What are we Building?
13 September, 2012

 

There is plenty of building going on around Tbilisi and through out the country. Some of it has been going on for a long time, some has been sitting half finished for a long time, some of it seems to be in a rush. What it shares in common is that there is almost never a sign out front that says what is being built, who is building it, the plan, or any other information about it. It is the

same in other cities. This is illegal and also a bad thing for Georgia. Even more frustrating is that often these construction projects are being done by the government itself or by companies closely connected to government officials.

 

In democratic countries the usual practice is that by law, when something big is being built, and a road, sidewalk, or park is being blocked, the owner has the responsibility to tell people that it will happen, for how long, and exactly what will be done. In Georgia with it's Soviet past, people are not used to having the right to know what is being built that somehow affects public property. Those things are "owned" by the state, who can do with it what it wants. In the USSR, the state owned all property and did do whatever it wanted to. But now, there is a difference between public and private property. If I want to do something in my house and it doesn't impact my neighbors or doesn't violate any laws, I can do whatever I want, because it's mine. But when public property is blocked, citizens have the right to know what is going on, because as citizens they ultimately "own" that land because they "own" the state.

 

This doesn't happen in Georgia and it should. Currently the area in front of the Raddison hotel is blocked off. As Tbilisi residents who don't mind walking into a "blu" hotel know, before, in order to get to the hotel, people on foot would have to walk through a parking lot, there was no sidewalk. The assumption was that everybody who would go there would be in a car, a strange assumption considering the central location. Will that be fixed? We don't know because there is no sign with what will happen to that public space.

 

There is also some construction going on near Freedom Square along Baratashvili. Somehow, the owners managed to acquire for themselves half the sidewalk, and yet there was no public discussion that this sidewalk was being taken from the citizens. These public notices are very rare. The law on construction is very clear that every major construction project must have from the very beginning, a plan with information on what will happen there in a place where people can read it.

 

But they are rarely put up, in the rare cases when they are put up, it us usually at the end of the project, when it no loungers matters. When the Ministry of Finance was reconstructed the clever builders put the sign up so high that nobody could read it. And call me cynical, but I would guess that anybody who has the influence to take for themselves half a sidewalk, are likely to have close connections to whoever in the government decides who gets to take our sidewalks. They never seem to have signs up. For example, the Imeli Building that was half destroyed then has stayed as it was for years, has no information on what is planned. In addition to this, the sidewalk is destroyed and the wood people are supposed to walk on has all rotted. This is not only dangerous and annoying for citizens but is embarrassing with tourists. Georgia is and is projecting to the world an image of being a vibrant place. And yet so much of the heart of the city is beautiful old buildings, half under constructions half destroyed with decaying dangerous wooden sidewalks in front and no indication what will happen there.

 

It is understandable why big property developers might try to prevent citizens from knowing their plans in certain cases. Maybe the plans are bad plans, or maybe they haven't completely decided what they will do and want to be able to change it mid project. This is unheard of in more developed countries but common here. But the state authorities, national and municipal, should protect the interest of citizens. In this case they are clearly allowing rampant violations of public interest law. The municipalities should start paying more attention to neighbours as well as their friends who are property developers.

 

During this pre-election period, a recommendation for those voters talking to majoritarian candidates for parliament: please take them to some construction when they visit your neighborhood and show them how the law is being violated. Ask if they have any intention of doing anything about it.

 

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