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NYC’s Soho is unrecognizable after being covered in GRAFFITI as cops struggle with soaring crime


It’s a New York not seen since the 1980s; graffiti-ridden buildings, soaring crime and random subway attacks, and a city rife with homelessness, as the Big Apple desperately tries to recover fromits coronavirus lockdown.

The city’s trendy Soho has been left almost unrecognizable in recent months, as its luxury stores, restaurants and apartment buildings have all been covered with graffiti. 

Soho occupants say the say the vandalism is yet another ‘sign of neglect’ to the city, while city officials are desperately throwing millions of dollars into initiatives to try to claw back the city’s heyday.

Known for its upscale boutiques which cemented its reputation as a top shopping destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike, the neighborhood has found itself a symbol of the toll the last year has taken on the city. 

In the streets between Houston Street and Canal Street – home to designer stores including Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana – eyesores were etched along walls and doors of the buildings. 

Crime is soaring with a spate of attacks on the city’s subway systems and violent crimes across the board up 30 percent so far in 2021 compared to the same time last year.

Fears are mounting that the city is headed back to the dark days of the 70s and 80s when crime was rife with Governor Andrew Cuomo admitting last week that New York City is now in the throes of a ‘major problem.’

Homelessness is rife, stores and restaurants remain shuttered as many failed to survive the pandemic, and tourism – once the lifeblood of the city – is still on hold as the US is still yet to lift a years-plus-long travel ban from key international markets including the UK and Europe.  

In recent months, the NYPD has launched the Graffiti Clean-up Campaign and Mayor Bill de Blasio the City Cleanup Corps to try and tackle the blight.

The latter is costing $234 million of the struggling city’s budget – a staggering 78 times more than the long-running $3 million popular graffiti-removal program axed last year due to budget cuts (despite warnings of business owners).

New York City’s iconic Soho neighborhood has been left almost unrecognizable due to a surge in graffiti and vandalism. A photo taken on the corner of Grand and Mercer St shows walls covered in tags, just steps away from high-end Zimmerman and Kate Spade stores 

Tags and scrawlings cover the walls and wood panels boarding up a building in Manhattan's affluent Soho neighborhood .

Tags and scrawlings cover the walls and wood panels boarding up a building in Manhattan’s affluent Soho neighborhood .

New Yorkers walk past defaced walls in what was once the hottest shopping destination in the city for residents and tourists

New Yorkers walk past defaced walls in what was once the hottest shopping destination in the city for residents and tourists

Shutters and feature tags and graffiti in the area in a sign that New York City's road to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is growing further out of reach

Shutters and feature tags and graffiti in the area in a sign that New York City’s road to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is growing further out of reach

Residents and business owners in the wealthy neighborhood are now grappling with a surge in graffiti and vandalism

Residents and business owners in the wealthy neighborhood are now grappling with a surge in graffiti and vandalism

1980S: Lower East Side of Manhattan in May 1987 when the Big Apple was known as 'Fear City' due to its crime epidemic

1980S: Lower East Side of Manhattan in May 1987 when the Big Apple was known as ‘Fear City’ due to its crime epidemic 

Tourists and New Yorkers have long been drawn to Soho’s charming cast-iron architecture and artsy history.

In the 1960s, the area transformed from an industrial area as artists moved in creating lofts and galleries, putting it firmly on the map.

Over the years the area cemented its place as one of the most desirable parts of the city, with its trendy art galleries, boutique stores and designer brands, and upscale bars and restaurants. 

Now, it is one of the richest areas of New York, with the average home price topping $2.3 million.  

But it now seems a long way from its heyday. Unsightly scrawlings were seen throughout Soho this week, with the etchings covering walls of once-thriving retailers as well as boarded-up windows and store fronts. 

Graffiti covered the walls along Broadway, where where shoppers headed for Bloomingdales and Zara were met with tags and vandalism along the street.  

The pandemic waved goodbye to many retail icons across Manhattan such as Lord & Taylor’s 100-year-old flagship store, and tourist mecca Century 21, to Soho’s favorites Opening Ceremony and Frye.

Boarded up stores have left blank canvases for vandals to make their mark on while lower footfall from a lack of tourists has contributed to the neighborhood’s deterioration.   

For store owners that managed to cling on to just about keep their businesses afloat this last year, the graffiti is making it even harder to get back on their feet after long COVID-19 lockdowns.  

One local store owner told Fox5 the graffiti reminded him of the city in the 70s when it was rife with vandalism.  

Stephen Masullo, who runs a wine and liquor store that his been in his family for more than 60 years, said it was a sign things are ‘out of hand’ in the Big Apple.

‘It is a sign of neglect. A sign of things out of hand. Quality of life is very important,’ he said.

In 2020, the NYPD was overwhelmed with more than 6,000 graffiti complaints. It is not clear how many complaints have been filed so far in 2021 but the issue has accelerated to the point it is a key agenda for NYC’s mayoral candidates. 

An apartment building is covered in graffiti. The Big Apple's trendy Soho has been left almost unrecognizable in recent months, as tags and spray-painted eyesores have defaced luxury stores, restaurants and apartment buildings

An apartment building is covered in graffiti. The Big Apple’s trendy Soho has been left almost unrecognizable in recent months, as tags and spray-painted eyesores have defaced luxury stores, restaurants and apartment buildings

Boarded up store fronts are defaced with the neighborhood now a symbol of the toll the last year has taken on the city

Boarded up store fronts are defaced with the neighborhood now a symbol of the toll the last year has taken on the city

The area was once known for its upscale boutiques which cemented its reputation as a top shopping destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike

The area was once known for its upscale boutiques which cemented its reputation as a top shopping destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike

A side street is littered in graffiti. Homelessness is rife, stores and restaurants remain shuttered as many failed to survive the pandemic, and tourism - once the lifeblood of the city - is still on hold as the US

A side street is littered in graffiti. Homelessness is rife, stores and restaurants remain shuttered as many failed to survive the pandemic, and tourism – once the lifeblood of the city – is still on hold as the US

Soho occupants say the say the vandalism is yet another 'sign of neglect' to the city, while city officials are desperately throwing millions of dollars into initiatives to try to claw back the city's heyday

Soho occupants say the say the vandalism is yet another ‘sign of neglect’ to the city, while city officials are desperately throwing millions of dollars into initiatives to try to claw back the city’s heyday

Retired NYPD captain Eric Adams said he believes the rise in graffiti goes hand in hand with a rise in crime and that – if the city does not clean up its act – more violent crime will be on the cards.   

‘Ignoring defacements and other quality-of-life violations only allows lawlessness to spread, and we can’t let that happen,’ Adams told the New York Post.

‘We can’t go back to the ’70s and ’80s when the graffiti assault was the norm,’ Adams said. 

Back then, NYC earned the nickname as ‘Fear City’ due to its prevalence of crime an disorder.

In the 1970s, the city faced $10 billion in debt and funds were cut the police, fire and sanitation departments.

All types of crime were up and the city was blanketed in graffiti. 

The dark days continued into the 1980s when the crack epidemic ravaged the city. 

At its peak, someone was murdered every 63 hours in the worst-hit parts including East New York and Cypress Hill. 

Other mayoral candidates have also warned that the city could be headed for darker days again. 

A spokesman for fellow mayoral candidate Andrew Yang told the Post it was ‘just the latest example of how quality of life in our city’.  

Adams also leveled blame at the axing of the city’s long-running Graffiti-Free NYC program.

The popular graffiti-removal program was suspended in March due to the pandemic, before being cut from the city budget altogether to try to plug a $9 billion revenue deficit hammering the city.

On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio (in his press briefing) insisted New Yorkers would see a big change to the city in the summer. He launched the City Cleanup Corps in April

On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio (in his press briefing) insisted New Yorkers would see a big change to the city in the summer. He launched the City Cleanup Corps in April

The former Hollister store in Soho is unrecognizable as it is covered in graffiti with the walls and boarded up windows defaced

The former Hollister store in Soho is unrecognizable as it is covered in graffiti with the walls and boarded up windows defaced

In recent months, the NYPD has launched the Graffiti Clean-up Campaign and Mayor Bill de Blasio the City Cleanup Corps

In recent months, the NYPD has launched the Graffiti Clean-up Campaign and Mayor Bill de Blasio the City Cleanup Corps

De Blasio's initiative is costing $234 million of the struggling city's budget - a staggering 78 times more than the long-running $3 million popular graffiti-removal program axed last year due to budget cuts

De Blasio’s initiative is costing $234 million of the struggling city’s budget – a staggering 78 times more than the long-running $3 million popular graffiti-removal program axed last year due to budget cuts

Business owners in the likes of Soho who want to see the back of the graffiti are skeptical about the initiatives rolled out by the city and the NYPD

Business owners in the likes of Soho who want to see the back of the graffiti are skeptical about the initiatives rolled out by the city and the NYPD

1983: Two men stand outside CBGB at 315 Bowery in New York City. In the 80s the city was rocked by a crime epidemic

1983: Two men stand outside CBGB at 315 Bowery in New York City. In the 80s the city was rocked by a crime epidemic

1988: Two NYPD officers stand on a street corner on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Fears are mounting that the city is headed back to the dark days of the 70s and 80s with Governor Cuomo admitting New York City is in the throes of a 'major problem'

1988: Two NYPD officers stand on a street corner on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Fears are mounting that the city is headed back to the dark days of the 70s and 80s with Governor Cuomo admitting New York City is in the throes of a ‘major problem’

‘It was a mistake when the city zeroed out funding for graffiti removal, and I have partnered with local civic groups in recent months to take on illegal vandalism,’ said Adams. 

The $3 million program – a meagre fraction within the $88 billion spending plan – had been in place for more than two decades.

Launched in 1999, it offered a no-cost graffiti removal service for business and residents, allowing residents to report tags on any property in NYC.

At the time of the cut, business owners warned it could spell trouble for the city.

Now, de Blasio has been left playing catch-up announcing the launch of a drastically more expensive new program with a price tag of $234 million.   

The City Cleanup Corps will involve hiring 10,000 temporary workers to clean up the city’s public spaces and parks.

It was announced in April with hiring taking place then and in July. To date, 1,500 homeless people are said to have been hired under the scheme. 

The NYPD's Graffiti Clean-up Campaign was launched in March, with police officers and community volunteers holding clean-up days to cover over graffiti across the city

The NYPD’s Graffiti Clean-up Campaign was launched in March, with police officers and community volunteers holding clean-up days to cover over graffiti across the city

Volunteers and NYPD staff paint over graffiti in the city in April. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said at the time that the effort would help the city be restored to its former glory

Volunteers and NYPD staff paint over graffiti in the city in April. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said at the time that the effort would help the city be restored to its former glory

The first clean-up day was held on April 10 with the NYPD telling DailyMail.com there have been ongoing clean-ups as per the needs of the community since then

The first clean-up day was held on April 10 with the NYPD telling DailyMail.com there have been ongoing clean-ups as per the needs of the community since then

But the NYPD's efforts have come under fire from some as they have accused authorities of defacing street art that is part of the culture in some areas and targeting graffiti of anti-police sentiment

But the NYPD’s efforts have come under fire from some as they have accused authorities of defacing street art that is part of the culture in some areas and targeting graffiti of anti-police sentiment

DailyMail.com has reached out to the mayor’s office for more information about the initiative and what has been done so far. 

On Thursday, de Blasio insisted New Yorkers would see a big change to the city in the summer. 

‘You’re going to see a big impact from the Cleanup Corps,’ De Blasio said. ‘They’re going to be out there. They’re hiring up as we speak.’ 

The NYPD’s Graffiti Clean-up Campaign was also launched in March, with police officers and community volunteers holding clean-up days to cover over graffiti across the city. 

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said at the time that the effort would help the city be restored to its former glory.

‘This is not a problem that can’t be defeated, it’s something pretty simple. We just gotta get to it, put our mind to it, roll up our sleeves, work with the community and the businesses and we’ll get it back where we need it to be,’ Shea said.  

Police also hope it will help improve fraught relationships between law enforcement and local communities. 

The first clean-up day was held on April 10 with the NYPD telling DailyMail.com there have been ongoing clean-ups as per the needs of the community since then. 

The NYPD has launched a graffiti map above where residents have reported vandalism across the city to be cleaned up

The NYPD has launched a graffiti map above where residents have reported vandalism across the city to be cleaned up 

But the NYPD’s efforts have come under fire from some as they have accused authorities of defacing street art that is part of the culture in some areas and targeting graffiti of anti-police sentiment.  

Artist Michael McLeer – also known as Kaves – filed a lawsuit against the NYPD this week claiming its ‘haphazard’ graffiti cleanup campaign has destroyed valuable, legally permitted artwork.

He said the campaign violates the Visual Artists Rights Act, which protects artists’ works from destruction or distortion.

The complaint also said the NYPD has taken a ‘heightened stance against graffiti messages that have an anti-police sentiment,’ and that the cleanup effort violates the First Amendment by discouraging artists from expressing their beliefs and opinions about the NYPD, defunding the police, and supporting protesters.

McLeer’s 2008 mural called ‘Death from Above’ – which was created with permission from the property owner and tenant of the building – was destroyed by NYPD volunteers in April.

Indeed, one key area targeted by the NYPD’s first clean-up day in April was Wycoff Ave in Bushwick – an area that draws in tourism for its street art. 

Business owners in the likes of Soho who want to see the back of the graffiti are also skeptical about the initiatives rolled out by the city and the NYPD.   

Jack Applegate, manager of Georges Berges Gallery in Soho, told FOX 5 the removal of the graffiti is only temporary as it is soon replaced with further tagging. 

Figures released by compstat reveal there have been 1,754 major crimes across the city last week alone

Figures released by compstat reveal there have been 1,754 major crimes across the city last week alone

THEFT - Theft is up by 40 percent this week compared to the same week last year

THEFT – Theft is up by 40 percent this week compared to the same week last year

‘There’s a couple of places in the area where it looks like [the business] takes the tags off [and] the next week they come back and spray it again, over and over and over again,’ he said.  

Clean-up operations are seen to be only a temporary bandage to the larger wound ravaging the city as it is yet to recover from the toll of the pandemic. 

One year ago, New York City was the virus epicenter of the world, healthcare systems were on the brink of collapse and bodies were piling up in morgues and refrigerated trucks in the streets. 

The city turned into a ghost town as Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a stay-at-home order in March, shuttering businesses and non-essential retailers and telling people to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.

The once bustling streets of Manhattan became deserted overnight and rich New Yorkers fled to second homes – with some quitting life in the Big Apple for good.   

Homelessness soared with encampments springing up on the streets of the city as millions were thrown into unemployment overnight and crucial addiction services fell by the wayside amid the pandemic.  

Crime soared across the city with the trend continuing into 2021. 

Overall, violent crimes are up 30 percent from last year while there were 1,754 major crimes across the city last week alone, according to NYPD data. 

There have been 35 shootings, 39 rapes, 105 other sex crimes, 1,600 incidents of theft, 708 misdemeanor assaults and 14 hate crimes. In almost every single category, crime is up.  



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