Green Spaces Shrink in Georgian Capital

Authorities argue that new leisure areas outside the city are the way forward.

Green Spaces Shrink in Georgian Capital

Authorities argue that new leisure areas outside the city are the way forward.

Residents of the Georgian capital Tbilisi have staged protests against the destruction of city parks in what they see as a creeping encroachment on public spaces, with no advance warning given by the authorities.

People in the city’s Nadzaladevi district staged a demonstration on February 6 against plans to build over part of the local Veterans’ and Pensioners’ Park.

The same day, residents living along Moscow Avenue held their own protest against the destruction of a square laid out for their use 40 years ago.

“It was a really good square – the trees were almost half a century old. Now they say they’re going to build a police station there,” Dato Metreveli, who lives on Moscow Avenue, said.

He said residents called the police when they saw workers chopping down trees on the square, only to learn that planning permission had already been granted.

“Could they really not find different premises for the police and leave the people this place where you could walk around and breathe a little fresh air?” he asked.

The redevelopment of public parks has been a recurring theme in Tbilisi in recent years. Large parts of the Digomi Forest, one of the biggest green areas in the capital, have been built over, and in 2010, the local authorities stripped the forest’s remaining territory of its official status as a recreation zone.

“Preserving these spaces is of vital importance in view of the already poor environmental situation in Tbilisi,” Ana Gabriadze, head of the non-government group Free Space, said. “When this city was being planned, these green belts were specifically intended to play a role as its ‘lungs’… It’s the same in other parts of Tbilisi, where green spaces are being effaced, and local residents only find out at the last moment.”

Other environmental groups expressed similar concerns, particularly about the lack of prior warning.

“It’s the constitutional right of city residents to live in a decent environment and to know in advance whether any such major work is to be undertaken, Rezo Getiashvili of the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network said. “When people find out about the work after the fact, they have no time to react and defend their rights.”

Getiashvili said the mayor’s office rarely took account of recommendations from experts before making major changes to the city’s layout.

The response from the city government is that the construction projects are entirely legal, and that steps have been taken to make the city greener than before, by planting new areas, restoring parks, and building a whole new recreation area on Lake Lisi on the outskirts of Tbilisi.

“We have built a new road to make this [lakeside] location much more accessible to city residents who want to relax there. We are planning another bridge to connect it to the capital, so that the new suburb of Lisi becomes an organic part of the city,” Mayor Gigi Ugalava said at an opening ceremony for the lakeside area.

However, activists point out that Lisi and other leafy areas are located around the outside of Tbilisi, whereas their concern is about more central areas.

Getisashvili said that while forested areas some way away from the capital had been assigned to the city, “this doesn’t change the fact that green spaces are being removed within the city itself”.

Nelli, a 68-year-old , who lives near the pensioners’ park, said she could not go afford to venture further afield.

“This park was the only place where I and most of my friends and neighbours could relax and bring the children to play,” she said. “Soon we will lose that – the whole city will be concreted over.”

Teo Bichikashvili is a reporter for the GHN news agency in Georgia.

 

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