At about the same time as Mayor Antanas Mockus was using mimes to reduce traffic deaths in Bogota , across the ocean in post-Soviet Albania, Edi Rama, a larger than life artist politician was elected Mayor of Tirana, an ugly, neglected patchwork city of grey, uniform, sterile buildings cluttering streets lined with bulbless lampposts hanging uselessly over grey people, trapped in stagnation gazing lifelessly for a better future on more distant shores. How could he bring life to what he called “a boulevard without a city”? What if…he painted the facades of those structures, the reminders of a regimented, oppressive existence in tangerine, aubergine and aquamarine?
Rama recalls the reaction: “And when we painted the first building – purple, and orange – I received a call: there are hundreds of people on the street, it is a traffic chaos. And everybody started to talk about colors – it was the first time that people debated about something which was there, instead of debating what the quickest way out of the country is.” Emmanuel Kant claimed that art, or beauty, courts agreement. While Tiranians were quibbling and pontificating over the juxtapositions of shades and tones, they were seduced into dialogues on their future, into engagement, into a city worth talking about. They were sharing a common experience which, in their reactions and responses, wasn’t that common at all.
The seaside municipality that that had only 78 functioning street lights, has now doubled in size. A veritable pastiche of color, it is also a city worth visiting, with its array of new bars, cafés, restaurants and nightclubs. Rama, who was the winner of the World Mayor award in 2004, capitalized on the dynamism created by Tirana’s facelift to dismantle illegal kiosks and structures built on public land, and expand its parks and green areas. Granted, it has grown and now has “big city” problems, but a new sense of pride and admiration has emerged to change the discourse, and citizens can brag that they are home to The City of Lights.