“Our main goal for Tbilisi is to become one of the leading cities in Europe, a capital that will be equal to other European capitals, with a well-regulated transport infrastructure, proper planning and green spaces. Also, with the healthiest and safest living environment that will be accessible to everyone. We have held numerous activities to achieve this and will continue to do so in the future.”
Urban development of the capital is one of the most important issues for the country’s progress and improvement. The public sector plays a key role in achieving this goal. The right policies pursued by the public sector determine the right urban development of the country. In an interview with The FINANCIAL, Kakha Kaladze, the Mayor of Tbilisi, talked about the main achievements of City Hall in terms of urban development and its plans for the future.
Q. Urban development has become a prioritised issue in the modern world. What is Tbilisi City Hall doing to achieve this?
A. A general plan for the proper urban development of the capital was adopted on 15 March, 2019, with the aim of creating a healthy and safe living environment for the capital’s population.
The main priorities of the ‘General Plan’ were the implementation of green city concepts, which include solving transport challenges and providing the city with green spaces. The changes also led to a ban on construction in green areas, the restoration of degraded areas and landscape spaces. Most importantly, the main goal was to ensure the safety of human life and health.
In the planning process to achieve these goals, the priority of Tbilisi Municipality is to make the city more bustling, in order to get a well-connected city, where living spaces, social infrastructure and employment points will be as close to each other as possible.
Q. Which specific elements of the urban agenda are especially important for Tbilisi and why?
A. The urban agenda comprehensively includes many elements, but those which should be distinguished include transport, environmental and social issues.
In terms of transport issues, this is directly related to the development processes of the city. That is why the Land Use Master Plan outlined two important issues: defining the hierarchy of road users and the concept of a “well-connected city”. According to the hierarchy, pedestrian, non-motorised transport and public transport are preferred over private transport. For this purpose, public transport is regulated and, accordingly, the movement of pedestrians is preferred.
Landscaping and the development of parks are important at both the district and city levels. The general plan of land use has identified the park areas, the development of which is in progress.
Social issues are also on the urban agenda. To this end, certain exceptions and benefits have been introduced to meet the needs of those affected by cooperative housing. As well as ongoing construction work to replace structures with unfinished construction status and damaged buildings. This ensures the accommodation of those affected in a short period of time.
Q. In terms of the urban development of Tbilisi, what are your priority issues and what are your future plans in this regard?
A. The priority of Tbilisi’s urban development is the concept of a green city, where as many green spaces as possible will be created in the living environment. More than 1,000 parks and squares have recently been renovated and arranged, and a number of more recreational areas are planned for the future.
Also, one of the main priorities is the development of public transport. Tbilisi City Hall is working hard on this issue, as of today, 860 buses and 1,000 minibuses have been purchased and this process is set to continue. In addition, we are working to reduce the waiting time for public transport to a minimum, which should range from 7-15 minutes.
It is also very important to develop eco-friendly transport, which is used by people of all generations, and both visually and functionally, the transport policy of our capital is approaching European standards.
Q. What are you doing to improve air quality and protect ecological spaces while building urban constructions?
A. A number of changes have been made to the legislation to ensure recreational spaces, including an increase in the minimum number of planting coefficients in public-business zones (K-3). Every construction project creates at least 30% of the planting, and in some cases, that amount is as high as 80%. Also, according to the changes, the landscaping coefficient no longer provides for open parking lots to ensure maximum allocation of the mentioned area to the green space.
At the same time, the public transport park was replaced and the city was equipped with renewed transport, which is much more environmentally friendly.
Also, in the planning process, giving priority to pedestrians and non-motorised transport users will ensure that the number of private cars is reduced and, as a result, the air quality is improved.
Q. What activities can you name as examples of supporting urban development in Georgia?
A. Since we have made it a priority within the framework of transport and urban policy to create the most adapted environment for pedestrians, great efforts have been made to improve the transport infrastructure in all ongoing and planned projects.
In the development of infrastructure, we do not only mean the renovation of the road surface or the placement of zebra crossings, but also the creation of equal conditions for all road users to move according to the hierarchy. In particular, the project on Chavchavadze Avenue is adapted to the principles of a multimodal street, where pedestrians, public transport users, people with disabilities and non-motorised transport (for example bicycles) have the required conditions for easy and smooth movement.
Q. How would you describe the Tbilisi of tomorrow?
A. Our goal is for Tbilisi to become a capital that will be equal to other European capitals, with a well-regulated transport infrastructure, proper planning and green spaces; also, with the healthiest and safest living environment that will be accessible to all. Effective measures are being taken daily to achieve these goals and the results are already visible. Today Tbilisi is a much greener, healthier, more comfortable and orderly city, where illegal constructions are eliminated; we have modern, high-quality public transport, which is further regulated and further developed, in addition to social programmes tailored to the needs of Tbilisi citizens
Q. Good governance at any level requires the strong support of constituents. To get this support, what values, policies and virtues do you espouse in your own city and what programmes do you have (or are planning to have) to apply them?
A. To get this support, the city policy is based on solving the social problems of the population and improving living conditions. In particular, programmes for the compensation of those individuals affected by cooperative housing, unfinished construction and the replacement of damaged buildings have been developed.
Also, on 6 May, 2022, the rule of replacement of damaged multi-apartment houses came into force, which will give people the opportunity to replace buildings that are life-threatening with new ones, with the participation of the municipality.
Q. What are the main challenges of urban construction?
A. The main challenge for urban construction is to discuss the development of chaotically privatised land. For a balance of interests, in such cases it is necessary for the municipality to make concessions. At this time it is necessary to take into account, on the one hand, the interests of private owners and, on the other hand, the interests of public and urban planning. Today, in the process of resolving such issues, we are guided by these principles.
Q. Do you think urban development will restrict the movement of cars and what positive impact will this have on the environment?
A. First of all, I would like to emphasise that the aim of the municipality is not to impose any kind of restrictions. Our goal is the equal distribution of the existing urban space in such a way that each participant of the traffic has an alternative choice of movement and equal conditions.
Depending on the scale and planning of our city, one acceptable model is the 15-minute city concept or the same micro mobility model. For example, Paris, as a densely populated city with a high degree of air pollution, used this concept to its advantage. In particular, if the destination is located within a small radius, all conditions are created for the eco-friendly means of transportation to be used (for example to travel on foot or to use non-motorised transport).
Consequently, fewer vehicles means less emissions and this will have a positive impact on the environment.
Q. Which successfully implemented projects would you single out in 2019-2022 which have contributed to the urban development of Tbilisi?
A. Among the projects implemented in 2019-2022, the rehabilitation works of Chavchavadze Avenue, Vekua-Khizanishvili Street and Qetevan Dedofali Avenue are noteworthy. Also, Melikishvili Avenue is being rehabilitated. In addition to the above-mentioned projects, the transport infrastructure on dozens of streets is being updated and improved every year.
Q. What role does business, especially big tech companies, have in the future of the city’s urban development?
A. Creating a long-term and equitable competitive environment is crucial for the private sector. That is why we have adopted a master plan, which on the one hand is an urban planning document, and on the other hand, given the existing constraints, is a business guide to determine what type of development is allowed in which area and where it is better to invest.
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 car park in future projects?
A. As already mentioned, our goal is to evenly distribute the urban space. The focus of modern cities has shifted to reducing parking areas, as parking encourages the movement of private cars. With us, parking is mostly free or very cheap, so the involvement of the private sector in this area does not happen. This does not mean, however, that this is not feasible. We believe that with the improvement of the social background, the private sector will be activated and we will use the space of the municipality more effectively.
Q. Should Tbilisi authorities focus on improving public transport and reduce demand for private cars, or should they capitalise on expanding the roads and highways?
A. Once again, our goal is not to impose restrictions, but to create a level playing field in the city. Consequently, along with the improvement of public transport, various forms of transportation should be encouraged, which cannot be achieved without the provision of appropriate infrastructure.