Planning for Sustainable Communities in Georgia, Eurasia
Transforming communities to position them for prosperous futures is not a simple undertaking and is work that requires extensive public interaction and masterful planning. Doing such work on a regional level, in a foreign country, brings a completely different level of challenges and complexity. But when a plan comes together and an area has a new direction and hope, the personal and professional satisfaction is immeasurable.
This was the case when Otak took on the role of lead consultant for technical assistance in preparing integrated urban action plans (IAUP) for four separate areas of Georgia in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. With the plans in place, Otak is now working as a sub-consultant to the Danish firm COWI and is undertaking the preparation work for a $160 million Livable Cities Investment Project loan for work based on the IUAPs.
Funded by the Asian Development Bank, the original goal of the work was to develop ten-year investment plans for three urban region clusters, and a fourth for an area surrounding a busy metro station in the Georgia capital of Tbilisi. Otak’s Niels van Dijk, led a team of international development specialists, along with other urban design professionals from Otak, to create Integrated urban and regional plans that considered urban-rural linkages, economic activities, and competitive advantages of Zugdidi, Mestia, Northern Kakheti, and Akhmeteli. Work began in August 2017 and early planning was completed in May 2019.
Community leaders in Georgia identified the need to balance regional development in areas outside the urban core of Tbilisi—areas that are predominantly rural with economies based on agriculture and, to some extent, tourism. Populations in these towns have been shrinking as younger residents seek work elsewhere, so Georgia wanted a plan to create jobs and improve the quality of life–and ultimately attract its young people back.
Otak and its team developed strategies with supporting initiatives and actions over a 5-year scope. Looking across what each municipality had in place that could be transformed to reach its higher potential, the team looked at existing agriculture, heritage sites, public parks, trails, roads, and general infrastructure for water and energy. Public input was also a large part of this effort with findings that the communities in all areas expressed a keen interest in more kindergartens and sports facilities. Each area plan included elements to address multiple aspects of community quality.
First, the town centers will be spruced-up with elements to include paving, landscaping, sidewalks, street lights (solar), parking, visitor information-comfort stations, and bicycle lanes linked to recreational trails. As Tbilisi will be the jumping-off point for many visitors, the plan supports the rehabilitation of a large public park and the main river flowing through the city, along with an upgrade of the area surrounding Tbilisi’s busiest metro station to create better and safer accessibility. To further connectivity, plans identify a full network of hike/bike/pedestrian trails to be developed to link communities with points of interest stretching from the mountains to the sea.
Cultural heritage sites are to be rehabilitated to better accommodate and attract tourists. Ideas for new ventures such as agritourism are also being explored to benefit existing farmers and attract visitors. To accommodate a growing tourism base, grant programs would also be implemented for residents to use to renovate properties into bed and breakfasts and create camping or glamping facilities.
Residents’ desire for more active recreational opportunities led to plans for six new sports complexes, constructed in coordination with existing community buildings to create centers for organized sports as well as dance, weight lifting, judo, and similar recreational pastimes. And finally, plans also include the construction of 25 new kindergarten schools over the five-year horizon to accommodate the expected return of young families to each region.
Planning projects of this size and scope require the expertise and dedication of personnel across a wide swath of specialties. Fortunately, Otak has a large and growing talent base with the specialized skills needed to accomplish challenging projects.
Otak’s project team included Don Hanson, Planner, and Nate Erwin, Project Architect with support from Gabe Kruse, Landscape Architect/Urban Designer, who provided urban design concepts for the Akhmeteli Theatre Metro Station in Tbilisi. Nathan Jones, Planner, developed Story Maps presenting the four IUAPs. The LCIP project preparation work is being supported by Ann Nguyen, Landscape Architect (public parks and other public realms) while Ron Dean, Architect, reviewed architectural designs for sample kindergartens and sports facilities. Niels van Dijk is acting as an institutional and governance specialist.