A friend posted a question on Facebook once asking which of the Georgian cities was most “Soviet-looking”. A lot of respondents named Rustavi, a little place some 25 km away from Tbilisi.
Indeed, Rustavi has unmistakable air of a Soviet city in decline, with its monumental city centre and desperate rows of grey ugly blocks. The city was built in 1940s, around the country’s largest metallurgical plant, and was meant to become an industrial face of Soviet Georgia. The metallurgical plant lost its function and most of workforce in 1990s, and so did Rustavi, a sad reminder of a winning working class and badly planned industrialization. A little over 120 thousand residents, most of them working in Tbilisi, is the reality the city is facing.
That is exactly what I thought of Rustavi only a month ago, never questioning my own prejudice, before I actually visited the city with the team of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Imagine my surprise when, instead of grey boredom, I saw a lovely town with the renewed streets, wonderful monuments, crowded green park and delicious café. The amazing Rustavians, who love their place and try hard to make it “cool”, was yet another discovery which has completely changed my perspective. Rustavi can never be boring while its citizens are excited by living here.
Rustavi in Colour
“Rustavi is a friendly little place where everyone knows each other. Yes, it is a bit on a grey side but we are trying to make it more colourful,” –
says Mary Gogishvili, a Rustavi activist of the project Futuremakers, rolled out in Georgia, Armenia and Egypt to prototype innovative governance based on collaboration between the youth and public authorities. In Georgia, Futuremakers is supported by UNDP, UN Volunteers (UNV), Edgeryders, the innovation ServiceLab of the Public Service Development Agency (PSDA) of Georgia and the Rustavi City Hall.
Mary is among over 30 young people who already joined the Futuremakers initiative seeking their say over the future of Rustavi. Making the city more colourful is just one of the ideas these motivated youngsters presented to the Mayor. Cool graffiti in the city park and a creative Zebra crossing on one of the main streets prove that anything is possible once you find the right people.
And this is just the beginning!
As Sopo Malashanidze, civic activist, says:
“There is an untapped potential in Rustavi and this is really good.”
Unleashing this potential and re-imaging Rustavi into a lively, active and fast developing city is the new ambitious goal ahead.
Rustavi has already tied hands with UNDP and ServiceLab on innovative e-governance projects. And in September 2017, the story of a colourful city will continue with the Global Goals Festival, which will kick off a national Sustainable Development Goals campaign in Georgia.
Mary Gogladze says:
“If we bright up the walls, it will bright up people’s faces too.”
Rephrasing that, now I know that once you re-imagine how a city looks, you can re-imagine its future.