Policy Forum on Preserving Historic Urban Landscape and Cultural Heritage in Batumi
On July 26, EWMI ACCESS organized a Policy Forum in Batumi entitled Preserving the Historic Urban Landscape and Cultural Heritage in Batumi in the Midst of Rapid Economic Growth. Batumi, the popular Black Sea resort of Georgia, is currently facing a construction boom that puts pressure on the historic landscape of the city and imposes danger to the preservation of cultural heritage monuments.
The Forum brought together the Minister of Education, Culture and Sports of the Autonomous Republic of Ajara, Vice-Mayor and Chairman of Council of Batumi City, Head of Cultural Protection Agency as well as other responsible officials, local CSOs, city-planners, experts and architects from Tbilisi and Batumi. Participants discussed current problems and challenges, spoke about the steps already undertaken to ensure sustainable urban development of the city and reviewed the best international practices and urban governance models.
EWMI ACCESS Grantee, the Batumi-based CSO Batomi, who consistently watchdogs urban development and cultural heritage protection issues in the city, presented its new project that envisions policy research and analysis to develop recommendations for Batumi authorities on how to manage cultural heritage monuments. The Organization secured cooperation and engagement of key policy-makers in the project implementation process. The Batumi Vice-Mayor expressed willingness and interest in the project. He outlined “decisive steps” already taken to regulate this field and pledged to pass new regulations to make it clearer what is allowed or prohibited when dealing with buildings enlisted as cultural heritage monuments. Officials said they are looking forward to working with Batomi to compile the list of recommendations and regulations the city needs, to train civil servants, and raise general citizen awareness.
The key messages that the conference speakers delivered were the following: economic development doesn’t have to happen at the expense of degradation of the city’s cultural heritage and authenticity; apart from direct state funding, the government should seek alternative financial incentives for restoration of cultural heritage monuments, as is common practice in many European countries; existing regulations on constructions are quite vague – regulations must be less bureaucratic, but simple enough for citizens to understand and strictly adhere to the standards of restoration; effective monitoring and enforcement is crucial but lacking at the moment; and there is little citizen awareness about the importance and value of their unique architectural property.