Sometimes it’s better to try and soften a harshly-spoken word – to replace a strong expletive with a milder one: “May you be damned”, or something similar. But in the case of Tbilisi, there is no other expression that can fully express the total heartlessness, complete disregard and utter negligence that the city of Tbilisi demonstrates daily to its residents. City Hall, utility repair workers, drivers, pedestrians….the whole lot of them very clearly communicate how they feel to other residents of the city every single day, and that attitude can be summed up very simply with the following three words: “Fuck….you….all.”
I mean, how else can you interpret the meaning of the following everyday situation? You’re walking in the city center, breathing in dusty, polluted air and suddenly you notice that the automatic sprinkler system comes on in order to water the planted beds along the sidewalk. You know, those rather despondent-looking groups of plants along the sidewalks on Rustaveli and Melikishvili Avenues? But then, that smart sprinkler system, in addition to the plants, also waters half the side walk, as well as all the nearby benches, making it impossible to sit there for a rest. This isn’t a rare occurrence that happens once or twice in a lifetime – this happens every single day.
But it’s nothing to get worked up about, right? You can just walk around the wet sidewalk and be on your merry way, right? After all, the city has far more important and much worse problems than this – cars, for instance, careening into pedestrians on sidewalks and pedestrian crossings. But these wet sidewalks show another side of the situation our city is in.
The thing is that, unlike many other issues in the city, correcting this fault would be very easy. There are no investor interests to consider this time, there is no corrupt interests at stake and no massive expenditure is required. The person who is in charge of this watering system simply needs to make sure that the sprinklers are pointed on the grass, not at half the city.
I must admit, I am no specialist of sprinkler systems and have no idea who has to do what in order to make sure that the sprinkler system works properly, but then one doesn’t need a Master’s Degree in Sprinkler System Management to see that properly-managed cities don’t have this problem.
But here the person that is responsible for regulating the sprinkler probably thought: “Fuck ‘em, they can just walk around it.” Someone else, the person responsible for the oversight of these planted beds perhaps thought the same thing, or didn’t even see what was going on, because he or she usually does not walk, but rather drive to the office where the latest directives and instructions are waiting on the desk.
Imagine taking your kid out for walk in the stroller between the Opera House and Vera Park. You go past the newly built Biltmore Hotel and approach the rather nude and uninviting Republic Square, when all of a sudden you notice workers are busy doing something outside Smart supermarket. They’re working stone with an angle grinder, filling the air with fine white dust and the deafening, grating noise of their machinery. You have two choices, you can retrace your steps and use the underground pedestrian crossings near the Opera House, adding another 10 minutes to your walk, plus the stress of having to carry the stroller by hand down the stairs of the underpass, or you can brave the white dust and noise and just pray that your child doesn’t develop cancer from breathing it all in. As with the sprinkler system, the author must admit to not being an expert in construction waste management. But where are these experts? They are, for example, to be found in the United States Department of Labor, where they have been saying for years now that this kind of fine dust from construction is directly linked to cancer, respiratory diseases and a thousand other nasties no one would willingly inflict on themselves – let alone a vulnerable child. This dust is responsible for 500 worker deaths every year.
And yet one can hardly take a few steps in Tbilisi without hearing that dreadful noise from the angle grinders, and seeing that deadly white dust-cloud rising into the air. You don’t even need to walk through the dust cloud itself in order to get the diseases it causes! In fact, the most dangerous type of dust is the dust that can’t be seen with the naked eye – it’s transparent, like microscopic fragments of glass that accumulate inside the lungs. Whenever you go past these construction sites, you breath in small particles of this invisible dust and automatically become a statistic – those shocking statistics on diseases caused by air pollution, on area in which tiny Georgia is ahead (if that’s the right word) of many larger industrial nations.
The most exasperating this is that this problem – like so many others – has an easy solution. The US Department of Labor obliges companies working in the USA to work on stone either using wet techniques (which prevents the release of carcinogenic substances into the air) or otherwise to use protected, well-ventilated and air-filtered work spaces for such work.
So then why don’t such regulations exist in Georgia too? Well, because those who are responsible for bringing in and enforcing such regulations don’t even thing “fuck ‘em, let ‘em die”. In fact, they don’t even bother to think about it at all. Meanwhile, those microscopic fragments of glass that cause cancers are accumulating in our lungs, and our kids’ lungs too.
Next to Rustaveli Cinema there’s a rotten wooden structure that’s been there in place of a sidewalk for many years now – it’s likely that countless people have hurt their feet walking across its broke boards. Even if it weren’t dangerous, it’s still worth bearing in mind that this is the heart of the city – it’s an ugly structure and difficult to use. If you walk a little further down Rustaveli, you’ll find big dumpsters in the middle of the sidewalk and you can’t walk past without the olfactory insult of stinking rubbish hitting your nose. Then the sidewalk itself disappears – now you see it, now you don’t – it’s just gone. Dust from construction work above you streams down like a slow-motion waterfall. Then the sidewalk begins again, but there are posts in the middle of it, making it too narrow to pass comfortably.
The asphalt surfacing of the sidewalks is bumpy and broken in some places – and there are pointless steps and stairs in others. Then there’s the entrance to a basement, which has been using up space on the sidewalk for too long now. There are problems of various degrees of seriousness. Some of them are merely inconvenient, and some of them are actually deadly, yet they all have one thing in common – at one point in time, the person whose job it is to deal with these issues passed by these places and thought –“they’ll take it….fuck ‘em anyway.
And we do take it. So fuck us.