Expansion of Public Gardens in Tbilisi and Related Issues
Author: Nino Laghidze, Ana Lagidze.
The article describes issues related to the present-day situation and future expansion of Tbilisi gardens and parks in the conditions of market economy: background factors, risks threatening to destroy the city landscape and potential means of their management, as well as the ways of restoring Tbilisi gardens and parks to their former shape.
NNLE “Usaprtkho Sivrtse” (“Safe Space”) studied the condition of Tbilisi gardens, parks, squares etc. and relevant standards and regulations. The research started on August 15 2011 and was officially completed on August 15 2012.
Settling of global environmental issues should start with solving of smaller problems tied down to specific locations, taking into account not only the local specifics but also their role in overall situation. Added acuteness of environmental issues in urban setting boosts the social and environmental importance of city landscape. Georgia and its capital are not an exclusion from this situation.
Unfortunately, the amount of constructions encroaching on frugal areas of green plantings in downtown Tbilisi has been increasing during the last 20 years. Among the issues calling for urgent attention there are sanitary condition of the city, protection of public parks, squares and gardens, thoughtful organizing of new green plantings.
The only green area we have in the already developed part of the city is Vake Park, where unrestricted construction sites emerge from time to time. It is enough to mention the celebrated hotel construction case, which allegedly sacrificed some trees and was supposed to take a tangible part of park territory (with authorization issued Tbilisi City Hall Environment and Landscape Development Office, issued on September 17 2013). Construction was terminated on public demand, but the process further reducing tiny area of Vake Park can continue any time.
Vera Park founded in YY 1932-1935 is located at the junction of Merab Kostava and Niko Nikoladze Streets. In the 1950’ies its area reached 55000 sq. m. In the 1990’ies the attitude of authorities toward functional purpose of Vera Park changed unfavorably: the government started to issue regulations resulting in artificial segmentation of Vera Park and other parks and inappropriate allocation of existing constructions to private persons contrary to public interests. Boundaries of the park are not defined, and information on this issue cannot be obtained in either the central archive or the relevant departments of Tbilisi City Hall – which makes it easier to occupy land and misappropriate constructions actually belonging to the Park. It is unfortunate that such processes are sometimes supported by regulations issued by the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia as well as city authorities and self-government.
Dighomi Woodland Park was completely portioned out and sold, though in 2007-2012 the government returned 78809 sq. m. – i.e. 38.44% of its initial area.
It is clear that the above changes in the urban setting were made on the basis of the existing laws and regulations, but in some cases their application was quite controversial.
To improve the condition of public gardens and parks and protect the environment, it is necessary to apply a range of urban planning measures, namely – upgrade transport infrastructure, organize traffic, and rehabilitate the areas damaged by excessive anthropogenic impact, which means increasing of green areas and protection of existing plantings.
The unsegmented area of Children’s City “Mziuri” got reduced to 90% of the original in 2000-2007, to 84% in 2008, to 76% in 2009, to 67% in 2007 and to 7% in 2011. Children’s City “Mziuri” is located in Vere Ravine, between the Heroes’ Square and Tamarashvili Street. It borders on Tbilisi Hippodrome in the west and on Chavchavadze Avenue in the east. Boundaries of the Park are undefined. Its area was provisionally set at 52800 sq. m., the only criterion being the unbroken span of vegetation in the ravine. The territory mostly represents a woodland park. Unfortunately, in the recent years it was significantly damaged by uncontrolled urban development processes going on in the city with no regard to strategic development master plan – the peak of such activity was construction of a highway connecting the Heroes’ Square with Vake and Saburtalo Districts.
(Year-by-year reduction of vegetation cover in Children’s City “Mziuri” is shown on the above chart).
Transformation of Sports Palace area into a residential district in the beginning of the 21st century sacrificed the architectural image of the Sports Palace, the green plantings, numerous recreational zones. Scientific-research institutes were closed down on purpose so that the facilities of Academic Town could be disposed of. New houses built in their place do not conform to the construction standards, there is no transport infrastructure, no parking lots, no squares; safety requirements are disregarded completely.Tbilisi Municipality did not take any serious steps to protect Children’s City “Mziuri”, while its decomposition, which results in destruction of vegetation cover, was supported by more than 70 legal acts.
During our research we uncovered some other actions contributing to reduction of urban vegetation cover:
• None of parks in Tbilisi has set frontage lines. Neither National Archive, nor Municipal Services store information on park frontage lines based on the old master plan.
• Recreation zones are segmented.
• Tbilisi parks do not have a suitably developed management structure. None of the parks has administration; maintenance is delegated to the Environment and Landscaping Department of Tbilisi City Hall, which implements this task on the basis of tenders.
• The City Hall does not have any regulations detailing management and maintenance of urban parks; consequently, tenders are announced on the basis of verbal recommendations.
• Blight is highly distributed.
• Urban irrigation system based on utility water is dysfunctional.
• Plants are cut down incoherently.
• Tbilisi water storage facilities are polluted.
“Destruction of parks, squares, sidewalks, sports and playgrounds in Tbilisi and their privatization for construction purposes has turned into a mass phenomenon. In several years the capital of Georgia might be left with no vegetation cover, no life space.” – These words begin the ruling passed by Tbilisi Sakrebulo in 2002, which aims at preventing privatization of parks, squares, sidewalks and playgrounds and banning of construction in such areas. This ruling also prohibits cutting of trees, except dead, dying and hollowed plants.
In spite of repeatedly issued decrees and rulings, vegetation cover in Tbilisi is still under danger. The recent construction boom caused demand on land which was satisfied by illegal selling of public parks and squares, which were not supposed to serve for urban development at all. Urbanists and architects do not rule out the possibility of quasi-legal constructions being revised and dismantled at some point in the future.
To improve the quality of landscaping in Tbilisi it is necessary to take steps in several directions. The city should adopt a more organized landscaping policy and allocate more land for development of parks and gardens. Architects should apply more efforts to planning of courtyards. More attention should be paid to landscape architecture – there are no landscape architecture landmarks in our city. Above all, the population should contribute more actively to protection of vegetation cover. The future image of Tbilisi, the health of future Tbilisi residents now depends on activity of each municipal worker, each builder and citizen.