“We are taking the right steps for the development of the city” – Interview with Kakha Kaladze, Mayor of Tbilisi

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In todays world urban planning is a much-needed discipline. With constant warnings about global climate change and environmental catastrophes, urban planning has become one of the most important fields for the creation of a safe and efficient way of life.

In his interview with The FINANCIAL, Mayor of Tbilisi Kakha Kaladze talks about Tbilisi as a city of the future, its implemented projects, achieved results and future plans in terms of urban development.

Q: Urban development has become one of the priority tasks nowadays. What does Tbilisi City Hall” do in this regard?

The most important step in the direction of urban policy in 2019 was the adoption of the general plan of land use in the capital. This document established spatial and territorial development directions and developed urban planning solutions for the development of a balanced, healthy and safe living environment.

The general plan banned construction in green zones, restored degraded areas and landscape spaces, and created a kind of buffer landscape zone around the city. The aim of these changes was to create a safe environment for the life and health of the people living in Tbilisi. Allocated under the General Plan in terms of urban planning Irrelevant and revised urban planning documents, which are in conflict with the current construction rules and regulations, as well as the objectives, which, if met, will make it possible to develop these areas. At the same time, 11 urban planning areas have been identified, for which the conditions for sustainable and balanced development of the territories should be specified. Research work is still underway in these areas to clarify recreational and environmental issues and to identify plots for development. In parallel, relevant changes are being made in the legislation.”

Q: What specific elements of the urban agenda are particularly important for Tbilisi and why?

Environmental, transport and social issues are the key elements that are especially important for Tbilisi. What was done in each direction – identified park areas, the development of which is in progress; Legislation has been amended, including the increase of the minimum number of landscaping coefficients in public-business zones, changes in the rules of development regulation to bring the sidewalk and road width regulations into the normative framework, which will ensure the creation of a regulated environment and infrastructure in the future; In order to satisfy the victims of cooperative housing, appropriate changes were made in the legislation.

All this, in general, creates the conditions for healthy development and this foundation has already been laid for this city. From now on, whoever is in charge of the municipality, he must maintain the course of development of the city and Tbilisi will no longer be a city where all construction was allowed.”

Q: Good governance at any level requires strong voter support. What values and policies do you support in your city to get this support? What type of current or planned programs are you going to implement?

Any business, especially a business such as urban development, needs at least three things: a unified vision, an understanding of responsibility, and foresight. This is necessary for both the decision-maker and the citizen to create a synergy and not only implement projects for the benefit of the city – arrange parks, squares, roads, bridges, add various services, but also take care of these spaces and infrastructure and realize that what is being done , Is not a decision maker, party, government, etc. Property. It is our common property, our common resource for a better life, and it needs care, attention and consent to improve and develop it.

For the fourth year in a row, voters see that we have made every effort to lay a solid foundation for the development of the capital. I do not think that in these three-and-a-half years everything that we had planned and promised to the voters was achieved, but our people really see that not a single point of my election program was left without at least a grain of development. Starting with the master plan, ending with public transport, the capital has undergone tangible changes and if not for the pandemic, even more projects planned for last year would have been implemented. I am grateful that my fellow citizens see this effort and support change.”

Q: What are you doing to improve air quality and protect ecological spaces while making urban constructions?

One of the directions that helps to improve the ecology is not only the maintenance but also the development of green spaces, including privatized areas. The Cartu Foundation makes a great contribution to this. He is involved in the urban forest restoration project, as well as the Tbilisi Central Park project, I mean the hippodrome area. In addition, the changes we made in the construction legislation required the dendrological project to be considered in the construction process, which, in addition, creates new recreational zones in parallel with the development.

Since then I have been the mayor of the capital 1000 squares have been planted and rehabilitated, as well as 15 parks have been arranged and renovated, 60 islands have been planted with concrete, and if new islands are built somewhere, none of them will be concreted.

The second direction is consistent and planned development, which has been a problem in Tbilisi for years. Therefore, you will find many settlements in the city where houses stand, people live but there are no underground communications, no internet access, etc. Proper planting does not mean the disappearance of the green cover, on the contrary. Fortunately, we also have the opposite examples above, in the form of some large residential complexes where existing green spaces have been renovated, maintained and designed for human health, a healthy lifestyle.

The third direction is transport. As you know, in practice, the public transport park is being renovated, the minibuses will be replaced by the end of the year and we try our best to encourage and promote the use of ecologically clean transport. Also, a zonal-hour parking system has been launched in several districts of the capital, and road infrastructure is being arranged in such a way as to give priority to pedestrians, public transport and eco-transport. We even have a result – reduced air pollution, which was the goal of this effort.”

Q: What are the major challenges facing urban construction?

The construction development of the area is designed for a rather long period and therefore it is important to study and take into account all the essential circumstances in the planning process. Therefore, challenges accompany the development process, of course. Basically it is: discussing the permissibility of the development of still undeveloped areas, getting a regulated area in terms of planning; Determining whether development is needed within a unified vision of the area; Providing the area with engineering and transport infrastructure; Preservation of cultural heritage and historical development; Taking into account the public interest; Consideration of environmental issues; Taking into account geodynamic hazards, etc.

Today, in the process of approving a development regulation plan, in order to achieve these goals, attention is paid to the submission of a number of documents, including: traffic management schemes, engineering network plans, dendrological projects and in some cases detailed geology.”

Q: Do you think that urban development will restrict the movement of cars and what positive impact will this have on the ecology?

Our approach is to develop the capital in an urban or transportation way to reduce private car consumption and increase public transport consumption. In this regard, we have set quite ambitious goals, which have been achieved in practice, and the process of replacing the municipal fleet will be completed by the end of the year. Moreover – despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, we will be able to increase the number of municipal buses and completely replace them with minibuses. We understand very well that the amount of municipal transport is still not enough and more is needed, but the main thing is that we were able to improve the process of public transport in this city in an accelerated period of time. Of course, the road infrastructure relevant to this goal is being created and naturally, these changes over time will inevitably affect the positive dynamics of the ecology.”

Q: Are there any plans to tighten architectural constructions in the future in terms of improving the visual condition and design?

The Architecture Service of the capital is still paying special attention to the requirements for the exterior walls of buildings in the permitting process, so as not to get poor quality facades after a certain period of time. On the important streets of the city, the use of durable materials is required for paving the facades. This standard ensures the protection of buildings from atmospheric impacts and retains its original appearance for a long time. This does not preclude the revision and improvement of this standard after some time.”

Q: What role does business have in the future of the city’s urban development?

At this stage, the role of businesses, mainly construction companies, is to comply with the proposed regulations and rules. The main thing is that the business does not suffer. If the regulations help to conduct their activities in such a way that, first of all, its customers are satisfied, and for us as citizens, it is beneficial for everyone.”

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?

We identified several locations where underground parking could be arranged and announced an expression of interest. Unfortunately, businesses were not interested in these projects at this stage. I think this is another clear example of our government cooperating with business, supporting it and not forcing them to carry out projects that are not the subject of their interest, or may be unprofitable for them at this stage.

Instead, we started a zonal-hour parking project that proved acceptable to the population. What is its main principle – if there is a zone-hour parking on a particular street, the resident of the same street enjoys free parking. If someone temporarily stops the car, pays only one lari.This amount goes to the budget and is used to develop the parking system and public transport, which, I think, is a fair decision.

Q: What is your opinion on foreign investments in urban development in Tbilisi?

We have investment projects and who will be the investor, if he fulfills his obligations honestly, obviously, it does not matter. The main thing is that the concrete investment does not harm the interests of our country, our city and population.”

Q: Is it necessary for the Tbilisi government to focus on improving public transport and reducing the demand for private cars? Do you think that the goal of the Tbilisi government should be to expand roads and highways?

More highways mean more vehicles. That is not the goal of our urban policy. Our goal is for passengers living in Tbilisi to move from one point to another smoothly and on time. The fact is that today, the number of vehicles in the capital can not achieve this goal. It can be said that we all stand together in a big traffic jam. Standing in a traffic jam is not the goal of our policy. Our goal is to develop public transport so that citizens can give up their cars and get on buses and subways. We laid the foundation for this in 2018 and I think this process will continue unabated until the situation improves.”

Q: What important issues and future plans do you prioritize for Tbilisi’s urban development?

Currently, with the financial support of the Asian Development Bank, the Municipal Development Fund and RAMBOLL, we are working on a sustainable urban mobility plan within the framework of our current transport policy, which is the strategic transport document of the capital. The project aims to develop an effective, inclusive, modern transport strategy tailored to the needs. One of the key issues in the development of this strategy is to take into account existing and ongoing infrastructure, urban and transport projects. The prospective highways, bridges and other road infrastructure presented in the Land Use Master Plan are discussed here, on the basis of which recommendations will be developed. Issues in the legislation will be clarified in accordance with these recommendations.

Another important project, which will be launched in Tbilisi for the first time in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank, is the “Superilla” program. This program is proposed within the framework of the Tbilisi Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan and includes defining the traffic hierarchy in a specific area, improving the infrastructure for road safety, restricting transit traffic in the same area and giving priority to pedestrians. All this will reduce the overall rate of air pollution, noise and vibration, increase public and green spaces on the street and give priority to pedestrians. Three pilot areas have been selected, the study and development of the concept will begin in the near future.”

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