the equivalent of 12 Beaujoire stadiums to clean each year, the staggering cost of cleaning up graffiti and clandestine labels

Graphite or Tag? In either case, they are often undesirable. In the metropolis of Nantes, they are systematically erased when they are made from public space. Endless work that represents a non-negligible cost to the community. As for the “erased” surfaces each year, they are considerable, as you can read.

Graffiti or graff, tag, are two words that designate two different genres, but refer to Street-Art. Urban artistic movement that developed at the end of the 20th century. Brilliant works sometimes, most of the time incomprehensible to the layman, almost always ugly and embarrassing especially for the owners who have just ripped their facades at great cost!

A graffiti is a work that uses different artistic techniques, the best known being aerosol, stencil or collage. The paints used for street art are solid as they are designed to make artists’ works last.

Etiquette is a technique that consists of quickly registering a subscription in a frequented place.

The taggers who notice it want to impose their signature on a certain location. A way of getting out of a form of anonymity or of appropriating support.

Problem, one like the other, are appreciated differently. Generally considered incivilities by the general public. More rarely as an expression of street art. Municipalities are increasingly letting street performers express themselves in agreed venues. And they are hunting illegal immigrants who “sign” their passage on the walls of public buildings as well as those of individuals.

Many cities have created systems to help individuals, in particular victims of these unwanted tags. Whether on a simple phone call, or after filing a complaint or at least filling out a handrail at the local police station.

In Nantes, the services of the metropolis guard the walls that border the public roads and erase everything that is written or painted on the walls.

“We delete graffiti present in public space or facades that are on the edge of the public domain up to 3 meters high. All graffiti made by people in public space are removed even on private facades, unless otherwise specified by the owner”explains Éric Bouchet, head of the urban cleaning department of the center of Nantes-Loire, in Nantes Métropole.

In a large part of the municipality of Nantes, the erasures are carried out “automatically” by specialized agents, the inhabitants can, of course, always call. In other cities in mainland France, tags are registered by cleaning agents or road workers, and a company will ensure they are erased.

“The graffiti is removed free of charge, it is not covered with paint. We repaint if we have damaged the support. For example, if we have damaged a stonework support, as we have a lot in the city center, we will reheat the back to find a natural tone”says Eric Bouchet.

The metropolis is competent only in the public space, it cannot intervene in the many private roads. No more than in gables or high facades. “We do not have the right to intervene outside the public domain. Besides the 3 meters high, the responsibility for the graffiti is clearly the co-ownership, access to its roof was poor, as the graffiti artists could access the graffiti that could not be done in public space”. Accuracy is important.

It is therefore up to the condominiums to remove them. The national police could demand they do so within a fortnight, as the department’s health regulations require all homeowners to have…clean facades!

Removing all graffiti necessarily costs the community. For our taxes soon. Careful, pica! “It costs money, from the moment the community decided to take this into account, we have a company with ten employees assigned to this task, who work in the municipalities of mainland France, with the exception of the city center, and have a management, with about fifteen specially trained agents who work only in the city center”.

The budget: between 1.5 million and 2 million euros per year. In the years 2010 to 2015, technicians cleared 120 to 130,000 m² per year. Once the surfaces are down. “Here we are in 2016 with 119,000m², in 2017 with 111,000m², 105,000m² in 2018, the covid years lowered the numbers, 91,000m² in 2020 and 87,000m² in 2021”explains Eric Bouchet.

If these numbers mean nothing to you, that represents more than 12 times the Beaujoire stadium in 2021. You can check the calculation, the pitch surface is 105 by 68 meters, official numbers! For your calculators.

“The center of Nantes represents two thirds of the graffiti removed each year in all 24 municipalities of the metropolis”, specifies Eric Bouchet. Abusive political or racist graffiti disappears within 48 hours, except on weekends, “classic” graffiti can remain for up to two weeks.

One would think that there might be anti-graffiti coatings on city walls. Not so simple explains Éric Bouchet: “Permanent anti-graffiti consists of placing such an impermeable layer to prevent migration to the support, which changes the nature of the support, and which causes other problems and gives the varnish an unpleasant appearance”.

Ineffective, the metropolis services reserve this treatment for the walls of the city hall that are redecorated after each Saturday demonstration. “We put a water-repellent oil with a kind of vegetable oil in which the graphite will run with hot water”. During the week, technicians will put on a coat of oil, ready for the next demonstration on Saturday. Be the story of endless graffiti.

However, this paltry town hall ritual on Saturday isn’t the most important thing. Protest graffiti is not the most common. The signatures of Screw and the graffiti artists are certainly much more productive.

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