Tuesday, June 19, 2012

ARTICLE: In the Back Streets of Tbilisi, A Struggle for a City's History. By Tara Isabella Burton (ireport.cnn.com)

In the Back Streets of Tbilisi, A Struggle for a City's History(ireport.cnn.comRecently, activists and government interests have clashed over the development plans for Gudiashvili Square - one of Tbilisi's most characteristic courtyards - following the victory of an Austrian architectural firm of a government-sponsored contest to "re-design" Gudiashvili square: a redesign that in this case entailed replacing traditional Georgian delicate lattice-work balconies with Europeanized facades and a branch of Prada. While the government's characteristically Byzantine approach to the issue of property rights and redevelopment - it's still unclear who owns Gudiashvili Square's buildings, and whether any permits have been granted at all - has cloaked the redevelopments in a shadow of mystery, that hasn't stopped bulldozers - or protesters - from showing up regularly in what has become the heart of this historic battleground, crystallizing tensions between Tbilisi's residents and the government that, many say, is more interested in presenting a Disneyfied facade to foreign investors than in facilitating a sustainable renovation of Tbilisi's heritage streets and squares.

The moneyed elite in charge of renovating the bright facades of Old Tbilisi are keen to advertise a fairyland of carpet-shops, balconies, and the ubiquitous "gvino." But in the narrow alleyways and cobblestoned courtyards of Sololaki, a nineteenth-century district known for its art nouveau architecture and literary pedigree (Lermontov once had a salon here), the government's eagerness to promote Tbilisi as a "modern" European capital is leaving some worried that the city's history is getting left behind in the struggle.

The colorful, panoramic "Meidan" may be the heart of Tbilisi's tourism efforts, but Gudiashvili Square, for many Georgians, represents the city's soul.

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