A conversation with Nick Davitashvili, Guerrilla Gardeners Tbilisi

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#1

Edgeryders have been introduced to Guerrilla Gardeners a while ago, in a bunch of events in Tbilisi and two great videos! This is a conversation a year after to go in depth of how Nick and their team think about changing the face of Georgia.

Nick: We’re human beings and we live in a situation which is pretty much global, I mean it’s not limited to Georgia where most of the living systems are declining and the rate of this decline is accelerating. What I see from Georgian or other examples basically the seeds of my participation in this process. We went through Pakistan and there was a really interesting city in Pakistan, one of the largest ones i think. It might be the largest city which is Karachi. A lot of things struck me about that city because I noticed that the traffic in the city was sadistic the buses would hate 4 wheel drive cars, 4 wheel drives would hate sedans, sedans would hate motorcycle or rigshaw drivers and then at the end of this chain would be a pedestrian which everybody would spit on and harass them the moment they walked out in the street; and so basically it was quite interesting, it was new to me.

It was very polarized because there’s a river splitting Karachi into two halves and people on the one side really have a lot of prejudice and probably a lot of stereotypes about the people who live on the other side and it’s almost like a tribal conflict there. It does have a beach, but the beach has turned into dumping ground for garbage, sewage, dead fish and other stuff like that. and almost every year in the rainy season the city turns into the set for waterworld because of the flooding. No emergency services are available to people. It’s quite paranoid in terms individual paranoia and sort of psychotic even on the level of a citizen and I think the reason behind all these problems was the lack of planning and development, because basically the city is a face of the people who live in the city.  And what I thought was the management and the involvement of the community in developing this city was not very deep and smart probably it’s a sort of feedback loop where the city makes the citizens feel worse and more depressed and in return the citizens return to the city and it sort of crumbles into complete chaos.

Then I started to start seeing the same thing happening here, because Tbilisi used to be much greener and much nicer and much friendlier in terms of people and it’s going downwards. Then i started seeing that it’s not just Tbilisi’s problem. Basically I have this notion that the whole civilization needs a new operating system. There are vacancies for programmers to develop that operating system. The earth is hiring it doesn’t send us recruiters or anything but it sends us rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, cute people to date and we should probably take the heat? and understand that it’s trying to tell us something, that this is not forever: If you don’t take care of this stuff, it’s gonna go away.

Let’s start engineering some sort of solutions to try to bring that new operating system and make it happen somehow and that’s where Guerilla Gardeners came up. They started planting trees they started preventing trees cut down, started occupying these places to save them. I thought it’s an interesting thing to start with, and so i joined the movement and from there we started doing the rest of the stuff we’re doing which is the green advocacy, the cultural heritage advocacy, and trying to explain to the broad community and to the public that hey this doesn’t matter and if you do not step in and make choice of acting here then somebody else will step into that gap and use your power for their own interests which is happening a lot and it’s quite subtle because when the public space is privatized in Georgia, nobody really knows about it and then you go to a park you sit on a bench and it turns out you can’t sit there unless you buy something. It’s quite subtle and we try to bring it out, make it visible and let the public get involved in the process and prevent things like that while it’s still possible before the area is sold or something is developed there. Generally I would explain what we do in those terms.

Currently we have a number of areas to work on: one is the Panorama Tbilisi project, a mega development project which spoils the whole Old Town Tbilisi, which is the main reason why tourists come to Georgia. They come to see old stuff. and the government thinks that to bring more tourists they should build a lot of glass buildings, cut down mountains, have a whole web of cable cars on top of the old town, which is complete nonsense. We’re trying to prevent that from happening.

We’re trying to keep working on the Vake Park case. They couldn’t build the hotel for 2 years now. because we’re preventing that, we are right in the trench where the hotel is supposed to be. There is a legal part to that, we are in court against the City Hall and it’s being dragged on for a year and a half already. Unless we win the court case the situation might become worse and they still might get a chance to build something there. We prevented the construction through direct action, now we have to secure it through legal action.

Another thing that we’re actively doing is trying to get the pedestrian areas secure from cars by setting up the flowers and trees and planting them in second hand tires and putting them where the cars enter the sidewalks. We have a lot of backlash from the government for that because officially it’s considered littering and throwing garbage around. We get fines for that if we’re caught, if we’re not caught then they move the tires within a couple of days. so we’re thinking of ways to make it more permanent. When the flood happened we worked on organizing the relief efforts and helping the people who were affected by the flood who were left homeless. and sort of coordinated all the volunteers who wanted to help. We have rallies almost weekly on one matter or another depending on what’s happening and what’s the highest priority according to our understanding. we try to keep all the different areas active in that sense.

Guerrilla Gardeners is  dynamic I’d say because some people leave, some people join. I wouldn’t say there are specific leaders. and it’s no complete leader lessness either. because what we do is decide and we work on the tactics and on the strategy in social networks mostly. and social media sort of facilitates a kind of liquid form of leadership where the admins of the groups they have the role of setting the scene for some kind of gathering in public space. That accumulates and triggers an emotional impulse towards some public assembly or larger events or larger actions. We try to decide things democratically. When anybody has an idea we either wait for objections to the idea from other members or wait for seven likes on facebook to that idea. and if seven people like the idea and there are no objections, then we just do that. Number 7 is deduced from the number of people in the group depending on the size of the group might be less or more, but seven works for us now. if we grow or if we shrink then the number is changing. We’ve been working with number 7 for maybe a year already so far its quite good. the rest of the team come from very different backgrounds. there are architects, dinrologists, ecologists, students, philologists, IT guys, children, different age groups, different neighborhoods. its not that people from vake protect the vake park. People from all over the place protect Vake Park or Panorama or anything. Probably the only common thing about these people would be selfishness. To my mind there are 2 types of selfishness: the first type where i say, i give myself the pleasure of pleasing myself. The second type is where i sort of give myself the pleasure of pleasing others. Its a more refined selfishness. These are the guys that understood that along with doing something for themselves they can also contribute to a larger whole.

You might not have many people but the people that you have are so unusual and their enthusiasm is sort of contagious. and so even if we’re down or something bad happens generally in the city or some of the work we do and it didn’t work. there are always a couple guys who say it doesn’t matter. its gonna be fine anyway. that kind of keeps the momentum going. I’ve worked on several companies and was part of some organizations. but i’ve never had a group of people who were so positive about things. Thats a great motive to do something with it.

On complainers, and whiners. I’m a whiner myself, I whine about everything. At a certain point when you try to use at least 10 percent of the energy that goes into complaining, towards doing something about what you’re complaining about. turn out it works. you can keep complaining for 90 percent of that energy and use 10 percent to do something about it. it seems to be the way to change things. its a little downer to take so much energy and so much time to actually explain to people and government that its actually for their own good: protecting the stuff that we’re protecting is beneficial in terms of economy which the government is interested in. They think that it’s either economic growth or environmental protection you kind of have both. which is nonsense, because in order to have some sort of economic growth, you need people who are able to think.for people who think they should nourish their brains with oxygen. of you have no oxygen, then you have no economic growth. if your water is unfit for drinking you have no economic growth. if you have to hold your breath to count your money no economic growth, or there might be a short term economic growth. Who are you doing that for? if you’re doing that for your kids, your kids mutate into monsters. why would you want to do that? because nicer people like being at cafes and restaurants. they have more income because of that. makes perfect sense.

Once they see what you’re doing they think that you’re like a superhero. whenever they see some unfair things happening in their neighborhood the first thing they do is they call you. they don’t realize it’s not an emergency service center that they can call at anytime. we started creating brochures for people that say if you see trees being cut down here is instructions for what you should do. you should go request documentation, then you can call the people of the department of city hall . you can call the police. how do you stop the tree being cut down.after we started creating the instruction we came here. because people started doing stuff on their own. its slowly working. one of the greatest achievements would be that after vake park was at least partially was a success. people started replicating that in their own backyards. theres a couple of cases where construction people came to demolish the playground for kids and put a skyscraper in there. and people came out and put up tents and said that we’re sleeping here, we’re not letting you do this. that’s a great result i think. its even better achievement than  protecting any one specific place in the city because people start believing that it’s not just up to the government. they can act and create change.

If i’m more optimistic? if you look at the statistics about what’s happening and you aren’t pessimistic, that means you don’t understand the data. on the other hand, when you met people who are working to restore the situation and make it better, and you aren’t optimistic because of that then you just have no pulse. you must be dead. I see both,I see the data, I hope I understand the data. interpret the data correctly. that’s why i’m partly pessimistic about it. but then seeing the people, i become optimistic. The situation is changing in a way that people understand that life in terms of people, they should be responsible or maybe conducive to other life. if we ar destructive then at the end of they day it’s to our detriment. Clearly the generations before us failed with the process: if we don’t make it right now it might be too late. I have to remain hopeful about things because hope only make sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. thats when you hould be hopeful.

We’re learning as we go, we’re amateurs at this. Since we’re amateurs it’s hard to tell what is gonna happen next. We improvise as we go. If we were professionals, then i would probably know what the next step would be. Professionals don’t seem to be the best people for the work: titanic was built by professionals, while the ark was built by amateurs.

What we need support with besides money? We dont need any money, thank you. We need legal support, we need lawyers. We also fight in courts. For most of the lawyers so far we had to pay our own money. The people who helped us a lot unfortunately don’t have enough resources for everything. We are printing stickers, buttons, etc. Mediation with the government because government hates us, while we dont. We’re trying to show how things should work. We have really good specialists who are prepared to volunteer and help the government. The government doesnt think thats a good idea because they think they know everyhing, or they dont want to admit they dont know how to do something. If we had a chance to prove or show the government how some of the things might be done, that would be a great thing. 


#2

I really like Nick’s way of thinking, specially the comparison between children and government, so true! Our government reflects our society and we need to set a positive example for the government to learn otherwise riots and protests will have no impact.

Thanks for sharing @Inge!

 

#3

Right?

I will finish it and polish it in the next few days, we’re getting ready to go to our summerhouse, but with a baby, 2 dogs, everything takes so much more time!

By the way, @Nick_Davitashvili, you can already take a look at this part of the transcript if you like.


#4

Relationship with local government

Hi @Nick_Davitashvili and @Inge, hope you are well even though I heard Nick moved out of Georgia. I guess it’s the country’s loss :slight_smile:

With Edgeryders we are soon coming back to continue the work there, and this time focused more on cooperation between local authorities and social change groups in a real life scenario. I am happy to tell you more if interested. For now, I wanted to ask if, after all these years of activity of Guerilla Gardeners, the relationship with the city hall or councilors has improved, if there is more tolerance for ad hoc moves likes yours or even signs that people are learning. I mean this especially after your group contributed to the mobilization in the wake of the flood last year, gathering so many volunteers to help with the cleanup. Which local administration can close its eyes to that?! I wonder. Thanks for replying, and if you can pass this on to other guerrilla gardeners it’d be great. We’d love to connect!


#5

Big congratulations to @Nick_Davitashvili and the other folks from Guerrilla Gardening Tbilisi for their final win in the battle against the hotel’s construction in Vake Park! You guys had so much energy for this! :deciduous_tree: :green_heart: :deciduous_tree:

http://oc-media.org/environmental-activists-celebrate-win-in-6-year-battle-against-vake-park-hotel/

(Just found out the news about it, via Inge. It’s from today!)