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Turkish housing agency takes a bite of humble urban pie

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 2/23/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Turkey's top housing official has admitted that the social dimension of the 'urban transformation' of Istanbul and other cities has not been adequately addressed.

Amid heated ongoing debate about the “urban transformation” of Istanbul and other Turkish cities, the country’s top housing official has admitted that the social dimension of the change has not been adequately addressed.

“The social dimension is the most important one for urban transformation, [but] we cannot say that we are thoroughly competent and successful in this regard,” Erdoğan Bayraktar, the chair of the Housing Development Administration, or TOKİ, said Tuesday at a press conference held in Istanbul’s Çırağan Palace.

“The community’s traditional lifestyles and demographic features have to be preserved in areas subject to such transformation,” Bayraktar said, adding that improvements were needed in this regard.

TOKİ has already reached its objective of constructing 500,000 houses in Turkey and is carrying out 248 urban transformation projects across the country, the chair said, characterizing the process as the largest urban transformation the country has experienced during the entire Republic era.

Such projects, however, have come in for intense criticism from experts who say they do not properly address social concerns, including the displacement of many poor people living without land titles in areas subject to transformation initiatives. These experts say that unless the projects are approached differently, the displaced people will end up illegally settling in other neighborhoods, simply moving the “problem” elsewhere.

Urban transformation and earthquake preparedness is a large project that cannot be carried out by individual institutions, according to Bayraktar, who said support was needed from all stakeholders for the transformation process to be successful. “Representatives from each [related] field must gather to generate solutions [on the process],” he said.

“Unless we address the problem of Turkish cities’ hovels and unplanned illegal buildings ... and make them safe against earthquakes, we will not become a developed country,” Bayraktar said. He added that expanding urban transformation was the most crucial and efficient tool to shore up cities against potential earthquake damage.

“We might [on the one hand] say we do not possess sufficient skills and experience, but on the other hand, I must say, as a social state, we are willing and are trying to address this and other related concerns [in the best way possible],” Bayraktar said.

The TOKİ chief made his comments at a press conference held to inform journalists about the upcoming 2011 Housing Convention focusing on “New approaches, strategies and actions in the housing sector and urban transformation: Urban Transformation mobilization for a Turkey prepared for natural disasters.”

The convention, to be held in Istanbul from March 4 to 5, is expected to draw well-known global experts on architecture, engineering, economics, local administration, city planning, construction, environment, geology, ecosystems and other fields to discuss optimal urban-transformation projects and the role of the state and other stakeholders in the process.

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