The Eternal City’s Residents Fight Graffiti

My piece on the Americans fighting Rome’s Graffiti problem has just been published in Time.

On a blustery October day in the northern part of Rome, a group of nearly 100 volunteers spreads out along a leafy street and sets to cleaning. Pedestrian barriers are scraped free of rust and repainted in their original yellow. Old leaflets are peeled off walls. And graffiti, the group’s main target, is either scrubbed away or painted over. “This street is the Wild West,” says Paola Carra, who’s overseeing the operation. “We need to maintain it ourselves. We can’t wait for somebody else to do it.”

Many modern cities have trouble with vandalism, but Rome seems to be a case apart. Outside of the touristic center, it’s a rare public surface that hasn’t been plastered with leaflets or covered with graffiti: tags, slogans, declarations of love, outbursts against authority. And there are few signs that much is being done about it. In some areas, it’s possible to come across scribbled celebrations of soccer championships from before the turn of the century. “Inside [people’s homes], everything is perfectly clean,” says pharmacist Maria Vitale, 47, as she heads out to the cleanup. “Outside, everything is dirty. There’s trash on the ground. People don’t clean up after their dogs.” The problem, says Carra, 46, is the absence of personal responsibility. “We’ve lost our sense of community,” she says.

Read the rest.