Discussion
The role of culture in establishing a Smart Conscious City: A case study of Tbilisi, Georgia

What is a Smart City?

The concept of a Smart City has become popular as an answer to emerging needs and challenges of urban areas. Fueled by the potential of information and communication technologies (ICT), cities around the world are adopting a variety of strategies to make their cities smarter to improve economic competitiveness, sustainability, social and capital attractiveness and quality of life. 

There are already a lot of examples of smart city concepts being integrated into city strategies. For instance, Barcelona introduced smart parking – sensors pedal when space is free, and data becomes available on a mobile app to its users. Oslo implemented smart LED lights that are 50% more energy-efficient; sensors turn lights off when people and cars are not around, as well as monitoring traffic levels and pollution, feeding data back to councils. Singapore went a step further by developing the Smart Nation Initiative, which is used to leverage technology towards improving lives by using connectivity, infrastructure, and common technical architecture.1 

It is important to point out the difference between the smart city and a conscious city. The smart city focuses on improving the efficiency of services; the conscious city is “aware of the needs and activities of its inhabitants and responds to them through data analysis, artificial intelligence, and the application of cognitive sciences in design”2. The conscious city helps to improve the experience of the citizens and have better mental and physiological effects. Researchers could that find that conscious cities alleviate stress, anxiety, and boredom by “being sensitive to the pervading moods and personalities of people in different parts of the city”

Role of Culture in a Smart City and its Benefits

The goal of the smart city is to make infrastructure more efficient, but often that will come at the cost of other considerations like culture and legacy, while all of the sides could potentially benefit from ICT if directed properly.4

Amitabh Kant, CEO of The National Institution for Transforming India, states: “Technology for smart cities without art and culture component will create lop-sided development only. Therefore, you need to take efforts to design, attract, retain and nurture the creative workforce of our cities. Technology and art and culture must embrace each other. We cannot have smart cities without art and culture.”5 

Culture can mean not only cultural heritage but urban creative industries or “a focus on the needs of the citizen by promoting livability within cities”6. Cultural heritage can significantly contribute to the economic growth of a city as it attracts visitors to cultural events, museums, and monuments. Thus, cultural heritage has the potential to develop cities and should be integrated in smart city strategies to create “smart cultural heritage”.

Heritage protection is one of many ways to strengthen sense of place and preserve culture. Many cities have already began to answer the question of how to maintain a balance between the protection of a historical center and its development and regeneration. We can see great examples of it around the world, a well known case is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The museum exceeded the expected ROI and is successfully contributing to the rejuvenation of a previously decaying urban area.8

Northern European cities, such as Oslo, Copenhagen, and Reykjavik, are among the most effective exploiters of such opportunities. Different factors may support these efforts, such as a strong economy, or the inherent beauty of a setting. They stand as good examples of integrating culture and renewal in cities.

Cultural Preservation in Georgia

I want to consider my hometown, Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, as a future smart city. Tbilisi is central to Georgia’s economy, civil society, development, culture, and political life. Today, Tbilisi is a “mix of old and new, urban and almost rural, and highly functional and deeply dysfunctional”.10 

The Georgian government has already started implementing initiatives towards incorporating culture into the city. Thus, for example, the Department of Cultural Heritage has developed “The Culture Strategy 2025”, a policy for the preservation of cultural heritage in Georgia. The strategy focuses on the creative industries, including the promotion of creative startups that will be beneficial for Georgia’s socio-economic development, in addition to the traditional directions of culture. The main principles of the Strategy are openness, transparency, and inclusiveness, and its long-term strategy to create a heritage management system. The Vision of the Georgian Culture Strategy 2025 is to “develop Georgia as a creative country and regional hub where innovation and creativity, along with the safeguarding and revitalizing of national heritage and cultural diversity are the fundamental pillars of social wellbeing and sustainable development”.11 

Moreover, in 2017 Tbilisi released the Land Use Master Plan 2030, which will increase the efficiency of infrastructure, create a balanced road network, reduce traffic congestion and establish a network of green spaces.12 The Master Plan takes into consideration strengths of Tbilisi, such as its uniqueness, intellectual, cultural and artistic traditions, extraordinary natural and urban peculiarities, economic and human resources, also its advantageous location in the South Caucasus and positive reputation from the point of business and tourism development.13 

Tbilisi’s competitiveness, according to the Master Plan14, is dependent on its attractiveness, which is determined by two factors: 

  • Structural factors: effective infrastructure, development of the main types of urban services, high quality of the residential environment and effective urban policy;

  • Functional factors (i.e. functions that could be performed by the city): features that allow the city to become a destination for international businesses, innovative business centers, important conjunction of communication network and an international center of culture.

Spatial territorial planning policy should be serving as the empowerment of these factors. 

The local government of Tbilisi is also taking steps to develop the city. For instance, the residents’ condominium associations are repairing building facilities and equipping them with advanced heating systems. According to research, “Tbilisi’s old landfill was closed and replaced, the street lighting system has been upgraded with energy-efficient bulbs and the city’s water system is shifting from pumping into gravity. The city has sought to improve public bus and metro service provision, improving bus reliability with new technology and improving existing metro infrastructure. It now plans to expand cable car lines and is pursuing light-rail transit.”15 

Obstacles

After Georgia obtained independence, Tbilisi experienced a very turbulent period of instability. The turn-of-the-century stabilization was followed by a new wave of intense development since 2003. With the abrupt changes in Georgia, Tbilisi, like many other post-Soviet cities, has faced new challenges. The lack of social housing, green and public spaces in general, homelessness, poor construction quality, and chaotic development practices have led to problematic density and environmental problems. Meanwhile, the famous historical center of Tbilisi is in need of urgent reconstruction.16 

The greatest number of problems discussed by experts is related to the transportation situation in Tbilisi.17 Also, fragmented urban environmental management is one of the problems of the city, due to an uneven distribution of the population and congestion in its center.18 

One of the most important factors in the cost of urban land, along with its prestige, is its availability. In Tbilisi, the excessive transport and social burden take place in the historical center, creates an imbalance between the center and the periphery. The city of Tbilisi is in a stage of hyper urbanization, resulting in several peripheral parts of the city becoming isolated from the center, due to the high cost of transportation.19 

The consequence of the established tendency of hyper urbanization is a deterioration of the natural environment in the city center, fuelled by the disappearance of open green spaces. For decades, the urban monocentric model has been a tool for destroying the cultural and natural heritage of the historic city center. Areas inaccessible by public transportation, such as the subway, are losing their appeal, and many residents of the central districts do not utilize them as integral parts of Tbilisi. 

But it is also important to mention the advantages Tbilisi has. These are its international and local positioning, traditional hospitality, rich history, unique natural context, and its geolocation between East and West. International festivals and various cultural events in Tbilisi contribute to the positioning of the city both at the international and regional level. As an education centre, the capital helps attract local and foreign students.

Paths forward

Many European cities are working to address question of how to maintain a balance between the protection their historic center and their regeneration. One of the tools for a historical megacity might be the development of a polycentric urban model. Another tool can be restoration. It might be a lot slower than demolition, but not necessarily more expensive.20 

The protection of cultural and natural heritage and the historical center of Tbilisi should be based on the methodological and legal principles of polycentrism set out in the recognized conventions of UNESCO and the Council of Europe, “Manifesto for a New Urbanity: European Urban Charter II” and “Community-Led Urban Strategies in Historic Towns”. 

From an urban perspective, culture may include urban cultural heritage or urban creative industries or may also simply mean focusing on the needs of citizens by promoting better urban living conditions. All three elements can benefit from ICT if they are designed to do so. 

Conclusion

The future of Tbilisi and its citizens will largely depend on how the driving forces – both internal and external (for Tbilisi and Georgia) – operate. As research shows, “while municipal authorities may not have any control over external factors, they can still shape or at least influence factors of local origin.”21 The future of Tbilisi is ultimately in the hands of the people of Tbilisi. 

Recognizing and preserving culture and cultural heritage is an important aspect of re-inventing cities for the future. The implementation of ICT in smart city development, on the surface, seems to preclude culture from the planning equation. However, ICT can integrate heritage to build a conscious city that doesn't sacrifice culture and beauty for efficiency.

References

  1. Singapore Government Technology Agency. Smart Nation Sensor Platform.

  2. Itai Palti, Moshe Bar (28 August 2015). "A manifesto for conscious cities: should streets be sensitive to our mental needs?". The Guardian.

  3. Markus Jokela, Wiebke Bleidorn, Michael E. Lamb, Samuel D. Gosling, and Peter J. Rentfrow (15 August 2014). "Geographically varying associations between personality and life satisfaction in the London metropolitan area". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 112 (3): 725–730.

  4. Allam, Zaheer & Newman, Peter. (2018). Redefining the Smart City: Culture, Metabolism and Governance. Smart Cities. 1. 4.10.3390/smartcities1010002.

  5. Jenée Iyer. (June 2017). The Heart of Smart cities: A case for the relevance of art in data-driven cities. Carnegie Melon University Arts Management & Technology Laboratory.

  6. Allam & Newman. Redefining the Smart City.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Beatriz Plaza. (June 2006). "The Return on Investment of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 30(2), pages 452-467.

  9. Melvin, Jeremy. Smart Cities built on culture.

  10. Lincoln Mitchell. (2015). Making Tbilisi's Future – A look at Georgian capital's current problems.

  11. The Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia. (2018). Georgian Cultural Strategy.

  12. Copenhagen Centre. Energy Efficiency Brief. Tbilisi-Georgia.

  13. City Institute Georgia. (2018).

  14. Tabatadze, Kate. Economic Benefits of Tbilisi’s General Land Use Plan. (2016). <https://propertygeorgia.ge/en/news/economic-benefits-tbilisis-general-land-use-plan>

  15. World Bank Group. (2016). What Makes a Sustainable City? A Sampling of Global Case Studies Highlighting Innovative Approaches to Sustainability in Urban Areas. <https://www.scribd.com/document/325717555/WorldBankWhatMakesaSustainableCity-pdf>

  16. Assche Van K., Salukvadze J. (2012). Tbilisi: Urban Transformation and Role Transformation in the Post-Soviet Metropolis. Remaking Metropolis: Global Challenges of the Urban Landscape. Pp. 86 - 102.

  17. Information and Analytics Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. (2016). Road traffic accidents in Georgia in 2008-2015. P. 56

  18. Systra. (2014). The Household Survey. P. 59.

  19. National Statistics Service of Georgia. (2017). Demographic situation in Georgia. P.24.

  20. Bergfors, Sara. Tbilisi destroys its past. (2014). The Old Town is transformed. Baltic Worlds Vol VI:3-4, pp. 29- 31 <http://balticworlds.com/tbilisi-destroys-its-past/> 

Lazariia, N (2019). The role of culture in establishing a Smart Conscious City: A case study of Tbilisi, Georgia. London: Conscious Cities Anthology 2019: Science-Informed Architecture and Urbanism. ISSN 2514-6815 DOI:10.33797/CCA19.05