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Turkish housing authority must cooperate more withresidents, expert says

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News | 4/3/2011 12:00:00 AM | ERISA DAUTAJ ŞENERDEM

Turkey’s state-run property developer must abandon its unilateral approach to urban transformation and involve residents more in the process, a US expert says.

Turkey’s state-run property developer must abandon its present unilateral approach to urban transformation and involve residents more in the process, according to a U.S.-based urban development expert.

At the moment, the Turkish Housing Development Administration, or TOKİ, is “doing everything by itself,” Bruce Cahan, president of Washington-based Urban Logic Inc., told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a recent interview. Instead, it needs to “do everything with neighborhood residents,” he said.

People living in the same neighborhood could share their skills and tools in order to transform their own buildings, Cahan said, adding that such coordination would cost neighborhood residents, TOKİ and society as a whole much less than gentrifying certain areas of the city.

TOKİ has attracted criticism in the past for its occasionally heavy-handed approach to gentrification; many civil society organizations were particularly angered by an urban renewal project in Istanbul’s Sulukule neighborhood, in which the area’s long-time Roma inhabitants were effectively forced out to make way for a new development.

“Instead of paying for the entire new housing of those people, you have someone [in the neighborhood who] says, ‘I know how to rebuild blocks;’ another says, ‘I know how to wire,’ while the third one knows how to do the plumbing,” Cahan said, adding that related web services could help neighbors coordinate in this regard.

“There are different web services that could help these people match, so that they can do it for free,” he said.

Apart from being a far cheaper and faster approach, Cahan also said such a practice would provide social capital by allowing communities to decide how to prioritize their needs.

Citizen-administered urban transformation is crucial for effective management in the event of an emergency, Cahan said.

“If you have been working with your neighbors, you are going to run and come together and share houses, food and water [in the event of an emergency],” the urban development expert said.

Cahan, who has worked for various incarnations of New York City’s urban transformation authority at the beginning of the 1990s, also said TOKİ needed to address a number of issues when embarking upon transformation programs, such as health and education services, infrastructure, emergency response, crime rates and others.

“[It is crucial for the agency to ask] the simple question: Am I building a better quality of life? How much will it cost the city of Istanbul for services in that area?” Cahan said, adding that addressing such issues was important for the credit rating of the city of Istanbul.

“If the credit rating of the city were to be improved by TOKİ’s activity, then the cost of such services to the city would go down.”

TOKİ must also be careful not to create “vertical slums” – which are re-formations of poor neighborhoods – when conducting urban renewal.

Cahan spoke to the Daily News upon his visit to Istanbul to participate in the Housing Convention 2011, which was organized by the Turkish Housing Development Administration last month. The convention’s theme was “New approaches, strategies and actions in the housing sector and urban transformation: Urban Transformation mobilization for a Turkey prepared for natural disasters.”

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