Only the land use master plan can stop the urban sprawl and improve mobility in Tbilisi
Tbilisi is experiencing an acute lack of green spaces. No new parks have been built in the last 80 years. Instead the urban sprawl is expanding causing further congestion, rising air pollution and more dangerous roads.
A strategic and sustainable land-use master plan for the city, which is focused on developing green spaces and improved mobility, can help re-balance the focus and build a more cohesive city. In practice, however, the city is developing in isolated fragments – such an approach provides for excessive energy use and creates social problems. This urban sprawl should be stopped.
In 2009, twenty-five ‘recreational zones’ were urbanised over night. According to the news agency Ipress, in 2008-2009 Tbilisi City Hall had two general plans, operative and perspective, for the development of this land. The authors of the operative general plan complained to City Hall, leading to a lengthy court battle. The case was eventually won by Ani Architects whose Head, famous architect, Pavle Dzindzibadze, blamed City Hall for acting improperly.
However, before this judicial dispute, a new land use master plan was developed by City Hall. The aim of this master plan was to transform these recreational zones into residential areas – based on the grounds that this land was originally established as a housing development. The plan had the support of local people who saw the development as a means for solving a number of social issues – and crucially it included a “greening” agenda.
Fast forward ten years, and what have we got today? The master plan has not been implemented and we have a degrading of environmental resources and poor distribution of the already scarce resources in the city which has not helped to solve any social, economic, and ecological problems.
By 2030, if the current trend continues, the city’s global competitiveness could be significantly weakened, with the suburbs cut off from the city centre and each other, and a further system of complicated (and dangerous) transport connections between the different districts of the city. The partitioning of the city has already had a negative impact on the work of urban systems and city residents.
Nobody wants to live in a congested, polluted city. Specialists, experts, environmentalists, decision-makers, society and businesses should all speak up and not allow the greening agenda to fail as it has over the past ten years. Many believe that it is not possible to achieve the goal of a green and livable city in Georgia; or that the time to implement such reforms and visions is not yet ripe. But Tbilisi should not be afraid of introducing such innovations that have revitalised the quality of life in many cities around the world (like Seoul).
This can be achieved by a well-connected transport system, with a balanced development of residential, employment and leisure areas. Load distribution from the city centre to different areas of the city will yield better accessibility to general services and reduce the need for daily movement, especially to the city centre.
Moreover, sustainable development does not necessarily mean confrontation between the city administration and business, or between citizens and investors. It is possible to reconcile the different interests and achieve balanced development, and there are many examples in Georgia. The current Land Use Master Plan may not specifically contain the necessary safeguards but the Development Regulation Plan does specify zone boundaries. Together these documents can be used to protect the eight green areas proposed by the plan, as well as transforming the banks of the Mtkvari River into an active and vibrant place.
The Land Use Master plan is a political proposal for the city’s future. But where we will actually be in 2030 depends on all the inhabitants of the city. It is not only the responsibility of the City Mayor, his team and the city administration. We also have an obligation to the city. A broad social consensus on the Land Use Master plan is essential for its success. With one document, the problems of the whole city cannot be solved. Each project will require separate discussion, research, studies and participatory inputs. But change is possible.
*Banner image courtesy of idaaf magazine – concept of Mtkvari river and coastal area reconstruction project (http://idaaf.com/ka/mtkvari-reconstruction-concept/#jp-carousel-4267).