Monday, May 06, 2013

Market Urbanism in Turkey

I am a market urbanist, but what does that mean? Wikipedia defines New Urbanism "an urban design movement which promotes walkable neighborhoods containing a range of housing and job types." 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
After: A neighborhood of apartment buildings which also house storefronts. Image courtesy
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.)

I've found a few blogging urbanists and urbanist organizations, including one who sees urbanism as a way to help us fulfill biblical mandates. I hope to explore my thoughts on urbanism as we seek out a new place to live here.

1 comment:

Caleb Loya said...

Very enjoyable post. There is a movement towards urban living in America but it's difficult to change behavior.

For example, many people are moving back to downtown Kansas City but they still drive five blocks to their favorite Cafe instead of taking the metro or riding a bike. All the while, KC pays millions of dollars per year for empty bus seats.