Urban development and the environment: What is at stake for Turkey?
Under AK Party rule, Turkey has seen a distinctly divided society on many levels. While some people questioned the party’s narrative of democracy and economic development, others embraced it and became stalwart supporters. It is possible that no area better reflects this fault line than issues of urban transformation and environment, which have become the centerpiece of new forms of opposition and protest, most notably in Gezi Park The underlying question before Turkey now is where the line is drawn between urban transformation for economic benefit and protection of the environment. Think Tank Tracker will review reports and analysis on Turkey’s enduring dilemma on the subject and lay out some divergent and complicated positions.
An analysis by Martin Raiser, country director for Turkey at the World Bank, came to the conclusion that urban development has been beneficial for Turkey in terms of economic and sociopolitical development. While emphasizing the tensions against endless ribboncutting ceremonies for redevelopment of slums and the re-zoning of farmlands and forests for construction, he says this trend is actually good for Turkey’s urbanization efforts. Turkey’s urban population in the last three decades has more than doubled to 50 million, which makes Turkey the second-fastest urbanizing country after South Korea since the 1960s. Raiser cites a recent report by the Brookings Institution that lists “four Turkish cities (İstanbul, İzmir, Bursa, and Ankara) among the 10 most dynamic worldwide in terms of an expanding market and growing employment opportunities.” According to World Bank data, a handful of countries such as Turkey, Chile, Malaysia, China, South Korea, Botswana and some Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries achieved two desirable results at the same time: An increase of 10 percentage points in urbanization since the 1980s and an increase in per capita income of more than $5,000. He emphasizes that many countries such as India were unable to achieve these twin goals, thereby ending up with ever-growing slums around cities, a situation that is deeply complicating urban development.
For Raiser, Turkey’s urbanization is a success story, mainly because policies set for migrants from rural areas afforded new economic opportunities. He explains this phenomenon as such: Successive governments since the 1980s have encouraged the flood of rural populations to cities and turned a blind eye to their invasion of mostly government-owned property in cities. Clientelism has been the prime driving force over the decades, giving new settlers property rights and access to municipal services in exchange for votes in elections. Since obtaining legal private property ownership, such migrants have reaped economic and social benefits over the years. Raiser contends that “urbanization in Turkey was thus associated not only with improved economic opportunities but also