Breathe Deep: If You Want Change, You Have to Fight For It

It is always a good idea to put the spotlight on local problems, like air pollution and road regulation problems, especially when Tbilisians are spending a lot of their time stuck in traffic these days. Even individual citizens have been motivated to take up the fight to make changes for the better. One such individual is Ukrainian-born Daria Kholodilina, who now lives in Georgia, and who genuinely cares about the local environment enough to act. On December 23, Kholodilina brought together local green initiatives, NGOs and active citizens at ‘Tbilisi’s Way Out of Pollution and Hibernation’ meeting to talk about traffic problems, urbanization, nature protection, air pollution, recycling and the environment.

“I am really in love with Georgia but to be honest there are some major problems and the longer I live here, the more problems I see. However, I want to live here and I want to create a better environment for future generations,” Kholodilina told Georgia Today. “I discovered various organizations and NGOs who are fighting against this injustice, and the idea came up to organize an open platform where they could get to know each other, discuss the situation in the country, talk about their projects and maybe create some new ones,” she added.

Georgian Young Greens, Guerrilla Gardening Tbilisi, Green Gift, Friendly Roads, City Institute Georgia and other NGOs are occupied in different fields but it turned out that the sphere of their interests are crossed and related: with the ultimate aim of bettering Tbilisi’s environment.

Yet another large evening jam in Tbilisi encouraged the audience to open their meeting with the issue of traffic problems. Despite the fact that today it is also a hot topic for the Government of Georgia, there is still a lot to be done. “The decision to ban the registration of right-hand cars in Georgia is a great initiate because today it creates many dangerous situations on the road,” said Gela Kvashilava, Member of Advisory Board at Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport. “There is no other country in the world which has both left and right-hand cars. It is like having two national currencies- ridiculous!”

Another issue high on the list of dislikes is the trucks travelling through the capital; too large for the narrow streets and often old and producing heavy pollution.

Bicycle lanes are on the wish lists of many meeting participants. Representatives of Guerrilla Gardening Tbilisi said that one bicycle line would be constructed in 2016, though this is far from enough to satisfy the growing number of cyclists in Tbilisi.

“It is a myth that moving by bicycle in the city is impossible due to Tbilisi’s landscape,” said Mamuka Salukvadze, the Director-General of City Institute Georgia. “But it is true that today it is really dangerous to travel by bike- and that’s why we are working on a plan for Tbilisi’s urbanization on which bikeways will be a definite feature.”

City Institute Georgia is a German-Georgian organization which recently won the Government’s tender to create a Master Plan for Tbilisi’s urbanization. According to Salukvadze, the Master Plan will raise new building construction issues, especially in the old city; the creation of alternative transport like trams, which can function not only in Tbilisi but also connect important surrounding towns, for example, Rustavi-Tbilisi-Mtskheta; and much more. The first results of work on the Master Plan will be officially presented in January 2016.

Salukvadze believes that the Plan will not only be able to liberate the city from the large number of transport means, but also improve the environment. Nevertheless, city improvement projects always require the active involvement of citizens. “I used to work in Tbilisi City Hall,” he said. “It was quite challenging to deliver my message to the heads, which is why we need a greater force outside- active citizens who want to protect their city.”

There is a lot to fight for. It was recently reported that the controversial Budapest Hotel construction in Vake Park has been approved and is to start on December 27. Guerrilla Gardening Tbilisi, who has fought alongside active citizens for three years to prevent the construction and preserve the park, will gather once again at Vake Park on December 27 at 3pm to protect one of the main green areas in Tbilisi. Fancy joining them?

Eka Karsaulidze

24 December 2015 19:28