South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

SSCC works on trash, challenges graffiti with murals in S. Side

 

Barbara Rudiak, president of the South Side Community Council (SSCC), opened the organization's annual meeting by reminding the overfl owing crowd the council has been around for more than 75 years.

She continued by noting some of the issues the SSCC has been working on remained the same from the previous year while others have been a focus for 18 years. For those interested, there was an updated "Accomplishments and Goals" handout.

Over the past year, Ms. Rudiak explained, council board members met with Mayor William Peduto and various department directors on the most problematic issues in South Side. Council representatives have been meeting with city officials since 2015 and wanted to update them on what was needed in the community.

"When you think nothing is being done here on South Side," she continued. "Please know that city officials, your council person, your community council are working on your behalf."

Some of the issues discussed with city officials included: The South Side trail from 9th to 17th Street and brush clearing to improve sight lines; Park Rules signage along the South Side Riverfront Trail. A draft sign was available at the meeting; Trail enforcement of no camping along the riverfront trail and in the park; Working on locating a Healthy Ride station on 17th Street; Working with the city concerning crosswalk requests and clarification on the criteria for placing a crosswalk; and, working with the city on a request to make S.27th and S. 28th streets one-way.

The SSCC has also formed a code enforcement group, South Watch, that works with city officials on a monthly basis to talk about challenges on South Side and how to remedy those challenges. The meetings are the second Wednesday of the month alternating between noon and 6 p.m.

The South Watch meetings are not an "open mic" where people talk about old times, but a question and answer time with officials. Most recently, the focus has been on refuse regulations.

"If you live down here, you see a lot of trash cans, you see a lot of trash," Ms. Rudiak said.

South Watch looks at properties that are particularly egregious and attempts to educate the residents there what the refuse regulations are. If the residents don't improve in maintaining a trash free area, they are referred to the city's Environmental Services.

Environmental Services will then attempt to contact the resident or owners and educate them on the regulations before eventually citing them if the regulations aren't followed.

Something that isn't a regulation, Ms. Rudiak explained, was that it's acceptable to keep a trash can beside the front stoop, as long as it has a lid. Although, the SSCC would prefer if trash cans were kept out of sight in the rear of the house if there is a walkway to bring the rubbish out for collection.

"We are all responsible for the beauty in our neighborhood," she said. "We all know how beautiful it is."

Graffiti watch, a committee of the SSCC, celebrated its 10th anniversary this month. The group was started by South Siders who were unhappy with all the graffiti in the neighborhood and decided to take action themselves to paint over it.

Ms. Rudiak said Steve Root, founder of Graffiti Watch, has been forward thinking in trying to eliminate graffiti in the neighborhood and replace it with legal public murals.

In talking about the South Side Community Mural Project, Mr. Root said Graffiti Watch has "kind of morphed" into a broader process with a much more positive focus.

When he first got involved it was more than just removing graffiti, it was also about getting people to care about and get more involved in their community.

When Graffiti Watch started, they used a three-prong approach: Education; prompt reporting to the 911; and, reporting graffiti on others property to 311.

"It's pretty simple, but you have to do those things and you have to do them promptly," Mr. Root said.

People would question reporting to 911 because that was for emergencies, he said. But, the police asked them to call so there would be a record, allowing them to go after the responsible parties. It also could mean possible restitution for the owner of the property.

It's been a ten-year battle with the taggers, he said. "They would tag and we would remove and they would tag and we would remove."

Mr. Root said they don't "believe for one moment" they will defeat graffiti in the neighborhood, but noted there's a lot less graffiti than there used to be.

Talking with taggers has brought some insight to Mr. Root. One tagger told him graffiti saved his life because it kept him off drugs, others have become famous artists.

He cautioned the graffiti was still vandalism and if the taggers get caught, they should take responsibility for their work.

The success of Graffiti Watch in in the "great bunch of volunteers" who work with neighborhood residents, property and business owners, 311 Response Center; law enforcement and Graffiti Busters. Mr. Root noted they don't paint over tags on unpainted surfaces, preferring to have Graffiti Busters remove the tag.

After ten years of painting over graffiti, Mr. Root said he was feeling "kind of weary." When they paint over the tags, it leaves a painted square and in time, there are a lot of painted over graffiti squares in the neighborhood.

"It's still kind of graffiti itself," he said.

In talking to some of the artists and taggers in the neighborhood, Mr. Root explained it was important to them to have a place for them to do their work. Something like a permission wall where they would be allowed to express themselves.

"The other thing is," he said. "We need to pay them. They need to make a living."

He went on to say the South Side needs to be inclusive and let the taggers help enrich the neighborhood.

He explained Ribbons of Steel has permission walls as do the cities of Philadelphia, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec.

"Everywhere I go I see great work on walls and I want the same for the South Side," he said.

Mr. Root added that just because (Graffiti Watch) is going to do murals, doesn't mean they aren't still going to deal with graffiti. Graffiti Watch will continue to remove the vandalism.

The South Side Community Mural Project's first mural is in the 2000 block of Fox Way and was created by artists from Mexico who incorporated historical elements from Pittsburgh and South Side.

In additional murals, Mr. Root said they would also like to include historical references while giving the artist freedom to create.

Cost of the South Side Community Mural Project is expected to exceed $50,000. To reach the funding goal, they have been working with the crowd-funding organization IOBY (In Our Back Yards, ioby.org).

The Community Council has already contributed $10,000 toward the goal with more than $5,000 additional raised from individual donors.

A fundraiser is planned for Saturday, July 29 at Ruggers Pub, 40 S. 22nd Street, South Side. For more information on the fundraiser, visit: facebook.com/RuggersPub.

Learn more about the mural project or make a donation at: http://www.bit.ly/ssidemurals or email: southsidepittsburghpublicart@gmail.com.

 

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