Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Market Urbanism in Ankara, Turkey by Justin Tapp

[ I visited Turkey in 2002 and really loved the country. There’s a ton of great architecture from both the classical and Ottoman era, and the people of Turkey are great. I even visited Anakara since I was attending a wedding there. While the Turkish people I know pooh-pooh that city as boring compared to Istanbul, I liked it – and so apparently did Justin Tapp and his family. I’m pleased to be able to include this brief report he filed from there. I can’t help but add, however, my own observation as to the worst thing I saw in Anakara. Without a doubt it was the fortress-like US Embassy. I understand the need for security, but what kind of message is that sending? In any case, obviously there’s a lot going on in Turkey these days with the protests in Istanbul and such. So I thought it would be a good time to post this – Aaron. ]

I am a market urbanist, but what does that mean? The “market” aspect is a Hayekian notion that if you assign people property rights, then free interaction and incentives will cause the land to be utilized to the greatest value. (I’m more of a “soft” market urbanist, see below).

We moved to Ankara, Turkey last year largely because we were attracted by its urbanist culture– which is a fairly recent development in the city. In the previous 30 years the city has gone from 70% of the people living in small houses– often “squatter” houses called “gecekondu” (trans: night nesters, alluding to how quickly they sprung up) to 70% living in apartment high-rises. The government offers these residents in small houses a new apartment, contracting with entire neighborhoods to be demolished and rebuilt.

Before: A neighborhood of shanty houses (note the steep hillside).  Image courtesy i1.trekearth.com
After: A neighborhood of apartment buildings which also house storefronts. Image courtesy  www.turkiyetanitma.com

It’s hard to explain the steepness of the hills the city is built on. Apartment buildings go right up the hills and cliffs. The government (both the city and its various district governments) has also built more greenspace,  playgrounds, and mosques so everyone has them within walking distance. Zoning is such that commercial enterprises can open wherever they want in residential areas– many apartments house storefronts in their ground floor. Within a block’s walking distance we had five groceries, seven restaurants, three cafés, a weekly farmer’s market, three playgrounds, a jogging track, and everything ranging from housewares and hardware to toys and school supplies. Public transport was also good with plenty of options such that a car was not a necessity. Additionally, most businesses deliver– from all restaurants to major groceries and the local corner store. Certain parts of the city are designated as industrial parks–OSTİM being one of the largest industrial parks in the Middle East. For the most part, noisy and polluting factories are zoned away from residential areas.

Some locations with a natural watershed or which were unsuitable for housing have been turned into major parks. (Check out Dikmen Vadisi).  Smart government planning has led to some great conveniences and an increase in the quality of life. But the market is providing the greatest opportunities for choice and employment.

Entrepreneurs have great freedom in what they can open in a neighborhood. It’s common to see someone open a successful restaurant or shop and immediately others open up a similar shop on the same block (our block had 4 car washes, for example) until a couple of them close up. As such, Ankara displays aspects of perfect competition that I’d only seen theorized in Principles of Economics textbooks– competition creating more choice, better quality, and lower prices (see my specific example of the water market in Ankara). To me, market urbanism means allowing large parts of your downtown area to be leased out to whatever the market demands. Making it easy to allow commercial spaces, government buildings, and residential spaces to occupy the same building, for example.

In the last decade, several large indoor shopping malls have also been built such that there is now one in every major region of the city. International retailers are clamoring to get into Turkey and set up shop. Some of these are more difficult to walk to, but all are located on public transport lines. The city government sponsors a “shopping fest” in the summer, providing free bus tours and freeconcerts at malls and other public venues nightly. It’s a nice collaboration between government and commerce.

What was nice about the local nature is that you get to know your neighbor. You see them frequently at the local stores, and the vendors get to know who most people are — they are not driving from all parts of the city to get to this neighborhood vendor. This builds trust in a community. No yards separated by fences to keep neighbors out. People of various races, backgrounds, and political parties cram into a public bus without a thought. This is not to sugar-coat reality, there is a lot of traffic, smog, violence, and crime. But there is a great deal of community, convenience, and lower cost to the city for providing infrastructure when people live condensed along with their commercial spaces.

Since returning to the U.S., my wife and I have wondered where we can find such urbanism. I don’t want to drive 15 minutes just to find a bite to eat or get gasoline. (The absurdity of how we design our suburbs didn’t really strike me until my first forays overseas).

This post originally appeared in Value Added on May 6, 2013.

Topics: Economic Development, Public Policy, Urban Culture
Cities: Ankara (Turkey)

2 Responses to “Market Urbanism in Ankara, Turkey by Justin Tapp”

  1. Justin Tapp says:

    Happy to be here, thanks for having me! Since there are now protests in Turkey inspired in part by the government’s heavy hand in urban planning, my post may look naive. Certainly there is controversy when an old neighborhood of houses is removed for new apartments, or when a park is replaced with a shopping mall. In Ankara it is more often the case that something is built where there used to be nothing (or where conditions were unlivable, like the houses pictured). In Istanbul, however, it is often historic districts and even ancient archaeology that gets bulldozed for new shopping malls and housing.

    I should also note that the ruling AK Party just pushed through a new law that restricts businesses selling alcohol, which will change the face of many of the small storefronts. Alcohol is most often bought at little convenience stores that also sell bread, candy, other staples. In many parts of the city there at least 1-2 on every block. Alcohol companies will now no longer be able to advertise their brands (meaning no storefront displays) and new stores may not open within 100 meters of a school or mosque (difficult to do in an urban environment). That’s more paternalistic than many people prefer, and the law has been mentioned in the recent protests.

  2. John Morris says:

    Thank you very much for posting this. A huge flaw of this blog and often urbanist blogs in general is a lack of global perspective. Many countries, including many with fewer resources have done a much better job at providing average people with convenient, livable cities.

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