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|
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.