Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tirana, Albania: Painting a Town

Tirana, Albania, refreshed with paint. yahoo images.
Meet Edi Rama, prime minister of Albania.  He changed his country's capital city of Tirana with paint.  He had the town painted red, literally, and orange, blue, purple, and yellow.  Maybe this could be a model for our own area!

Rama was interviewed recently on CNN to tell the story. He was Mayor of Tirana at the time and wanted to transform those gray, dilapidated, outdated Soviet buildings into brighter, safer places to live, to beautify the town, "to give people a sense or order, and hope."  (CNN story November 10, 2013).   His enthusiasm was contagious, and the people of Tirana started to participate. A new spirit was born. A new civic spirit. This is saying a lot in the former Soviet republics of Eastern Europe.

"Beauty is more intimidating than brutality," Rama said. He also had thousands of illegal buildings, "eyesores on the landscape," demolished. 

What a guy! Tall, handsome, an artist himself, a former basketball player, a painter and a politician, a Renaissance man. He believed that painting his town in every color of the artist's palette would bring changes in attitudes, in citizen participation, in hope for the future.  It was a start.

I can imagine this same approach in every city I ever visited in Ukraine, or anywhere else with an over-abundance of gray, dingy, depressing buildings. Heck, we have some buildings right here that would benefit from a new coat of paint.

In fact, this whole idea takes me back to when I was a young girl of nine or ten, wishing I could paint every gloomy house I saw with a bright color.  I would stop and look at the neglected houses as I walked to and from school.   I dreamt about it. I'd pick a house and pick a color, and it would linger in my mind. From sad to happy, from dumpy to pretty.  I had such a strong sense, somehow, that aesthetics mattered.

It certainly mattered to Tirana.  The paint jobs have beautified the landscape, cheered them up, like Lady Bird Johnson's daffodils on the hillsides of Rock Creek Parkway in Washington.   My dark images of Albania, the mysterious country behind the "iron curtain," have turned around.  

Sure lots more needs to be done in terms of long-term change, Rama said, especially in infrastructure, jobs, and economic opportunity.  Some of my Peace Corps friends would ask me if the dark, dank entryways to apartments are lit, if the lights work, the water is hot, and the elevators go up and down and stop at every floor.  I understand. I lived on the 9th floor of a gray Soviet apartment building in Chernigov, where the elevator was out most of the time.  How can I forget going up and down nine flights of stairs several times a day.

I think Kama understands the realiities, too. He's working on them. But change has to start somewhere.  Why not with a paint job!

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