Whenever I think of Easter, I think of a few things...Easter eggs and bunnies, Easter bonnets, and spring cleaning. And whenever I think of spring cleaning, I think of Tirana Albania and Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. What's the connection, you ask?
When I set off on my world travels in 2007, I hadn't really planned to visit Albania. I knew very little about the place, and it seemed terribly out of the way. However, in one of the guidebooks, I came across a photo of some extraordinary, multi-coloured buildings in Tirana, the capital city, and the image stuck with me.
Six months later, I was in Skopje, FYROM and rather than head off to Dubrovnik, someone suggested we go in a different direction that would take us closer to Albania. Remembering the photo of coloured buildings, I decided to follow his advice. A few days later, I was in Albania. It was fascinating. Here's a link to some initial observations about the country. http://gellersworldtravel.blogspot.com/2007/07/colourful-albania.html
It was only after I left that I learned the story of the painted buildings. It seems that in 2000, an independent was elected mayor of Tirana, the capital of Albania. His name was Edi Rama, and he was an artist. When he was elected, much of the country was in incredible disrepair. Rama knew they didn't have enough money to fix up the buildings, but he thought he could get money to PAINT them! And so he did. And rather than just paint these decrepit buildings white or a single colour, he thought of each building as a canvas, and eventually the town started to become quite colourful....and it spread to other parts of the country. As buildings were painted, the grounds around them started to get cleaned up, and colourful new buildings were added. Within a few years, much happened and in 2004 Rama was voted the best Mayor in the World.When I was in Albania, I couldn't stop thinking about Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, with its worn out buildings and storefronts. While it was by no means as run down as the country, there were similarities.... If only we could start a similar program of cleaning and fixing up.
When I returned to Vancouver, I spoke about this, and soon accepted an invitation from some people who had formed a new organization, the Building Community Society, that hoped to help address a variety of social and planning problems in the Downtown Eastside. In spring 2008, I suggested to some of the community leaders that they should organize a beautification program and spring cleanup similar to what had happened in Albania. It nearly happened, but it didn't.Today, there is much more happening in the Downtown Eastside. The new Woodwards building has definitely had an impact, and a number of the run down hotels have been acquired by the Province and rehabilitated. The Mayor's new shelters have helped take many people of the streets, but many of the storefronts, with their rusting metal gates, and peeling paint look as bad as they did in 2008. The lanes are even more unsightly. I can't help but think that so much could be done if our mayor would be more like Edi Rama and inspire the people to take control of their space and get some paint, power washers and clean up the garbage, some of which has been trapped behind metal railings for a long time.
The Downtown Eastside needs a really good spring cleanup. I know that this has to be organized by the community, but I also know that many Vancouver residents would be happy to help out, if asked. If you agree this is a good idea, maybe you can spread the word.ps One day, after I returned home and was researching Edi Rama, I was shocked to discover that an article I wrote about design controls and Albania's colourful buildings had somehow found its way onto Tirana's official website. While it is a somewhat critical story about Albania, it is still there. You can read it here! http://www.tirana.gov.al/?cid=2,58,1502