In his Dictionary, the famous 17th century Georgian lexicographer Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani defines a city as a “plurality of cohabitating people, for if one person can be self-sufficient, a multitude of people can help each other and create greater benefit for everyone”.
Since ancient times, humanity has strived towards cities, which allowed them to achieve individual as well as common goals through coexistence. Cities have always served as a place of gathering ideas, knowledge and experience, which attracted people with different determination, interest, and socio-cultural background and created city-specific values, consciousness and behavioral norms.
The emergence of cities and simultaneous arising of ecological problems demanded the use of complex measures and technologies, which were directed at protecting the urban environment and mitigating human impact. With the rise of city populations, these measures also had to be increased.
Beginning in the Middle Ages, many architect theoreticians and engineers reflected on the subject of finding favorable natural environment for city development, effective planning, ecological safety, and proper urban management. However, the most important period in this regard began in 1920-30’s, when the main principles and approaches of urban management and development were formulated.
In 1987, after publishing of a report by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, the term “Sustainable Development” received worldwide recognition. Sustainable development envisions creating cities that would satisfy the needs of the current generation, without ignoring the needs of future generations. Sustainability in city development is also an approach that guarantees safe and comfortable environment, housing and availability of employment for every citizen and guest equally.
In this context, the concept of an “inclusive city” is being developed and implemented in practice, which means that every citizen can use all of the resources a city can offer, and participate in city planning and important decision making. The ideas of a “green city”, “creative city” and “smart city” are also being promoted, which are oriented towards energy saving, creating a green and healthy environment, increasing the qualification and professionalism of the population, and supporting their creativity and innovation.
From this point of view, of interest is a large study conducted by Philips, which aimed to research how individuals perceive their health and well-being in their living environment, and how to make cities more livable with common effort. The study concluded that to achieve these aims – improving the environment and preventing crisis - an unprecedented cooperation is needed between the government and civil society.
Historically, the village was more important for Georgians than the city. However, since 1920’s, the population of cities started to grow rapidly and now, according to the latest census, equals 57% of the country’s population (and will likely grow even further).
The issues of city planning, ecology and independent self-government gained their prominence in Georgia in the 19th century thanks to Ilia Chavchavadze and Niko Nikoladze. It might sound strange, but Soviet city planning policy in many cases was humane and oriented on the needs of individuals. For example, socialist city planning aimed to improve city infrastructure and create rationally located functional zones, without which normal planning is impossible during rapid growth. The 1934 General Development Plan of Tbilisi devoted considerable attention to the ecologic component. Moreover, Tbilisi was the first city in the Soviet Union the development plan of which included impact on microclimate. Apart from Tbilisi, development plans were created for Kutaisi, Batumi, Gori and Tskhinvali.
After 1990’s, Georgian cities (including all components of the Sustainable Development Agenda) faced significant challenges. The problems were/are closely interconnected with the dire social and economic conditions of the country.
Radicalism and extremism became part of the Georgian political life, which also expressed in city planning. Namely, if city development was characterized by strict planning and systemic regulations from state institutions during the Communists’ rule, starting in the 90’s it became chaotic, unplanned and unrestricted. Typical for the unprepared transition to a new system was the development of the city without a general plan of land use, illegal and unregulated land sale by municipal governments, issuance of unlawful building permits, privatization of public spaces, irresponsible attitude towards cultural heritage, etc. Tbilisi, together with other Georgian cities, found itself threated by the marginalization of social space, which took the form of “folk architecture” – illegal attachments to residential apartments and outdoor trade, which was allowed by the government and is now difficult to uproot.
Georgian cities also face deteriorated ecologic conditions. Tbilisi’s main river Mtkvari is heavily contaminated, the air is polluted and green spaces have been critically reduced. According to recent data, Tbilisi has 3 m2 per person, while WHO standards recommend having at least 9 m2 of green space per person.
Regrettably, in the last decade the artistic side of city development has also been forgotten. This is the most original part where imagination and creativity play a significant part in establishing the environment. If previously nonmaterial values were being taken into account while forming the urban environment, today urban environment is determined by price alone, i.e. financial interest is dominant in urban management instead of the interests of citizens. The result is the formation of a technocratic, the so called “bulldozer” approach to city planning, which is not based on humanitarian or academic ideas.
The fact that in recent years the number of individuals and organizations interested in city problems and urban issues has increased gives reason for hope. However, the number of professional urbanists and city planners is still small in Georgia. Apart from the ineffectiveness of decision-makers and governing circles, healthy city development is also hindered by the indifference of its population.
In this context, the phenomena of NIMBYism (Not in My Back Yard) should be discussed. The Georgian philosopher Merab Mamardashvili spoke about it in the 90’s. He thought that Georgia was not ready for self-organization and management of public spaces: “…everyone tries to save only themselves in a separated boat full with relatives and friends. Separated from whom? Separated from the republic, from ‘respublica’ - meaningpublic affairs, and public space…”. Contrary to this attitude, the active civil engagement and participation of the population may be the most significant factor in stimulating sustainable, safe and inclusive development of Georgian cities, especially Tbilisi.
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