Program for the new Mayors
11 August, 2014
As the new mayor and deputy mayors take office there are several things they can begin to implement that will lead to an immediate improvement in the lives of those who live in cities. I am writing about Tbilisi where I live and have less experience with other cities, but believe it is true for those as well. There should be four main goals: transparency, good housing, better transportation, and improved utilities.

City government needs to be transparent, it is an
excellent vaccination against corruption. Both the decisions themselves as well as the method by which decisions are made. This has been a serious challenge in the past, particularly related to construction projects. In general the new government has been more transparent than the old one. This should continue at the municipal level. It would not be difficult at the start to begin habits of broadcasting plans early, so that those who care can understand where things are moving. The more transparent the systems are that are put in place, the better and more permanent the municipal institutions will become. Narmania's record in his ministry was a good one in this regard, but the incentives for secrecy and inside deals in the mayors office are stronger. He should resist them.

Housing in Tbilisi has a number of problems. There is very little public housing but there are many things the municipality can do to improve private housing in general for property owners and those who rent their apartments. There should be greater legal clarity on what the mayors office has the responsibility to fix. There are many common problems in old or poorly constructed buildings throughout the city, and people waiting for the mayors office to come fix them, but often it is not clear in which cases and when the problems will be fixed, except for the usual flurry of repair before elections. The regulations for new housing are terrible. Both in the quality of construction but also in the arrangements for building management. There should be greatly improved regulations and implementations of regulations in Georgia, but nowhere is this more important than building regulations, particularly in taller buildings and with historically important buildings. And once they are built many of them are not safe. Let's not wait for a disaster, a high rise fire, for example, to make them more safe. And the situation for many of Tbilisi's oldest most beautiful buildings is desperate. We need to balance the long term priority of historical architectural preservation with the rights of property owners and tenants.

There has been a great improvement over the last ten years in the bus system in Tbilisi and this should continue. A better ticketing system and less rush hour crowding on the busiest routs, most of all. Besides buses, the only real transportation policy has been to make things as easy and convenient for the minority of Tbilisi residents who drive cars, and to make things as unpleasant and difficult for the overwhelming majority of residents of Tbilisi as well as tourists who walk. And keep in mind this is four out of five of us. But the drivers get all the breaks. It is time for the mayors office to take walking in the city more seriously. Tbilisi is one of the great walking cities in the world, but the authorities do nothing at all to help, even in the center of the city. The sidewalk in front of Smart on Rustaveli and Tabidze street by Freedom Square are a parking lot. Parking on sidewalks is an epidemic, the privatized parking system a complete failure. The former sidewalk in front of the Imeli Building looks like Stalingrad in January 1943. There are few cross walks, and no police giving tickets to drivers who ignore them. It is time for a real transport policy, one that considers how most people actually move and environmental concerns, rather than one that ignores everybody but car owners.

Utilities are still an unsolved problem. Electricity infrastructure seems to be getting worse, with surges that destroy appliances and more frequent electricity cuts. Water remains a problem. The first thing that should be done with water is much better and constant public testing of water everywhere so that the population can see how the water quality is steadily getting worse. The infrastructure is old and needs to be improved. The water supply was privatized but with a lack of clarity as to who owns it. A great city need a steady supply of electricity and water. Tbilisi is not there yet.

This is comes down to better planning. And a great city plan needs to involve everybody in its creation and execution. Improving transparency, housing, transportation, and utilities will benefit all. Start now, because it will be slow work. But ultimately much more useful and important than spending effort, money, and time moving statues and destroying bridges.