May 17, 2021 - News
Minneapolis' civil unrest drove a huge spike in graffiti across the city
Photo: Nick Halter/Axios

Minneapolis is struggling to keep up with a spike in graffiti over the last year, driven by the civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd.

Why it matters: Graffiti can often look bad, but it also costs a lot for private property owners and government agencies to clean up.

By the numbers: Reports of graffiti were up 16% across the city in 2020, and so far, they're up another 55% in 2021.

  • You can check out annual data, but note that 2017 is an outlier due to a University of Minnesota graffiti project.

The intrigue: "Tagging" — a repeated name or symbol — often drives graffiti. It accounts for about two out of every three reports, according to city data.

  • But political and emotional messages have been driving the increases over the past year , said co-Clean City coordinator Michelle Howard.
  • "A lot of our increase is pertaining to the civil unrest and the protesting and the [Derek Chauvin] trial," she said.
  • More than 2,400 reports of graffiti came in during March and April, when the trial was happening.

How it works: Minneapolis Public Works receives reports of graffiti through 311. Then the city sends someone out to photograph the property. If it's on public property, it will issue work orders to remove it.

  • But for private property, the process takes longer. Staff sends property owners a letter, giving them a removal deadline. If they don't act in time, the city sends a contractor and then bills them.
  • The cost for a contractor to remove a 16-square-foot graffiti marking ranges from about $74 to $87.

Between the lines: Public Works has limited staff and has been falling behind on processing and compliance, said Angela Brenny, the other Clean City coordinator.

  • That is why you might be seeing more graffiti, particularly around Lake Street, which was ground zero for civil unrest last year.
  • "We get staff pulled off to do other things, but we don't ever get additional staff for backlog," Brenny said.
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