leaders and communicate with the rest of our neighbors productively? Are there other problems that we can solve by providing a crowdsourcing resource? Does anyone want to come volunteer to clean white paint off of brick later this week?

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