Urban development is a most important factor for the capital, which will enable the city to progress economically too. The construction sector occupies a large share of the GDP, and a very large share of this comes from the capital. Therefore, proper urban planning is important for the development of the city and its future prosperity.
In an interview with The FINANCIAL, Victor Tsilosani, Head of Tbilisi Transport and Urban Development Agency, spoke about the important issues that Tbilisi City Hall is implementing in terms of transport and urban development. He highlighted existing achievements, future plans and challenges in the area.
Q: Urban development has become one of the main priorities of today. What does Tbilisi Transport and Urban Development Agency do in this regard?
“We have received the most important document, the General Plan for the Development of Tbilisi, and the entire transport system and development of the capital in general are adapted to it. This is the most important document, hence why we try to develop the city and make all decisions according to its guidelines.
It is very important for the city to develop within its borders and to consolidate such areas. There used to be an approach whereby the decision for a construction permit was made depending on where transport passed and private vehicles moved in relation to the proposed building(s). We have actually changed this policy from beginning to end. It is important for all cities to develop infrastructure so that people have accessible public transport close to their homes so that they do not need to drive more than is necessary. The capital was unfortunately developed on the principle of one centre with the suburbs then developed around it. Today’s policies have changed and we now have many centres where people are able to gain access to social services as close as possible to where they reside. This is very important and we will continue to highlight this.
The transport policy is being implemented in parallel and we have taken a lot of steps in this direction, both in terms of changing public transport and accelerating its development. Right now the process of speeding-up public transport is underway, which means creating designated lanes for so-called public transport, and we are working intensively in this direction to enable people to move comfortably from one point to another.”
Q: Which successfully implemented projects would you single out which have contributed to the urban development of Tbilisi?
“We have a lot of successful projects and the first one is the approved general plan. Secondly are the measures we take in the field of transport policy, and I think that this project has been very successful.
I think that the decision made by the Transport and Urban Development Agency and the municipality is very important. Until now, if a road was 3 meters wide, it was possible to erect a building of any size on it. We have adopted a universal road standard and therefore first of all this road standard must be observed. The road standard includes obligatory 1.5-meter sidewalks on both sides for an individual development, and 2.5-meter sidewalks on both sides in the case of apartment buildings. I think this is very important because unfortunately we have streets in the capital now where it is virtually impossible to move. Due to this, we have changed the policy from start to finish, making it pedestrian-friendly. In terms of transport policy, the first priority is given to people, i.e. pedestrians; the next priority is cycling and eco-friendly transport; then there is public transport; then cargo transport; and finally, private cars. It is this together that makes it possible for us to take care of the environment at the same time as taking care of people and their safety, and having it all adapted to real life. You probably know that in many places where there were previously just pedestrian bridges crossing busy roads, we have instead installed traffic lights, facilitating the comfortable passage of pedestrians. In many cases we have elderly people, people with disabilities, and parents with young children finding it near impossible to use bridges or underpasses due to the stairs, which is why we made this decision. In general the policy in this direction will be further defined and the greatest attention will be paid to pedestrians first and foremost, and then to transport.”
Q: What are you doing to improve air quality and protect ecological spaces?
“I can say that unprecedentedly large quantities of greenery have been planted in the last 4 years and I am very proud of this fact. I could cite many examples of this. The replacement of public transport also supports the improvement of the ecological situation. Of course, if we create proper public transport, it will be the basis for people to have the desire and motivation to switch from private cars to public transport. If people find that they can move from one place to another very quickly and comfortably, plus very cheaply, of course they will make the decision to leave their cars at home and only use them when necessary. It also means there will be less pressure and impact on the environment. All of these areas affecting the environment: landscaping, improving public transport, and the measures we are taking in the direction of transport policy – will, I am sure, yield positive results.”
Q: How do you measure customer or employee satisfaction?
“In principle, one of the most significant problems in the municipality in recent years and the cause of the great level of dissatisfaction that existed amongst the populace was that the municipality was not able to respond quickly enough to citizens and consequently this caused frustration. However, we have carried out a strict internal reorganization and reduced the legal deadline for replies to letters to 5-7 days, which has been automatically reflected in the satisfaction level of citizens. We are also very open across social media and are interacting with citizens digitally. In fact, all means of communication are open, whether it be letters or over social media; we are in communication with citizens across all channels. We are also in open communication with them through the City Council, which is very important as citizens are thus involved in City Council decision-making.”
Q: What role does business, especially Tbilisi Transport and Urban Development Agency, have in the future of the city’s urban development?
“Business plays a very big role in urban development and, as I have already mentioned, a very large share of GDP is occupied by the construction sector. A very large share comes from Tbilisi and therefore it is important for businesses to be informed of what direction the city is developing in and where they can position themselves as a result. That is why it was important to adopt a general plan. Also, in accordance with the normative acts, we are obliged to approve the development regulation plan for every 5,000 square meters, as well as strictly protecting undeveloped areas. By doing this we will avoid the sort of chaotic development which we have seen up until now in Tbilisi. The standards that exist in the city must be fully complied with going forwards.”
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?
“I don’t think there is a problem with parking. You mentioned Europe and I can give you an example from this. In Europe, 70% of the population has a car and yet the motorization rate is 8%, so 8% of people use their car 5 days a week or more. Here, we have 35% of the population owning a vehicle, with the motorization rate at 33%. So 33% of the population will use their car 5 days a week or more. We have a very high dependence on cars. That is why we have decided to introduce zonal, paid parking in areas where there is a high motorization rate and high mobility.
We announced the 10 most difficult locations where we thought businesses might be interested in investing in parking. However, as parking in Georgia is so cheap today business were not interested in these locations. Nevertheless, I repeat, free parking is an encouragement to travel by private car and our policy aims to get people to walk first, then travel by eco-friendly transport, then by public transport, and finally by private car. Therefore, the parking policy we are pursuing now will be validated by any international expert and world-renowned international companies with which we are cooperating with the support of international financial institutions.”
Q: What are your priorities and future plans for Tbilisi’s urban development?
“In terms of urban development, we have announced this general plan for our future plans, and we intend to stick to it consistently. Businesses have their own plans, and if frequent changes were to be made to the city’s development policies, then this would have a negative impact on businesses here. To avoid disrupting business, we are therefore following the general plan and transport policy that has already been announced and we believe that it is important that we take the steps we have announced as soon as possible.”