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An Albanian City Creatively Reclaims Streets for Kids

Credit: Simon Battisti

By David Andersson, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Arts Team

Students in the bustling capital of Albania are experiencing the benefits of asphalt art.

A single city block in Tirana is a jam-packed educational hub, containing four schools collectively serving over 2,000 families. But until recently, the block had limited open space for recreation, and the surrounding streets were clogged with cars. Each day, neighborhood families were forced to navigate narrow sidewalks, unmonitored traffic, and illegal parking to bring their children to school.

School Block” is a project of our Asphalt Art Initiative, which helps cities use art and community engagement to improve street safety and revitalize public space. Completed in September 2023, the project used art to reclaim a parking lane around all four sides of the block, adding 1,500 square meters of vibrant, protected pedestrian space. “It’s like night and day, this has become a fairyland,” said local resident Badhkim Topçiu.

Before
After

Led by the City of Tirana in partnership with local urban planning nonprofit Qendra Marrëdhënie (Relationship Center), the project team worked closely with community members to produce a responsive and inspiring design for the space. The artwork, designed by artists Elian Stefa, Ledia Kostandini, and Vincenzo Giannattasio along with students from the four schools, activates the space with a bold graphic lettering that incorporates student names.

Before
After

Beyond an aesthetic improvement to the space, the artwork signals that pedestrians are the priority on these “school streets,” encouraging drivers to be more cautious. In community surveys, the percentage of people who feel safe walking around the school has more than quintupled since the installation, increasing from 17% to 90%.

The Asphalt Art Initiative currently supports 90 projects in cities throughout North America and Europe. Through colorful crosswalks, intersection murals, and artistic plazas, asphalt art demonstrates that change is not only possible, but it can be relatively quick and inexpensive. Indeed, with our support of 25,000 USD and 10 days of installation, Tirana’s “School Block” radically changed the street experience for thousands of residents.

Following the project’s success, Mayor Erion Veliaj announced the city will install similar improvements at 20 additional schools, aligning with his administration’s commitment that streets near schools should prioritize kids, not cars:  “A car doesn’t get upset if you park it in the next block, but a child who misses the first class does.”

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