Learning the Art of Urban Revival

Magda Nowakowska and Khatuna Sandroshvili, UNDP Georgia

Batman by the Spanish artist, Amancio González, in Rustavi City Park. Photo: Sophie Tchitchinadze/UNDP

Rustavi in Georgia is a showcase of a XX-century industrial city, built around a major steel factory during the World War II. After the economy of the Soviet Union collapsed, big plants in Rustavi were shut down and heavy industry, its pride and the reason behind its existence, became its curse and a cause of decay for the years to come. Third of the population left the city which soon became a symbol of a grey, troubled, post-industrial failure.

This image, however, is rapidly changing as Rustavi draws an ambitious plan to become a city built on innovations and transform itself into green, open and friendly space for people and business.

UNDP Georgia, Rustavi City Hall and Public Service Development Agency’s Innovation ServiceLab came together for the experimental partnership to help local self-governance re-design the city’s future and create new solutions for city’s development.

In January 2018, a group of civic servants and business representatives from Rustavi visited post-industrial cities in Poland to follow the path of urban revival of Polish cities.

“Our goal is to find new ways to invigorate Rustavi development. In Poland, we have visited three cities that have undergone successful transformation from a post-industrial collapse into a modern, multi-functional city, built sustainable economy and created good living conditions for the citizens,” — the Mayor of Rustavi, Irakli Tabaghua, says.

Irakli Tabaghua, Rustavi Mayor, and Wojciech Rosicki, Deputy Mayor of the City of Lodz. Photo: Magda Nowakowska/UNDP

In the cities of Lublin, Łódź and Stalowa Wola urban development specialists shared knowledge about strategic planning, with emphasis on inclusiveness and openness of the local governance in the process of designing revitalization and development strategies.

“Listen to the citizens when you plan the city. Nothing can be done without them,” — says Anita Ryba of the Stalowa Wola Center for Revitalisation.

Anita Ryba of the Stalowa Wola Center for Revitalisation speaks about the ways to engage citizens in urban development.

The Rustavi team returned to Georgia having picked up Polish practices that could be translated into Georgian reality.

In Łódź, the focus shifted to creativeness, innovation and attracting external investment, Lublin opened up to academic students and embraced cultural diversity. The city of Stalowa Wola, an analog to Rustavi in Poland, developed traditional industry based on metallurgic plant and reached out to international partnerships by building a system of investor-oriented professional education. In all three cities free economic zones were created as one of the long-term means to sustain economic growth of the cities.

Irakli Tabaghua, Rustavi City Mayor, speaks of how the experience of Poland in urban development can be translated into Georgian reality.

Recently created Rustavi Innovations Hub is now moving forward to design the city’s future strategy, supported by Forset, Georgia and Pracownia Miejska, Poland.

“We need to mobilise all possible resources, bring together local authorities, community, business and international organisations to create a new model for the city’s revival. We have to do it and we need to act fast. We are already behind the time,” — Rustavi Mayor, Irakli Tabaghua says.

This is only the beginning and more is to follow. If you have gone through the path similar to ours, please get in touch, we are looking forward to hearing your stories.

The current initiative of’ Experimental Model of Government (ServiceLab) — UNDP Partnership is implemented through UNDP Innovation Facility with the generous support of the Government of Denmark and aims at developing the model of ServiceLab- UNDP Partnership for generating potential growth areas in Governance.

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