We got this message from one of our readers:
“Hey, I’ve seen a ton of honor boxes in Center City with confiscation notices, and they all the reason is ‘Graffiti’! What’s going on with them? Is this being done all around Center City?!”
This actually isn’t shocking, and it happens more than you may think.
About every 3 months, the City of Philadelphia seems to do a sweep of all the honor boxes in Center City. If a box looks as if its been neglected for a long period of time, its slapped with an L&I notice and the owner has a chance to fix it. I’ve seen some cases where the owners of them actually do clean or fix them up, and others where they just get tossed since the owner doesn’t care. The ones that tend to stay belong to the alt-weeklies like Citypaper and Philadelphia Weekly, and the apartment guides and other assorted crap tends to get tossed out.
Walking around Center City daily for the past few months, it seems that most of the boxes are on Market Street only and only on the East Side, where there aren’t that many businesses. The alt-weeklies seem to have actually abandoned most of them; I rarely see newspapers in these boxes anymore! In fact, part of the reason they may be getting the axe is because there aren’t any new papers in them, either. So we’re not just talking about “Graffiti”; we’re just talking full abandonment.
As for “Graffiti” being the reason, lets clarify a few things; first off, if that was the only reason, then just about every honor box in Philadelphia would be removed. We’ve shown dozens of them tagged and covered in stickers and wheat pastes. Tagging honor boxes is just a time-honored Philly Street Art tradition! Secondly, like I said, its more about them being neglected. Its up to the people who own the honor boxes to properly maintain them and make sure they’re working and, most importantly, filled with new papers! If there’s a ton of trash in them, or they look banged-up and broken, they’ll get removed and slapped with a sticker as well.
The real question is, “Why were all of these boxes hit with the same reason for confiscation?”
We asked someone at L&I about this, and it seems that the most recent crackdown is, in fact, part of Philly’s larger “War on Graffiti” in Center City. While the crackdown themselves are nothing new, linking them directly to graffiti is. Its frustrating to see entire rows on honor boxes marked for confiscation on most of the street, but when you go to 11th and Market, the box for USA Today is exempt, despite having just as many tags and stickers on it as the other boxes as well. We’re not making any allegations, but we do find it suspect.
It would be cliche to say that the city needs to concentrate on other concerns, especially since we all know that’s the case. At the same time, we often complain about how the little things that make city life better for everyone never seem to be taken care of. The solution, like always, lies in-between. The alt-weeklies and other honor box owners need to take care of their property; at the same time, it would be in their best interest to just have street artists have control over some of their boxes and decorate them anyway! Why not? At this point, its obvious that they’re going to hit them no matter what, often creating amazing and interesting pieces. In our humble opinion, it would be in the best interests of both the alt-weeklies, street artists, and the city to just let art be art.