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Brosse Street Journal » Features:

Tbilisi Needs a Facelift

By Tina Tsiskaradze
Brosse Street Journal
Wednesday, May 12 2004
Print article  |  Mail article   

January 6, 1992 was the last day of civil war in Georgia. The center of Tbilisi was considerably damaged, and 15 historically significant houses were totally destroyed. 

"One of the terrible days in my life was on January 6th at night when I took a walk on Rustaveli Avenue with my seven year-old child. Our city was dead. There were no longer my much-loved buildings, like the Hotel Tbilisi, the Artist's House, the central post office," said 47-year-old architect Goga Metreveli during a recent walk along the renewed Rustaveli Avenue. 

Since 1992 the government has worked to rebuild some of the most vital buildings in the historical section of Tbilisi. In 1997, then-president Eduard Shevardnadze with help from the World Bank, implemented a cultural heritage program. But there are still an estimated 2,200 houses, many of them historical, which are in damaged condition, according to the booklet "Developing Urbanization Problems" which was published in 2001 

" Nowadays, when somehow everything is connected to the Rose Revolution, people believe that maybe the new government will change something. Maybe I will trust them a little bit later, because now I really don't see any differences between the past and present. Sometimes I even think that what is happening now is even worse. I hardly recognize Tbilisi with so many new buildings. It is not architecture' it is just engineering," said an emotional Metreveli as he pointed at one of the newly-built houses behind the governmental residence. 

"Young, professional and the most progressive in Eastern Europe," is how President Mikhail Saakashvili introduced his new ministry cabinet. One of them is Minister of Infrastructure and Development Tamar Sulukhia. According to the old guard seating in the hall at the ministry, "Sulukhia is seldom in her office. She spends work days mostly at the sites." 

"The new government has inherited a difficult situation, so difficult that right now we don't even understand it. During Shevardnadze's regime everything was well-organized, the corruption, the crime. Most times the government had recourse, but did not have the will to stop and change the situation in the country, " said Vato Lejava, the newly-appointed Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Development. 

" Now our priority is to develop strong administrative law, economy, and social mechanisms to solve problems. The main problem is that now we have a very weak administrative system. Our main goal is to define the administrative law as soon as possible," said Lejava

The first layout drawing for the development of Tbilisi was made in 1934. Tbilisi was growing toward the west. New residences were being built in Saburtalo and Didi Digomi. But Old Tbilisi was untouchable. In 1968 the third and last layout drawing of the city was made.

" One of our priorities is to make a new layout drawing of Tbilisi, but first of all we need a new system of management and resourses, money. With good management, the ministry will produce objective decisions about new constructions," said Lejava.

Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania has issued a decree ordering the shutdown of all ongoing constructions in the historical district of Tbilisi for two months.

"A hotel in Sololaki belongs to the famous businessman Bidzan Ivanishvili, and so is the building in the April 9th Park. The owner of those ugly buildings has official permit documents, but now we will issue new housing legislation and those abominable buildings, which are damaging national resources and the cultural heritage of the country, will be dismantled," announced Nestan Tatarashvili, the chief of the building control department, at an April 28th press conference.

" At present we don't have statistics about how many building companies exist in the country," added deputy chief of the building control department Seda Elisashvili. "The statistical group is working on that right now. We will review their activities very critically and in a few days we will publish in the newspapers the list of the non-legal ongoing constructions of building companies. Now we are certain that one of them will be one of the biggest building companies, Center Point. Unless we change our minds after reviewing all their documents, they will be sent to the general prosecutor."

A Center Point representative named Misha, who did not say his position or his last name, said: " Our buildings are constructed in a legal manner. We don't say exactly how many there are because it is confidential information, but approximately 10 during the last six years."

Ani Baazova lives at 9 Eristavi Street in one of the new houses. She did not name the building company. She and her husband and two children moved to the new apartment in September of 2002.

" The house is so poorly designed that the walls have noticeable cracks already. God save, one little earthquake and…even this house is not built in the right place," said Baazova

" I do not understand, even if businessmen have money, why they build new buildings when there are so many old buildings that need to be saved," said 19-year-old Giga Mirianashvili, a student of the Faculty of Architecture.

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