“It’s surely our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth.” – David Attenborough (Planet Earth II)
While the laureate of the highest architectural award, the Pritzker Prize 2016, Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena sees a solution to the world poverty and accommodation problems in building social houses, German Patrik Schumacher, nowadays the principal of the architecture practice Zaha Hadid Architects, tries to deal with the same crisis in London by pulling down exactly social accommodation and replacing it with public buildings being under the subordination of the state.
These two people have one thing in common, both are “star” architects with ambitious ideas. Recently, I have been thinking, which idea out of these two is more favorable for Tbilisi and other cities in Georgia, but over the last decade, similar to Patrik Schumacher’s views, public spaces of Tbilisi are being sacrificed to investors’ business plans, as a result, though, I guess we have not received anything positive.
However, this article is not about Aravena-Schumacher’s ideas, here I will speak about the ways to promote our beloved capital in order to make it better and one of the best for its citizens.
Once Tbilisi definitely was a beautiful city, with its Madatov island, brick houses over Mtkvari river, water mills and red tin roofs. It might have been less comfortable, clean and green, but it definitely was more attractive than now. I am not saying that with a negative tone, obviously Tbilisi nowadays has its charm again, but the authentic face of our city, which we find so exotic on black and white photos now, is still different, special and full of inspirations. Decades will pass and the future generations will think that present Tbilisi is exotic too, but let this be left for the next article, another time…
For a proper development of a city many things are necessary and out of them the main is government, which leads all these processes.
An important factor is empowering civic activism, especially when the city has powerless government and is getting under the influence of unruly developers. A good example is the construction of hotel Budapest which commenced in Vake park, it was stopped exactly with the help of civic activism and now there is a huge pit of foundation, which will probably remain there for quite a long time, as modernization of the 21st century Tbilisi’s recreational zones has never been a priority. There has never been raised such issue as redemption of privatized plots in these areas and creating public spaces there.However, such issues as placing some notices: “No dog pooping” in the existing squares has definitely been on the agenda, the budget was allocated and it was implemented later.
What is missing in Tbilisi?
Similar to many other capitals of the world, Tbilisi also lacks plenty of things. First of all, probably this is a list of what is missing, then comes prioritizing and next forming of an executive team.
If we look at it from an urban angle, Tbilisi is nowadays quite a difficult city, as with time a lot of unsolved problems have added up. A lack of recreational zones and parking spaces, as a result pavements blocked by vehicles, poor public transport, a lot of cars and nonobligatory technical inspection…We have been aware of all of this during the recent years, as if we know these issues by heart, speaking about them endlessly, the reason is that they are not being solved, therefore the problems add up in the city and life is becoming more and more uncomfortable. At first sight, there should already be a real plan for solving them, but we are not progressing in any of the listed matters, we are tramping one and the same place and even writing and public protests about these topics already start looking like doing everything in vain.
Chapter I. MTKVARI
I mentioned Madatov island right in the beginning. Placing Mtkvari river in a bed in 20-30s of the XX century and uniting this interesting place with the mainland does not seem like a wise decision to me now, from this point, but then Mtkvari experienced even worse days not to say anything about that case. The country’s main river is sticky muddy color in winter and bluish-greenish in summer, reflecting the sky strangely. Mtkvari, which the city should be actively using and it should be hosting a lot of people, is paralyzed and has lost its function. This snake-like huge mass is ignored in a way as if it does not exist at all, it is an insignificant detail in the urban environment of the city. It is forgotten by everyone, incapable and uninteresting.
(However, this is not the first example of ignoring a river in the Georgian reality, in that tragic June we clearly saw the results of imprisoning “Verarechka” in a tunnel).
Initially, Mtkvari river was a kingdom of rafts and ferries, children’s favourite place for bathing and the most joyful what Tbilisi had. Nowadays its such miserable life is not alluring at all, especially that the issue of its “resurrection” has not been placed on the agenda yet. It hasa terrible smell as usual, is dirty with humiliated banks. On the contrary, how many countries in the world have already found ways of correctly exploiting rivers, there are pedestrian zones and cycle lanes on the banks as well as entertainment zones, which easily becomes a place for gathering people and domestic or wild animals. In our city, where such a huge Mtkvari flows, now it is even unimaginable to have such recreational banks and boats, from which Tbilisi views seem the most impressive, but to think of it, nothing is unrealistic or realizable.
From the technical point of view, pedestrian/recreational zones can easily be planned on the biggest section of Mtkvari, where the river strait is narrow, banks might be connected with suspension bridges or just end one part and use a pavement to get to another one. It is worth mentioning that Mtkvari is especially wide closer to Ortachala and probably, one of the most interesting compositions might be placed exactly there, in this matter it is also important that not only central parts of the city, but also suburbs are loaded. For a better representation, I am enclosing examples of foreign rivers, which various cities successfully turned into a part of their urban environment and everyday life.
It has been decided that Mtkvari should be cleaned and turned into a recreational zone to arrange pedestrian and cycle lanes and other necessary spaces not only for people, but also for all the living beings inhabiting nearby.
Chapter II. VACATED AREAS IN CITY CENTER
In fact, how do we speak about creating a recreational zone along Mtkvari, when the existing spaces are massively used by the private sector. In 2016 the architectural department issued a right of pulling down restaurant “Varazi” and constructing it again. Now a larger one, with a deeper foundation. Digging has been finished and concrete pouting begins, and soon enough there will still be a restaurant building in front of Tbilisi’s first university, as if Tbilisi turned into a restaurant, is lacking more eating places.
The greenery and its recreation on Varazi ascent is still unattended. Cars are limitlessly parking under the trees where there should be a green zone with benches and hedges, but it remains as a neglected area. The government, which is totally tailored to the wishes of a developer, will never provide the citizens with comfort and a chance to exist in a healthy environment.
On the other hand, there are plenty of places in the center of Tbilisi, which have been devoid of all kinds of living processes throughout years. I am offering you several photos of those areas, which I shot between Rustaveli-Meidani area.
These are the sites, where all the action has been stopped for years. In some places buildings have collapsed and they remained so, in others there is an area ready for construction and others’ origin is even unclear, because so much time has passed, it has all turned into a large trash bin. Anyway, the city is in desperate need of such places, especially if we consider that there is such a problem of parking and how many times should I write, but there are not enough squares and recreation in this city. Lately I have been thinking what Tbilisi needs and what can be placed in this city and for example, it needs such a place, where I can walk my dog and it will run in a special, fenced area with other dogs.
* A square, where I will take my little disabled friend with a wheelchair and we will play together on adapted fields.
* A park, with at least a very little pool, where fussy dogs and colorful birds will satisfy their thirst and live in special houses built on trees
* A place in a sunny weather, to grab lunch with friends, lie on blankets and taste delicious sandwiches.
* A tiny space, where artists will permanently show their installations and all of us will be very proud, or vice versa.
* A modernized parking space, where I will park my car on the 5th floor and go to my destination on foot.
… and other small spaces, which will exist in the city center, sometimes even unnoticeable, but they will always be there and create such an urban environment in Tbilisi, that we did not even know we needed. Places which will assist us in the restoration of the Eco system, so that all the escaped animals and birds return to the city again and harmonically exist in the space created especially for them by humans.
Therefore, the state should redeem the privatized areas and create new public spaces for necessary and important activities.
Chapter III. THE FORMER HIPPODROME
If you google photos of New York, you will find the best ones with the view of Central Park, the terraces of the most expensive apartments also look over this park. If we disregard pocket squares and other smaller scale spaces, central park is that main green vessel that feeds such a huge monster, without it New York would be one big and dirty mass of air.
Hyde Park has the same function in London, but there are some other woods in the city, with a lot of birds and animals. With this, I am trying to say that in big and such attractive cities there always are recreational zones, the more the better and they feed the whole city’s eco system. In Tbilisi, for instance, we have Vake Park, DedaenaPark, Turtle Lake, Lisi Lake and fortunately many other spaces, but a culture of going there everyday and reading books on a blanket is not so popular in our population.
In the part of Tbilisi, where hippodrome is located is a construction boom. Everything is sold to a private investor, blocks are being built everywhere, parking can be found nowhere, there is even no air to breathe. Despite this, this is the place, which is always distinguished with the number of people. Frisbee, dogs, rugby, everything is harmoniously developed in this space and despite this,such big mass still lies “unattended”, oppressed from every side, an issue of saving it from the investor has already been raised.
This area of former hippodrome has the best opportunity and potential to become an analogue of Hyde park or Central park and I am not saying that as if everything foreign is nice and we should copy it. Vice versa, we ourselves should independently create such multi functional space, a place, where sitting in the parks or even seeing a running rabbit or squirrels on the trees will not be surprising for anyone (imagine, what a happiness it will be for us to see even one scabby squirrel jumping on the trees, for instance in Dedaena park)
A place, where people of all ages will spend time ideally and this will become this first deliberately planned park in the 21stcentury Tbilisi and of course a place for entertainment.
It has been decided, building up Hippodrome park instead of the former Hippodrome.
The article ended up being long, but it is not a big deal to implement all of this: the state will make the right development of the city a priority, therefore, it will introduce a plan for several years, will redeem and along with professionals modernize those dead places, which smell of years old dead bodies and which Tbilisi now needs so much. Obviously, nobody expects these projects to be implemented in one or two years, but we should already talk about this and lay the ground for these projects now. In the suburbs there is even a better possibility to form a healthy eco system in Tbilisi and attract the escaped birds and animals back.
If Tbilisi’s such dense population and utilization of all the remaining places is not regulated, and vice versa, new spaces are not freed for public places, then the city will choke in its own lack of air and the same will happen to its population.
P.S.: I was speaking about Tbilisi’s future: The way we are now looking back on the first black and white photos of Tbilisi, after decades the future generations will find present Tbilisi similarly exotic, but I also believe that if this continues and the city is not saved, then not only exotic but no details will remain from what created Tbilisi, what brought it to date and what makes it so extraordinary.
Author: Nanuka Zaalishvili
English Edit: Nutsa Namoradze