Tirana was a grey and run down city
when Rama became mayor
During its Power Of One series People & Power is looking at people who have made a huge contribution and difference to their own communities through their power and wealth.


One such person is Edi Rama. Not only is he Albania's most famous painter he is also mayor of Tirana, the capital city, leader of the country's Socialist opposition and a possible prime minister in waiting.


A former basketball player he is a big man with big ideas and a former world mayor of the year.


When he was elected mayor in 2000 Tirana was a drab, grey city weighed down by extreme poverty. He decided to imprint his own vision on the city and inject Tirana with vibrancy and colour.

He did this they way he knows best - by painting it.

Edi Rama

Many of Tirana's buildings
have had a facelift
I lived with colours from the moment I was born.

As an artist I was involved in the democratic movement, as a professor in the academy I was leading the students rebellion against the old regime.

When I became mayor of Tirana it was like entering a Kafka book and becoming a person in danger of becoming totally metamorphosed by the very heavy power of the past and of the total lack of authority and hope in the city.


Tirana was totally left behind and was very similar to a transit station in that everybody was thinking of how to escape.


It was the greyest, dustiest, most hopeless city ever imagined.


Every free piece of land was seen as a space to be occupied, so all the parks disappeared and every building was in like a permanent state of pregnancy because every building got bigger and bigger.


Whether it was cafes, restaurants, shoe-fixing stops - whatever. People that were in the middle of this sandwich they just transformed the balconies to create additional space which is why you cannot see two balconies that are the same in this city.

So there was an intense time of regaining the sense of the private space because nature which was beautiful was seen as the property of the enemy - the state.

So everything was ours yet nothing was ours, even our own self was not ours. The city became a catastrophe in terms of public spaces.


So when I was elected expectations were very high and people were fed up. So we started with colours.


I will never forget the first square metres of orange that appeared in the middle of the grey. People had never seen somebody taking care of a space that was not private.

Cafe culture

Suddenly they saw some people painting a building at the entrance of Tirana and

after ten years it was the first time people were discussing things about the city it was great, intense.


You can imagine the poorest country in Europe talking about colours. It was like a café in Montmartre and there many voices for the changes and many voices against it .

So we asked people whether they liked the painted buildings and do they want it to continue or not.

About 60 per cent of people said yes we like it, but 85 per cent of people said they wanted it to continue, so half of them who did not like it, still wanted it to continue.


And we felt a change in the structure of discipline like police we started to see incredible safety stops taken off the heavy horrible grids that dominated the city and people started to re-create their facades started to think about design.

The most important thing was how to appeal to the others, to think about not only what we have but who we are in front of the others.

So slowly the city started to search for a balance between what we have and who we are. And this was important.


Rama says Tirana is no longer a "transit station"

We started to demolish more than 5,000 illegal buildings alone from the river banks that you can see now.

We have moved 123,000 tonnes of concrete, demolishing more than 450 illegal buildings from one to eight floors.

There were many critics saying "ahh this is just façade, this is superficial, this is nothing, poverty is behind this façade", yes, but being poor does not mean that you have to be ugly.


On the contrary poverty should have a dignified face. Tirana is a woman and should be beautiful, should look towards the future.


So now we have to face all problems that reasonable big city has and to improve the quality of life.

Only six or seven years ago young people lived here as if at a transit station just thinking about the possibility to leave through whatever means.

Today Tirana is a place where young people have hopes and opportunities. Of course there not enough of either yet but we have opened a perspective which should be improved through the new politics of change.


I hope I have not become a politician and I will never become a politician in the sense of being somebody that is drowned in the circle of compromises and isolated from reality.

I would say that I am somebody that is trying to use politics to make the best out of it for the good of my city and my people.

Find out more about this episode of People & Power which airs from Sunday March 30, 2008 at the following times GMT:
Sunday: 14:30 GMT
Monday: 01:30 and 13.30
Tuesday: 06:30 and 20.30

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Source: Al Jazeera