Edi Rama, an artist and former mayor of Tirana, Albania, presented his TED Talk: Take Back Your City With Paint on taking back ownership of a city through the use of color. Rama entered office facing the challenges of corruption, a lack of citizen support, and a miniscule budget. He also had the added pressure of working with European Union officials in the lead-up to Albania’s application to join the EU. From his perspective, these officials did not understand his city’s needs or how their regulations interfered with them.
Introducing vibrant colors in startling designs throughout Tirana transformed the city and infused its citizens with a sense of security and civic pride. This led to greater improvements around Tirana, such as bulldozing 5,000 illegally built structures and putting up safe, securely designed buildings; planting 55,000 trees and bushes; dredging thousands of pounds of cement from the river; and fixing the city’s streets. As these transformations occurred, crime rates dropped as well. The biggest sign of success was that while only 65 percent of the citizens liked the colorful changes, 80 percent of the people polled wanted them to continue.
The painting experience in Tirana proved two important lessons: Beautiful surroundings can create pride and confidence in a community, and civic pride leads to higher standards. Without improving aesthetics in Tirana, Rama would never have managed to renovate the city so quickly and change the way people felt about their community.