We need more artists as mayors. In fact, let’s make them prime ministers and presidents. With more mayors like Albania’s Edi Rama, the world would glow.
When Rama became mayor of Tirana, he inherited the typical drab, post-Soviet city, with faceless blocks of grey apartments and soulless public spaces. Graft and corruption were endemic. Thousands of illegally constructed buildings had gobbled up public space.
With funding from the European Union, Rama bought paint. His first project was to splash bright orange paint on a grey building. In his TED talk, he said it caused a traffic jam. People gathered to stare. The EU funding official told him he couldn't paint a building orange. The colours did not meet European standards.
Rama threatened to hold a press conference and cry censorship. The official backed down, and Rama threw the city into a flurry of painting. He tore down the illegal buildings, planted trees, and transformed the city with glorious designs.
He describesd the result:
So we noticed change. People started to drop less litter in the streets, for example,started to pay taxes, started to feel something they had forgotten, and beauty was acting as a guardsman where municipal police, or the state itself, were missing.
Bradford Leinberger has created an online photo gallery that shows the colourful transformation of Tirana. Before-and-after photos are on the TED blog. Watch the TED video below for more stories of Tirana's transformation. Paint may not solve all of a city's ills, but it is a signal that the place is loved. That gives residents a boost, and it gives them hope.