Retake Rome

March 26, 2010 / Local Interest
Rome, Italy

retakerome4On Sunday, 14 March 2010, Rome saw its first volunteer effort to remove graffiti, tagging and litter, in Villa Borghese. It was launched by Retake Rome, a grassroots movement committed to increasing civic awareness and pride by “speaking up and cleaning up.”

Retake Rome’s indefatigable founder, Rebecca Spitzmiller, an American law professor at Roma Tre University, is married to an Italian and has been in Rome 25 years.  One day she got so fed up with the graffiti on her apartment building that she cajoled her son into helping her scrub it off with oven cleaner.  She then approached a nearby, private high school, Istituto Cristo Re, which embraced her offer to teach student volunteers a hands-on course in civic education and that was the beginning of a wonderful initiative!

retakerome3She has gotten enthusiastic encouragement in a growing number of municipi (city districts) as well as from the Mayor’s office, which co-sponsored the Villa Borghese event and has already levied heavy fines (up to 1,000 Euros) on those who ‘tag’ and produce illegal graffiti. (There are some walls where graffiti is allowed.)

She has also launched a competition amongst high school students to come up with a slogan to make it ‘cool’ NOT to tag.  Spitzmiller argues that kids here do not always have enough to engage them — tagging is a way of being noticed.  She hopes they will find other ways to occupy themselves through this initiative.

Anita Garibaldi, the great granddaughter of Giuseppe Garibaldi, found this idea so appealing that she offered to make it an official activity of the Fondazione Giuseppe Garibaldi and to publicize Retake Rome on its website.  For more information, consult or send a message to

– Contributed by Gretchen Bloom, reader and Central Italy expert. Also a recent Senior Advisor at the UN’s World Food Program as well as head of WFP’s Programme Unit in Kabul, Afghanistan, for 15 month. Expert in gender issues and community health. Many thanks!

22 Responses to “Retake Rome”

  1. Swwet greetings from Frog Hollow Farm. What a great idea! It is so disheartening to see all of the grafitti on such beautiful buildings when visiting Rome. I am so happy to see that some Italians recognize the need to do something about it. Bravo to the high school students who are standing up for what they believe in. Ciao, bella!

  2. Jim Uccello

    What a great idea. The growing grafitti has been our greatest disappoint in Rome. We’ll be in Rome again this
    year and I have offered to help if there is a work project during our visit. “Retake Rome!”

  3. I am so happy to see this taking place. If we all do a little something the results will be remarkable. Kudos to Rebecca and Gretchen.

  4. After sending in my first comment, my next email had this quote:
    Quote of the Day

    “You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
    – Mahatma Gandhi

  5. Very cool. Especially all the people who care and come out to work together. Community effort = community pride!

  6. Wow, this is really great. The graffiti proliferation everywhere has really been disturbing me. Bravissimi to Rebecca and all the volunteers!

  7. In these days of turmoil and unrest it is truly heartwarming to see that there are people, especially the young, who care about this lovely planet! Suzanne and Ron from Highland Park, Illinois

  8. Bravo a Roma! When we lived in Italy I was extremely impressed with the high degree of CIvic Pride in so many of the Italian citizens. This is further proof that we can be led by the younger generation.

  9. Paula Giangreco Cullison

    Hats off to Rebecca Spitmiller – she has a CAN DO attitude and the passion to make IT happen. I was wondering about the possibility of organizing a similar effort in my father’s birthplace – Racalmuto (near Agrigento, Sicilia) where the abandoned train station has been ruined by graffiti. Perhaps the Fondazione Sciacia (in Racalmuto)will take it on as a cause. You’ve inspired me to contact Anita Garibaldi.
    My mother (Pace)was from Calatafimi (TP) where Garibaldi’s last battle for unification was fought.
    As Margaret Mead once said,” Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

  10. I am so delighted. It has really bothered me the see the defacing of historical buildings and spaces.

  11. cindy wilford

    I have been so saddened by the increase in graffitti which I notice in my frequent travels around Italy – yet did not know what could be done. I especially noticed the problem in Venice, so I hope this program will catch the attention of civic groups and government there.
    Grazie mille,

  12. Paulina

    It was very sad to see so much graffiti in Rome. Bravo to all helping to clean it up. I feel I can now revisit Rome.


  13. Grazie a Rebecca and the Retake Rome volunteers from all of us who live far away but have some part of our hearts in Rome.

  14. Susan Zappia

    I am so happy to see that this is taking place in Rome! It was very disturbing to see such a beautiful city with priceless landmarks being destroyed by the graffiti. A big thank you to all who are contributing to this most worthy cause. SZ

  15. Peggy Corrao

    This is fantastic! Brava e grazie a Rebecca! Also to all the volunteers!

  16. Audrey and family

    We are so proud of all the volunteers and their hard and dedicated work, and the determination of Rebecca to this cause.

  17. kate stoll giordano,'66

    OK,I’m a little late,but I only found out about “retakerome” the other day while reading Time Magazine,November 29th,2010.Great stuff! It is better to work in company,get more done and…there is safety in numbers.I’ll try to get in touch with you all,I figure even I can help. The more the merrier! Thank you, Kate (Stoll Giordano)


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