Issue 6, 2014. December-January



There are a multitude of problems facing Tbilisi - there is traffic, unemployment, overcrowding, diminishing green space, increased pollution...the list is long and, while probably not unique for cities across the globe, it is concerning for those who call Tbilisi home. spoke with four Tbilisians - one expat and three locals - who have been vocal advocates for action to help our city be its best.

Planning for success

It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes a city great. Is it the culture? The public transportation? The night life? The cost of living? Accessibility of housing? It can be one - or a combination - of a thousand little things that make citizens' lives easier or better or more enriched.

But one common denominator is good planning. Before a city can boast of its great cultural events or its modern, accessible metro line, or even its cost of living, there has to be the will - and the policy - to get there.

"You cannot expect things to just change on their own. That is the whole point of ensure that the city is a livable city, that strives towards a high quality of life," said Eric Barrett, the executive director of the non-government organization JumpStart.

"A high quality of life can mean different things for different people but it is one of those things that people know it when they have it," he added.

Under the Soviet Union, everything was planned. The city of Tbilisi had an official master plan that dictated all development in the city, top down, from the number of apartments to the quantity of green space. But developing a city in the 21st century is not about five year plans or government dictates.

It requires, noted architect Lena Kiladze, an open, professional and public discussion about what the city needs,as city is a live organism.

"What the city needs to think about is the vision - the city concept for Tbilisi," and strategic planning," she said.

While the city - like the rest of the country - has struggled for the past two decades in the face of constantly changing situations, Kiladze said there comes a time when "it is necessary to put everything together into a sort of vision we have for the city - what will be the message of the master plan development and the zoning?"

To do that, however, Barrett stressed, the authorities at city hall have to be committed to be "good leaders."

"They need to be good leaders; they need to make decisions based on the people instead of special interests and themselves. They need to understand that they themselves are not representative of the population, and they need to understand that the majority of the population in Tbilisi does not have cars; they use public transportation," he said.

"They need to understand that public transportation in Tbilisi is terrible. And until they can accept that, why will they prioritize it? They need to understand the problem."

Traffic, transportation, green space - a triad of problems that require more planning and more strategy, noted Nata Peradze, the leader of Tbilisi Guerrilla Gardeners.

Today, she said, the city thinks it can build everywhere - even the city's official recreation areas have been opened up for development.

Without proper planning, this is creating problems with air pollution, traffic, parking, the loss of green space and diminishing property values, noted Nika Davitashvili, an activist with the Tbilisi Guerrilla Gardeners.

"They should understand that by destroying the park in the neighborhood, they are hurting themselves because the prices of their own apartments and houses go down," he said.

What is happening in Tbilisi has happened in countless cities around the world, Davitashvili said - the difference is that Tbilisi can learn from others' mistakes.

"All the people that I speak to from Europe are saying we [made these] mistakes and then we learned from the mistakes... But here you can stop it before you go that far. You just need people who understand how things should work and learn from them," he said.

Using technology

Tbilisi does not have to reinvent the wheel - cities in Europe and the United States are turning to technology to give policymakers and residents the information necessary to make good decisions for their city and their quality of life.

"The technology is there, it just takes a bit of investment on the part of the government and then they can [use it]. I don't think that [Tbilisi Mayor Davit] Narmania doesn't want to improve the situation, he just doesn't have the right tools, and he doesn't have access to the right information," Davitashvili said.

"If they do even half of what is being done [internationally], or even one third of that, it will be a great thing."