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Leaders of Istanbul! You Say Contractors Are Selfish? What About You?

It is now a widely accepted practice that "worn" sidewalks and roads are broken down and reconstructed before every election in Turkey. Whereas the expected practice, as civilized countries do, is to envision the future (i.e. the infrastructure that might be constructed under those sidewalks and roads) with the projects designed accordingly. In Istanbul, it seems this is not the case.

Without any cooperation with organizations that will later lay down cables, canals, et cetera, under these sidewalks and roads, the construction equipment starts working under a sign that says "We are sorry for the inconvenience." Only a few months later, other organizations start up excavations. It seems to me that, putting aside all kinds of economic problems and income disparities these constructions cause, the authorities just don't care about the consequent traffic, pollution and health issues. There is a similar problem that is now taking place in my neighborhood in Acibadem, a residential area in Asian side of Istanbul. Many similar cases exist throughout Turkey.

E5 Highway, Acibadem, Istanbul

A highway exists through Kadikoy, a downtown province with more than four million inhabitants. One side of this highway is Fikirtepe, and the other is Acibadem. Some skyscrapers have been built in Acibadem, which are not yet fully inhabited. In Fikirtepe, a suburb in the center of the city, fast-paced work has begun, with the construction of skyscrapers to follow. It does not take a genius to foresee the pollution, the noise and the traffic these skyscrapers will cause in our residential neighborhoods.

Traffic is already a problem because of the nearby highway; I don't suppose the authorities thought about how it's going to be after these skyscrapers are inhabited. I guess the most appropriate transportation will be bus-helicopters or skyscraper-to-skyscraper uplifts! Why not?

There is also a socio-economic side of these constructions, which is really heart-breaking: These constructions seem to have a plot of frightening away the old inhabitants under a cover of urban planning. Those with power buy out inhabitants' lawns and balconies, just to cage them in a loft with maintenance costs they will be unable to afford. Authorities choose to call this urban transformation. I say, nonsense! The inhabitants are now victims, and their problems are left unheard, as usual.

Hacitepe Station, Kadikoy, Istanbul

"Do you think it's an easy life as a contractor?"

I used to work in a school in the 1980s, and the president of the school told me a story he just could not forget. A brief version is this:

The city council comes to a decision that the school campus is worn and should be renovated. The contractor starts the process in summer, and after a while, comes up to the president, announcing he is finished. He asks the president to sign the reports so that he could get his process payment. The president, outraged, gives the contractor a list of what is not yet completed, and explains to him why the work should be finished before school starts. The contractor gives the list a look, then tries to bribe him. However, the president insists that the work should be completed and refuses to sign the papers. Unfamiliar with resistance, the contractor somehow understands he has reached a dead-end and storms out of the school.

Not a long while later, the Vice President of the office in charge for the renovations at the Provincial Directorate of National Education shows up at the door in his official vehicle (scary!). After some small talk, he declares his reason of visit and asks the president to sign the papers. The president shows the list of missing work, as a proof of why he is not signing anything. The vice president gets extremely angry and starts viciously berating him: "Mr. President! Do you think it's an easy life as a contractor?" He puts the papers on his desk, and forces him to sign. I guess this was the most resistance the president could muster. Feeling defeated, he signs the papers. The president, in the day, was still feeling guilty for signing. I felt very sorry for him too.

But I guess the times have changed. Thinking back, I can see why contractors of yesterday lived a more difficult life. Today, they are able to just ignore metropolitan mayors and zoning plans. They just call a high-seated official to get all the signatures they need, as they all did with the skyscrapers.

What other consequences do you think these under-planned constructions will have?

Original article, originally published in Turkish, here.

Credits: Images by Armin Rodler and Ersin Tuban. Data linked to sources.