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Brosse Street Journal » Arts and Culture:

Old Tbilisi Inhabitants Demand Action

By Arman Suleymanyan
Brosse Street Journal
Monday, April 25 2005
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The "prestigious districts" in Tbilisi mainly consist of buildings built about 100 years ago. Most of them needs repairing; some are in emergency condition. But what about those buildings that are old but not viewed as historically valuable? What is the best solution for restoring old Tbilisi districts?

Konstantin Gogaradze,59, an inhabitant of Sololaki district, points at an old building. "Look! This house is going to collapse, and nobody cares. The municipality doesn’t do anything.
"During times there was a special department that estimated the damage to a building and repaired it. If we have a slight earthquake now, for sure we will have many victims. Our district is more than 100 years old. This problem must be solved as soon as possible."

The cracked wall was in a courtyard. It was on an extra room built illegally by his neighbor. To comprehend the problem, it is necessary to know the history.

Masha Ekserdjan, 26, an expert of ancient Georgia

"The majority of the houses in Sololaki were built at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century. The owners of these houses were merchants, rich people who built these houses as permanent property for their children. The whole yard and building belonged to one person.

"After the revolution in 1917, Communists took their houses from the rich owners and gave them to several families to share. At first, all of them lived in the same conditions, But as time went on, some families were able to buy their neighbors’ rooms and improve their conditions. Usually people who are in the front part of a building live in better conditions than those who are in the back. So the second category needed to build extra rooms to make conditions of living a bit better. We can’t say that they did it in a proper way. If the municipality decides to destroy a building with the plan to build a new one, front yard inhabitants will be against it and back yard ones for it.

Svetlana Melikhanusova, inhabitant of Sololaki

"They can decide us to leave us in our house for a couple of years until they repair it. But we do not trust the local administration. There are many examples with which we are familiar in which people were cheated. They can come to an agreement and sign the necessary documentation today, and then change it completely another day. I will never change from my prestigious district to one like Didube, which is so far from the city that it hardly can be named Tbilisi. I can see one compromise in which they give us the sum of money we asked for and we leave."

What is the value of these old, mostly uncomfortable houses in emergency condition? And who can be the potential investors? 

Zaza Saneblidze, 35, inhabitant of Sololaki 

 "Whoever is going to buy these houses will be (mostly) paying for the land, which is situated in a prestigious part of the city. I think nobody cares about these old houses. They will destroy them in any case."

At this time there is little or no foreign investment. It is hard to imagine a profitable business in the current economic situation that would allow a potential investor to earn back the money he would spend fixing an old building. There is no reason for such investment. Other potential investors are international organizations that simply hire the flats they need.

According to Nikolos Vacheishvili, a deputy at the Ministry of Culture, Monument Protection and Sport, there is an official state program to rehabilitate the old districts of Tbilisi. He said nobody is going to destroy the old districts. He said the government will first inventory the districts, find out which ones have valuable historic buildings, and how valuable they are. The last inventory was at least 15 years ago. So 2005 is expected to be spent working on this project, and on developing a plan for helping the current inhabitants of these districts. "Depending on the coming decisions by the local administration, we have already arranged for buildings in the Saburtalo region (where residents can move)."

Leila Tumanishvili, director of cultural heritage, Ministry of Culture, Monument Protection and Sport

"In Tbilisi there are three types of protection zones: a zone of state protection, a zone of building regulation, and a zone of landscape protection. The historical area of Tbilisi includes all three zones.

"In the zones that are under state protection, there are approximately 10,000 buildings that have historical value. A list of architectural monuments that was completed in 1980 listed only 785 buildings that had historical value. Under the cultural heritage laws, building and monuments are always being added to the list. In 2002, there was a re-inventory of these 785 buildings. About 20 buildings have been torn down and rebuilt without any regard to their historical value, but most of them retained their status as monuments. After the earthquake of 2002, about 800 buildings were added to the list. The Ministry of Culture is going to document those 800 buildings.

"The ministry has a two-part inventory plan. "First, we proclaimed a competition to compile the documentation for the already existing monument," Tumanishvili said. "Second, we are going to proclaim a tender to inventory the protection zones. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the money to do this work. The state budget will proclaim this tender. We hope that by the end of this year, we will have the real picture of the existing monuments and their conditions. This is a basic tool for planning the other steps."

" On August 11, 2004, the Georgian government adopted a resolution about plans for building in the historical areas of Tbilisi. A second resolution is dedicated to the creation of a special commission that will deal with historical areas of Tbilisi. This commission, which is not yet formed, must created a state plan for the rehabilitation of the historical areas of Tbilisi. Because the problems connected with this issue are so complex, the commission is expected to include architects, historians, economists, lawyers, building specialists, engineers and construction specialists.

"Every country with historical ancient cities approaches the problem differently. So this rehabilitation group must examine the problem from different angles, noting the experience of other countries, and in close collaboration with organizations such as UNESCO that have long experience in this field. The plan also must fit the needs of interest of investors, citizens and the municipality.

"To speak about rehabilitation before inventory is not serious," Tumanishvili said. "It really is a huge job. We hope that by the end of this year that work will be done, and done with quality."

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