A building boom and clean-up efforts underway in the Albanian capital, Tirana, are transforming the once sparse city in the southern Balkans. Tirana's mayor is credited with the changes.
Tirana by night has become a blaze of colored lights. Newly painted public buildings are artfully illuminated. The Italian-era boulevard that is the city's spine sparkles from end to end.
Mayor Edi Rama, first elected four years ago, has led a campaign to bring color to the drab buildings put up during four decades of communism and restore Albanians' pride in their capital. The energetic Mr. Rama was just elected to a second term.
In a downtown office, Dena, a young woman with a degree in chemistry, says Mr. Rama is unlike most Albanian politicians.
"He does everything for Albania, especially for Tirana," she said. "Everything shines. Everything is clean. And he shows the young people that they should live here, and not go outside Albania, to be in love with Tirana."
Mr. Rama has bulldozed scores of make-shift and illegal kiosks in a section of downtown, appealing to civic pride.
Mr. Rama, who works long hours, is a new style of Albanian politician. Albania's dominant political leaders are seen as authoritarian figures, resistant to change. Mr. Rama is a Socialist, but he has been isolated within the party by current leader, Prime Minister Fatos Nano.
Aurela, another recent college graduate says she would like to see Mr. Rama play a larger role in Albanian politics.
"I don't think there is any corruption with him," she said. "For the others, I'm not sure. He has kept all his promises until now. If he continues in this way, we'd like him to be a leader of Albania."
The changes in Tirana over the past decade are stunning. Nine years ago, there were more horse carts and bicycles in the city center than cars. Today, by order of Mr. Rama, horse carts are not allowed in the city, where the streets are jammed with the latest model cars.