Although we had heard mention of Elene’s pedestrian rights group, we were disappointed not to be able to connect for the workshop in Tbilisi.
But we happened upon her in a local bar and convinced her to tell us her story anyway. It was very loud and dark inside, so we shot outside (which was also loud and dark, but less so, for most of the interview anyway). Apologies for the noise and murky footage, but the clarity of her ideas should make up for it!
Iare Pekhit (‘go by foot’) is a pedestrian rights organisation in Tbilisi, which has been around for over a year. They’ve held actions on the streets around the city, run letter-writing campaigns and given recommendations to politicians. However, without much experience or political clout it has been difficult to get the stakeholders to join the conversation.
In Georgia the majority of people are pedestrians, but these people are living in fear and in great danger of being hit by cars every day.
One issue is that in Georgia many people do not see issues like public space and public safety as basic rights. However, seeing the emergence of other grassroots public space activism in Georgia was a great inspiration for Iare Pekhit to get started, and it would be an important, positive step if these different projects and organisations could be unified in some way.
There are many other challenges they face- even when you do something very specific, for an issue that people have a clear interest in, it is very difficult to get people to commit and engage on issues that may not have any explicit material benefit or immediate impact - there is a lack of understanding of the sustained, longterm approach which is needed to bring about change.
In Iare Pekhit and other organisations, it is difficult to bring together a motivated, engaged action group. Money is important of course, but mostly to show that somebody is supporting your initiative. The government tends to listen to foreign influence more than their own citizens.
Ways you can help:
Iare Pekhit needs foreign experience and input - many other cities and countries have made great improvements in pedestrian rights and public space issues, and have managed to convince their governments and citizens to stop the cycle of turning cities into places not for humans but rather for cars, for businesses and for rich people.
There is actually one person in particular who Elene would like to get in touch with - perhaps the Edgeryders community could help out in some way: Enrique Peñalosa, who managed to turn around the disastrous transport situation in Bogota, Colombia in his time as mayor. He changed the mindset of the population and managed to convince people that pedestrian rights is not a technical issue but a political issue. (He’s not your average mayor / presidential candidate - check out his quotes on wikipedia)
Any suggestions for how we could get him in contact with Elene? Some kind of concentrated, directed @Enrique Twitterstorm maybe? erm, would that be a Twitterjet? Of course if you want to get started now you could say hello and point his people in this direction.
In the meantime, what else can we provide for Elene in terms of advice, connections and ideas?
Which cities have been the most successful in improving public space and pedestrian issues? Do you know anyone there with experience who may be able to help out in some way?
@email@example.com or others who attended the workshop, how do you think the different public space activists and organisations in Tbilisi can best work together?