North Bend’s exchange with Mestia (a city in the country of Georgia, at the border of Europe and Asia) began with a diagnostic trip by senior long range planner Jesse Reynolds from June 3-12.
With funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Reynolds met with Mestia Mayor Kapiton Zhorzholiani, municipal staff and citizens to develop three areas of improvement for the town: land use and zoning, parking and urban design standards.
“The ADB sees this as a way to help develop professional capacities in Mestia,” Reynolds said. He explained that the ADB floats loans to developing countries that want to establish infrastructure.
The partnership between the two cities resulted as a product of “twinning.” This is when agencies from developed and developing countries take on a mentor/mentee relationship, according to Reynolds.
Just before moving to North Bend, Reynolds visited Mestia with his former company that specialized in international development consulting. He explained seeing parallels and loose connections between the two locations.
“I made a proposal to create a partnership — a professional and cultural exchange — and the Asian Development Bank liked it, and the mayor of Mestia liked it,” Reynolds said.
The resolution exhibit passed by the city council stated that North Bend would act as a mentor to Mestia regarding several planning topics, such as growth management, citizen participation, comprehensive planning and development concurrency.
Mestia is a town in northwest Georgia, at an elevation of 1,500 meters in the Caucasus Mountains. The population totals slightly fewer than 2,000 permanent residents in the Upper Svaneti region.
As a community nestled in a mountainous region, hiking is popular in the summer season and skiing takes over the winter. Tourism has soared with the discovery of glaciated peaks and high terrain.
There is concern in Mestia that future tourism growth will be difficult with limited accessibility due to few roads and infrequent flights. Travel times are soon to be worsened by roadway construction in 2022.
The economy of Mestia municipality is largely based on tourism, the resolution exhibit notes. One aspect of the diagnostic trip focused on expanding sustainable tourism by increasing business ventures. The rapid growth in tourism would improve the economy by producing jobs in businesses of forestry, bed and breakfasts, local crafts and boutique sales.
“They have this beautiful, almost medieval-era architecture that they want to preserve,” Reynolds said. “They want to preserve that theme. Building a giant Hyatt next to that takes away from [the beauty].” The aim is to preserve the unique design of the highland townlet, despite the growing tourism.
With a growing metropolitan influence, another area of improvement centers around urban environment. The business community will benefit from upgrades to shops, hotels, restaurants and local culture. Younger residents may choose to stay in the region and drive the economy in order to reverse current outward migration and declining populations.
Intended environmental impacts include reduced air pollution and energy use, as well as improvements to transportation systems and reductions in solid waste pollution.
The last section of the plan emphasizes improved livability in Mestia by providing year-round residents with upgraded infrastructure. Creating a basis for economic activities will produce a more stable setting for capital investments, the resolution exhibit said.
The next trip, pending approval from the ADB, is set for Aug. 7-20 to focus on urban design standards, and land use and zoning. The final exchange will include Mayor Ken Hearing and senior planner Mike McCarthy in late September to continue the focus on land use and zoning and parking.
Four representatives from Mestia, including Mayor Zhorzholiani, are planning to visit North Bend in September.
Following the third trip to Mestia, Reynolds will then finalize a report to the ADB. After just one diagnostic trip, he found opportunities to improve North Bend’s own urban design standards and zoning.