“We have a clear vision of how to develop the city” Interview with Kakha Kaladze, Mayor of Tbilisi

18 mins read

The FINANCIAL — Urban planning is a much-needed discipline in today’s world. Its purpose is to find solutions for the use of land and public domains, environmental protection, infrastructure and many other segments which make a city functional and operational.

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 development plans as well as expectations of what the city will look like in a few years’ time.

Q. What are you planning to do economically, socially and politically, to make Tbilisi one of the top cities in the world?

A. This is probably the dream of many different cities’ mayors around the world, but it is not easy to achieve. We have a small country with great potential and many challenges. My goal as the city’s Mayor is to overcome existing challenges and in parallel with this, step by step to open up Tbilisi’s potential. This concerns tourism and night life, economic activity, etc.

Q. Can you elaborate on how ordinary Tbilisi citizens can help you realize your dream of a city where everyone enjoys a decent quality of life?

A. The modern policy already takes into account the interests of citizens. We create such mechanisms for city management that are oriented on the one hand, on quality of services, and on the other hand, citizens’ engagement.

That’s why we created the project “My idea to the Mayor of the city”, through which we have been recieving a lot of interesting, creative ideas about the development of the city.

The success of each idea depends firstly on the recognition of citizens, and after the commission will consider the technical and financial side of the implementation of these ideas. If it does not oppose the law, and if we have sufficient funds for it and the conditions for its implementation, then the idea will become a reality.

Furthermore, it is of great importance that every citizen adheres to the regulations that are good for the city, and as such I often reiterate that the efforts of each of us can and do change our living environment, create more comfort and harmony.

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. That’s an interesting question. Yes, I agree with you. Firstly, obtaining support is crucial in order to realize important political decisions.

This time last year, I was actively involved in pre-electoral campaigning: I met with the population every day, took on board detailed information, identified problems and did not tire of it. So I have kept going. I think the strongest side of self-governance should be this – feel the city’s pulse and be ready for any irregularities.

What are the needs of this city and its inhabitants? First of all, a safe environment, really full of life. This motto is not just a motto. We need discipline; quality; harmony; greenness; cleanness; more beautiful facades and lighting; more interesting spaces for leisure; fun; more cultural innovations; diversity; the preservation of historic monuments; a healthy environment for everyone. Each of our decisions will draw us closer to these tasks and we know that it is the priority of each resident of Tbilisi.

Q. What are your priority issues and future plans for Tbilisi’s urban development?

A. First of all is the consistent and identical development of all parts of the capital. For me it is a priority for each district to be developed at the same time so as not to lag behind the centre of the city. In addition, it is important that we have a multilateral approach to the issue of city development and are acting according to plan.

Q. How would you describe Tbilisi as a city of tomorrow?

A. After a few years, I want to see a city that has been able to rehabilitate, recover, and become re-filled with new life despite many damages.

I envision Tbilisi as a city where citizens opt to use fast, safe and comfortable municipal transport, rather than their own vehicles; where traffic congestion is decreased as a result; where the damage caused by polluted air will decrease to a minimum; and where there will be more discipline, greenness, and most importantly – districts developed according to the correct urban viewpoint.

How am I going to achieve this? That’s why I decided to become Mayor. I believe that through the consistent application of policies elaborated by my team, and the strategic vision that primarily covers these directions, we will step by step get closer to this main goal.

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

A. The most important tasks of urban politics are equal urban development, amendment of chaotic construction processes, and maintenance of the value and development of the historic part of the city. One of the main objectives of the renewed land use general plan was to reflect these issues and to set relevant regulations that ensured systemic and sustainable development of the city.

Tbilisi is distinguished by its historical and cultural value, which has been formulated over the course of centuries. The city is characterized by its location and landscape, which in turn contributed to the city’s diverse urban development and the formation of mixed growth. Accordingly, each district needs its own specific city planning, but at the same time it is important to develop according to a common complex view.

Q. What role does business, especially big tech companies, have in the future of the city?

A. Companies are gradually getting involved in the care of the capital. There are several facts that helped us to improve the parks and squares, as well as the city’s New Year decorations. As far as technological development is concerned, we do not have news in this direction, but I think private business is gradually aligning with the public sector to take care of the city.

Q. Should Tbilisi authorities focus on improving public transport and reduce demand for private cars, or should they capitalize on expanding roads and highways?

A. It is for this purpose that Georgia’s road safety strategy was designed which is coordinated by inter-agency commission. Tbilisi City Hall, specifically the Transport Department, is a key part of the commission.

Today Tbilisi City Hall declares that the road and transport infrastructure of the capital should be developed in line with the experience of European cities. Priority should be given to the safe and comfortable movement of public transport, pedestrians and cyclists.

By the end of 2020 Tbilisi City Hall plans to upgrade and increase its fleet of buses. This means that Tbilisi will have access to modern, safe buses, adapted for use by disabled people, not to mention ecological too – “Euro 6” standard public transport. In parallel, the Metro is also getting updated.

City Hall is actively cooperating with European donors and experts in terms of road safety. For several months already, representatives of Mott MacDonald have been working with City Hall specialists to arrange public transport corridors and “bass lines”, which will provide not only comfort but also safety. In addition, a taxi system reform has been started. From October 2019, because of traffic safety and security, right-hand drive vehicles and those with only 3 doors will not be able to provide taxi services.

Special attention is being paid to the idea of promoting bicycles as an ecological and healthy mode of transport in Tbilisi. According to the plan, during the development of road infrastructure, the design of bike lanes will be taken in to account as in the case of Pekini Avenue, Kostava and Shartava streets.

In parallel, City Hall is working on the introduction of a zonal parking system, the pilot project of which will be launched in spring 2019. In areas where zonal parking is activated, the parking of cars on sidewalks will be completely prohibited. For car owners, as well as municipal parks there are plans to establish multi-storey parking lots through private investments.

In conjunction with the implementation of City Hall Transport and Road Infrastructural Projects, the result should be that there is always a subway, public transport and a bicycle-friendly system. Owners of private cars must have the feeling that travelling by public transport, bicycle and by foot over short distances is much more comfortable than taking one’s own car.

Q. What is the most suitable means of transportation for Tbilisi?

A. In my opinion, it would be the subway, because one doesn’t get affected by congestion issues, as well as it being fast and safe. After the addition of various new components and a period of time, it will become even faster and more comfortable. After the resumption of public transport routes and the replacement of the fleet, buses will be comfortable as well. As for the owners of private cars, we hope that more and more will switch to using public transport after our transport reform.

Q. How should the seemingly chaotic construction projects in the city be addressed? How is Tbilisi’s government currently dealing with this issue?

A. The capital has been developing chaotically for 20-25 years and it is already impossible to improve the situation. However, we have a clear vision of how to develop the city. The decisions should first of all be based on a general plan for land use and we have taken this issue into consideration in our structural reform.

Q. Is anyone consulting the opinion of Tbilisi’s population on how to develop the city or how the population of Tbilisi sees the urbanization process?

A. This is a matter of community involvement, which we attach a great deal of importance to. The e-platform “Your idea to the Mayor of the city”, which I mentioned above, is a good mechanism for increasing citizen activity and at the same time, for the development of democratic approaches.

Q. What is your opinion on foreign investments in Tbilisi?

A. I welcome any investment, any useful project that will support the city and promote employment of locals. The main thing is that it must not conflict with the common interests of Tbilisi and its residents. Our door is always open to investors.

Q. There has been an increase in violent crimes reported by foreigners in recent years, along with several political actions by ultranationalists and neo-Nazi groups (including in Tbilisi) in recent years. What are you doing to reduce crime in the capital?

A. The state operates according to the law and we already have a case where a member of one such gang was detained. It is important for us that different groups of society can coexist peacefully and the Government is working on this.

As the Mayor of the capital, I would say that if we compare Tbilisi to the capitals of different countries, I do not think there is more crime here. On the contrary, various international studies have shown that Georgia is one of the safest countries.

Q. Traffic in Tbilisi appears to be increasing, which is bad for air quality and the liveability of the city. What are you doing to reduced traffic congestion in the city?

A. One of the ways is the development of public transport, in addition, we are working on the creation of a zonal parking system, according to which parking fees will be increased in certain streets and districts. This is another way for citizens to take advantage of public transport, which is much cheaper.

Q. What are you doing to improve air quality and protect ecological spaces?

A. For this purpose, mobilization not only of the capital, but of the whole of society and central government is needed. You know that for all private cars from January next year, technical excellence is mandatory, which is certainly one of the main preconditions for improving environmental and air quality. On our side, we are working on the development of public transport to reduce the need for private cars. Their owners have to come to the realisation that each faulty car carries a big risk of air pollution. If we are able to reach a consensus on this, we will be able to resolve this problem more quickly.

Q. After having modernized the city you govern, how would you like to be remembered after you leave office?

A. I would like to do a lot of good work with my team, and for years afterwards to be able to meet happy Tbilisi residents in the streets. That would be a great achievement.

Eva Bolkvadze – The FINANCIAL


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