Sidewalk Invasions!

Sidewalks, as they are called in America, or pavements in British English, constitute a direct reflection of human rights, and this has been so since ancient times. Sidewalks are usually built on the side of the motorized part of roads to guarantee safety for pedestrians while they walk. And safety is provided for by separating walkers from drivers as much as possible.

Georgia is a country where the historical concept of a sidewalk is not plainly ignored but vehemently defied both by people and authorities in the same exact way. Sidewalks are multifunctional here, and all those functions, except walking itself, go against law and order. A couple of days ago, I was walking the streets of my beloved Tbilisi, my attention became totally engulfed with a minor architectural detail. At first, I tried to ignore it, but when I started stumbling over them one after the other, the angry inquisitive journalist awoke in me. My morning strolling area, first restricted to the old downtown street where I live, called Besiki, then widened, as I followed my curiosity and indignation, going a little deeper into my architectural thoughts, to better observe whether the sidewalk ugliness was ubiquitous throughout the town or not. Yes, it was! Right in the heart of Tbilisi!

I’m talking about voluntary, unauthorized minor constructions right on the sidewalks! Desiring to make life more comfortable for themselves, dwellers of houses build themselves private stairs and porches, some of which are even canopied! These people capture part of the communal land, thus invading the sidewalks and leaving pedestrians without a chance to walk comfortably on the place designed exactly for that function! How come anybody who wants to have additional living space is allowed to add to their legitimate dwellings a structure of any type and size at the expense of the town property? In most cases, these structures are ugly and untidy, and most importantly, are built without a relevant permit.

One of the recently constructions on lower Besiki Street has invaded a huge part of the sidewalk, compelling us poor pedestrians to hit the road itself, at risk of being mowed down by the constant heavy traffic. There are tens if not hundreds of such examples on the block. Amazingly, this is no surprise for most, as we take the invasion of our sidewalks for granted. I have never seen anything like this anywhere else in the world!

There is another common type of invasion of sidewalks in Tbilisi: cars, turning the foot space into parking lots. By doing so, drivers make pedestrians second-rate citizens with no legal right to freely use what legally belongs to them. To say nothing of other invaders of our sidewalks, though in some cases more tolerable than the above: street vendors. And they are tolerable because they need to make their living somehow, and they are at least offering some kind of service, sometimes a very good one. Such ‘good’ invasions might be seen in any other big or small city in the world, but unlawful voluntary constructions and so many parked cars on sidewalks is what makes Georgia so very different from the rest. Somebody might ask if it is possible to get rid of what makes our capital city look so unpleasantly unique. My answer would be no, because nobody cares.

Nugzar B. Ruhadze

09 November 2017 17:53