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The Writing’s On the Wall

Graffiti has become an unwanted part of doing business in downtown Troy, and many are wondering when things will change

by Erin Pihlaja on July 10, 2013


Some would argue that this is not art. Photo by Erin Pihlaja.

Street art, a genre that includes graffiti, has become, in many cities, a widely accepted and revered form of art that helps to revitalize urban streetscapes. Once merely considered a nuisance and a crime, the shift in perception and value has pushed some pieces of well-known street artists to fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at prestigious art auctions.

Art is subjective, but it’s probably no surprise that the owners of the Troy Light Company at 85 Congress St. didn’t feel that they had been gifted a work of art when they found the words “Amber Brock is the best on the block” scrawled in black paint across the front of their brick building last week.

“It’s not just us; it’s all downtown. It’s ridiculous,” said employee Mike Creighton. “Nothing’s being done as far as we can see.” He added that the problem has been “constant” and that when they hung a new door on the alley side of the building, it was tagged just one day later.

“I’d be less frustrated if the person who did these things got something out of it,” said owner Mitchell Gaies. “At least if they did it for a real purpose, other than just to be destructive and vandalize.” Gaies is the third generation of his family to run the 105-year-old company. They have been in their current location for 41years.

“When the police were here, we suggested they try to find the girl—Amber Brock—find her and who she knows that might be involved. At least it’s a lead,” he said. “I don’t think they give it a priority.”

Many in downtown Troy are fed up with how they believe the city is handling the problem. Sharon, a resident who asked to be identified by her first name, said, “It’s frustrating when you go to give a [police] officer information and they go ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know that place is a problem.’ That is word-for-word what an officer told me when I tried to pass on info.”

Ken Zalewski, a member of the Troy City Council, said in an online forum that efforts to address the problem are being made. “I held a technology committee meeting last month, and we had a demo of the Graffiti Buster mobile app (the same one that Albany is using). I am working with the mayor to move forward with this app in Troy. I am also working with Officer Barker, who documents graffiti in Troy, to aid in solving gang-related crimes. Officer Barker is very excited about the prospect of implementing Graffiti Buster in our city. I am trying to move fast on this, since the fiscal impact on the City is negligible.”

The app was created by Tim Varney of Troy Web Consulting, located on Broadway, about a half mile from the Troy Light Company. Since its launch in Albany in April, Varney said that there have been about 300 cases reported.

“You snap a photo, it picks up the GPS coordinates . . . takes the info and verifies your location, then sends it to, in Albany, a specific [e-mail] mailbox for it,” he explained. “Everyone’s carrying these phones. This streamlines the process.”

Albany County Legislator Chris Higgins noted that the feedback has been positive. “The app has made it much easier for neighbors and residents to report graffiti. I myself have used it many times and find the city’s response time to be good for each incident. This easily installable program for smart phones is another great example of government maximizing the use of 21st century basic technology.”

To some in Troy, like the employees at Troy Light Company, who on Tuesday were trying to scrub the paint off of their property under the blaze of the sweltering summer sun, a solution can’t come fast enough.