In 1941, someone on the 300 block of Spruce Street crudely carved the letters “CRMOVT” into a sidewalk for reasons probably long forgotten. Years later, just a few squares away, someone, presumably a fan of 1980s hair-metal bands, enshrined “Poison” and “Ratt” for all the neighbors to enjoy for decades to come.
For as long as contractors have been using concrete to pave sidewalks, curbs and gutters, city engineers have been trying to find ways to prevent hooligans from leaving their permanent marks.
“We always get some vandals,” says Doug Harby, construction project manager for the Missoula Department of Public Works. “We’re pretty careful about having the contractors pour the concrete in the morning whenever possible, so by the end of the workday it’s pretty well hardened up.”
But with thousands of yards of sidewalk poured every summer, some stealthy vandals will inevitably manage to scratch their messages, initials or symbols into uncured concrete somewhere.
“If it’s not too bad, we have a special stone that we can use to rub it out before the cement dries,” Harby says.
Harby says concrete vandals cause thousands of dollars of damage every year, from the college kids who can’t resist the drunken impulse to write their names in wet cement to the kid on his bike who left an inch-deep rut through 200 feet of residential sidewalk.
“Sometimes, if it’s just someone scratching their initials into new sidewalks in front of their house, we’ll let them do that,” he says.
Harby understands the urge to decorate the otherwise boring gray pavement, and so instead of fighting it, he says the city is increasingly embracing some—albeit pre-approved—forms of permanent sidewalk art.
“One of the neatest examples is right across the street from the [Missoula] Children’s Theatre, where they stamped a compass rose into the sidewalk.”
Harby says as new technologies allow contractors to take more creative license with paving, more and more businesses are taking an interest in customizing their front walks, from colored and stamped concrete to mock “griz tracks” on the sidewalk.
“We’re pretty flexible,” he says. “We’re starting to loosen up a bit.”