City and Citizens - Social and Political Aspects of Urban Development

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ურბანისტი ვლადიმერ ვარდოსანიძე და მოდერატორი ქეთი ბერძენიშვილი

The first debates held in Kutaisi by the Heinrich Boell Foundation were met with high public interest. There were two main themes discussed at the meeting: the city development in terms of urban planning and economic development, especially through tourism. The first speaker at the meeting was Konstantine Charkhalashvili, the chief specialist of Kutaisi Economy Service, whose main sphere of interest is tourism. His report was entitled “How to develop a city to receive more visitors and tourists; the role that properly planned infrastructure plays, why it is important to have good communications, and other important issues.” In his speech, Charkhalashvili focused on three main aspects: the city’s current assets, the assets that it strives for and what it needs to do in order to gain them, and the image of the city and a citizen’s role. Using statistics, he familiarized the participants with trends that have been developing in Kutaisi and the Imereti region for the past five years.

The next speaker was Vladimir Vardosanidze. It must be noted that the participants expressed great interestin his report, which was written based on free ideas. “When I arrived in Kutaisi, I had a look at the rehabilitated district of the city. I liked the architectural developments, but when I asked about public toilets, it turned out that there were none. We have the same problem in Tbilisi, on Rustaveli Avenue and the restored Aghmashenebeli Street. This is one of the most important problems in urban planning, and it needs to be addressed,” noted Vardosanidze. After his speech, the next issue discussed was the lack of the main mottoof the city. It has no motto, which would distinguish the characteristics of this particular city from others. The speaker suggested that local government bodies should announce a competition for the best motto. According to Vardosanidze, “today, not only are countries competing with each other, but cities as well. Each city should have its specific characteristic features.” He brought forth the examples of countries that have implemented proper planning on the basis of a motto, stating that they have created a name for themselves on the urban map of the world. Vardosanidze also talked about a very crucial issue for Kutaisi concerning the location of the Parliament, which will likely support de-concentration rather thandecentralization.     

“Each citizen is the subject of urban development and they must be directly involved in urban planning; the space created for multiple subjectivities is the main charm of urban development,” noted Vardosanidze when speaking about the citizen’s role.      

Students, lawyers, architects, and other stakeholders, as well as representatives of local cultural and economic services, non-governmental organizations and media sector, took part in the discussion. The representatives of economic services noted that the work on the city’s strategic development plan will be accomplished soon and will then be posted on the city of Kutaisi’s official webpage.     

One of the participants in the debate, Irakli Chogovadze, spoke about an interesting topic, the Rioni River and its white stones as cultural and touristic characteristics. He asked the speakers to what extent it was possible to achieve city planning without unfortunate results, as in the case of damming the Mtkvari River. Vardosanidze suggested that urban planning specialists and environmentalists should put the Rioni’s white rocks in the list of natural monuments and supply the corresponding ministry with the necessary information regarding the importance of these rocks.

Various ideas about city planning and development were raised during the debates, which lasted for more than two hours.