Proper urban planning is very important for the progress and development of the country. The public and private sector have an equal role in the implementation of public goods that will contribute to urban development.
Today, many correct steps have been taken in this direction in Georgia, but there are still many issues to be properly planned, resolved and worked out. In an interview with The FINANCIAl, Temur Bolotashvili, Head of LEPL Architecture Service of Tbilisi Municipality, talked about their achievements, future plans and projects in terms of the urban development of the city.
Q: Urban development has become one of the priorities of today. What does Tbilisi Architecture Service do in this regard?
“Urban development is one of the most important issues for the proper development of the city. When we came to power in the city, about 3.5 years ago, we started thinking about and implementing structural reforms, including in terms of proper governance of the city, and we created the Urban Development Service, which works on the proper development of the city. This service is in fact the policy-making body in the municipality and we have since set up the so-called Architecture Service. The Architecture Service brought together one major service provider, a policy-maker for urban development, a master planner and a management body, and all this together was not the best international experience. In the developed countries of the West, there is a separate service responsible for the proper urban development of a city, and separately there is a service provider such as a construction permit, commissioning of buildings, etc. Accordingly, we have made the absolutely right decision. We have set up a policy office – the Urban Development Agency, which today manages the general plan. It was renewed very soon after we came to power. This service carries out the planning of areas. It is not just an example of projects implemented by the municipality. It involves the approval of existing regulatory plans for development planned by private investors, and in fact the urban development of the city with all its components. This is a component of transport, these are environmental issues, these are issues related to development itself, everything is gathered in this one service, which takes care of the proper development of the city.”
Q: Tbilisi Architecture Service has been actively involved in urban development tasks over the recent past. What are the specific projects that Tbilisi Architecture Service is involved in?
“One of the most important things we did after coming to power in the city was to abolish the practice of seeing the intensity coefficient. This was one of the bad practices that had existed for years. It led us to a difficult situation today that was related to carrying out a reset. In general, the construction of urban spaces and buildings with increased intensity has neglected the benefits of a normal, healthy living and working environment. Today, decisions are made directly in accordance with the functional zone defined by the general plan and taking into account its intensity. Today it is no longer possible to exceed the intensity factor, which is very important to get the right urban environment.
Q: What specific elements of the urban agenda are particularly important for Tbilisi and why? What are the main challenges?
“The most important issues and problems that needed to be addressed were related to incorrect development. Due to the unfortunate reality, we have a situation where the working and living environment in our capital, in too many districts, is not so favourable. So our biggest challenge is not to aggravate the situation with our decisions and instead to develop green spaces, to make transport accessible to the public, to make the development acceptable and satisfactory for the living environment, and also to allow the city to develop even more in the future.
One of the major challenges that exists in the city today is the severely damaged buildings and in this regard the municipality is thinking very actively about specific programmes. In particular, we have many plans for the replacement of damaged buildings, which will be one of the important components in terms of urban development of the municipality in the future.”
Q: What are you doing to improve air quality and protect ecological spaces while developing urban constructions?
“One of the important issues we have addressed is the integration of the environmental issue into the construction permit issuance process. No construction permits will be issued unless a ‘dendrological’ project is agreed upon. That is, for example, if there is a construction permit for a plot of land with an area of 1,000 square meters, in most cases a dendrological project must be agreed upon and implemented on 300 square meters. None of the buildings constructed in the future will be put into operation if this condition is not fulfilled properly and in the case of 0.3 tenths, if the planting is not done directly. It is not just a matter of planting, it is a matter of placing trees with specific parameters, on which there is definitely also an obligation of maintenance for several years.
This is related to landscaping in connection with the development of specific plots of land. As for the protection and development of urban and local parks, the municipality is working very actively in this regard.
You know that several urban parks are being rehabilitated right now and overall the municipality is trying to protect, develop and create new green spaces that are very important to this residential and living environment.”
Q: How do you measure customer or employee satisfaction?
“The Architecture Service has been transformed into a typical service provider organization. Naturally, the quality of our services is very important to us, therefore we have an internal evaluation and monitoring system that works very well. The promotion or disciplinary responsibility of an employee depends on the performance of the employee. In total, we monitor this live process on a daily basis, and it is very important for us that the answers we give, of any nature, be it a refusal, a positive or an intermediate decision, to correct a defect, are more qualitatively executed, and not have any questions or dissatisfaction from users. Therefore, the establishment of this system was necessary for us and we managed it.”
Q: Are there any plans to tighten architectural constructions in the future in terms of improving their visual condition and design?
“As for the visual side of the buildings in the city, in this regard, as soon as we came to power, we thought and introduced a so-called ‘visual standard’. It is not specifically spelled out, however, especially for the adjacent facades of public spaces and important areas we demand that the facade be of better quality and durable for years to come. What does this mean? As a result of atmospheric impact, we know that the visual part of a building degrades over time, therefore, when facades are done properly, and exterior wall systems are properly arranged, including the use of durable paving materials, we get very good results. They will lose their original appearance, which is also very important financially.
As you know, there are partnerships and community support programmes in the municipality and in some cases there is a demand for appearance adjustment. In this case, this kind of demand will no longer appear in the future for the buildings that have been decided upon in recent years, where we have demanded the use of more durable paving materials.”
Q: Parking is one of the biggest problems for the population today. Are there any plans to expand underground parking or build a multi-storey European-style carpark in future projects?
“In regard to parking, I would like to inform you that when issuing a construction permit, when a residential function is agreed, there is a mandatory requirement to arrange a specific number of parking lots. In the future, we think that a minimum standard parking will be defined for other buildings too. It is a priority for us to have underground parking lots and not to occupy the upper spaces of land with parking lots, so in many cases we unconditionally ask the applicants to create a mandatory number of underground parking lots. As for the existence of surface parking buildings in general, you know that there are multi-storey parking buildings in Western countries. I would like to see a similar building in Tbilisi in the future and I know it will happen, because today the municipality is pursuing a very correct and consistent policy. This policy envisages the development of public transport and envisages more restrictions on the use of private transport to make public transport less congested. It should be less convenient for a person to use private transport and by comparison it should be more pleasant and acceptable to use public transport. Consequently, when the transport and parking systems are properly administered, even with the development of zonal-hourly parking lots, trust me, the demand from the private sector will definitely be for multi-storey open-air parking lots.”
Q: What role do businesses have in the future of the city’s urban development?
“In general, I would like to say a few words about business involvement, which bears a great responsibility with the municipality for the proper development of the city. This city is for everyone, any citizen, any business representative, a person working in the municipality, so all players must take a responsible approach to the proper development of the city. It may be very important for a particular business entity to make a profit in a particular business segment, but it can also hurt the interests of the city, the interests of proper development. Consequently we are committed to working with the business or to explaining to them correctly that the city needs to be taken care of in all respects, from their side as well, which gives us a very good result overall. For example, when approving development regulation plans that involve development planning in large areas, in this case on the one hand the request of the municipality voiced by the Urban Development Service, and on the other hand the willingness of the applicant or business entity to implement it, when these coincide with each other it is always very nice. We have many responsible business entities in the city and I would like to increase their number and take care of the proper development of the city together with them.”
Q: What are your priority issues and future plans for Tbilisi’s urban development?
“As for the future plans of the Architecture Service, it is very important for us to further improve the quality of the services we provide in order to make our customers happier, and more able to plan future activities. As you know, any business is related to the construction of something, therefore we have a double responsibility when it comes to building permits and proper issuance. This will unconditionally contribute to the proper urban development of the city.”