Do we need crazy projects?

Do we need crazy projects?

“Turkey on Jan. 15 unveiled the ‘most appropriate’ route for the planned Canal Istanbul project, an artificial sea-level waterway that would run parallel to the Bosphorus connecting the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea,” Hürriyet Daily News has recently reported.

“The Küçükçekmece-Sazlıdere-Durusu corridor has been chosen as the most appropriate route for Canal Istanbul,” Transportation, Maritime and Communications Minister Ahmet Arslan had said in a news conference in Ankara on Jan. 15.

The news article provided some numbers regarding the project: The route would extend for a length of 45 kilometers, and the canal will be able to host 160 vessels a day and thus provide relief to shipping traffic, particularly oil tanker traffic, which currently has to wait in order to pass through the Bosphorus.

Also according to the same article, Canal Istanbul has been in the works for a number of years, with then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan first heralding it as a “crazy project” ahead of the 2011 parliamentary elections.

Alright, it is a crazy project. It will probably give the Turkish economy a boost, too, through the support of increased government expenditure. The companies that will undertake the project will make lots of profit, but they will also provide jobs for thousands of people. It is also expected that the lands around the canal will be open for real estate development, thus, there will be a new city next to Istanbul running parallel to the current Istanbul. It is said that the project will increase Istanbul’s population to around 25 million people. But bear in mind, in 2017, for the first time in a long time, Istanbul’s population decreased, meaning that people moved away from Istanbul.

The project’s effects on Istanbul should be discussed with as many stakeholders as possible, but I think the government is determined to go ahead with the project. So, even though the president himself declared they betrayed Istanbul, the “crazy” project will be realized no matter what.

I know that it is too little, too late to make any objections to the project, but I can’t help but ask whether or not this kind of a crazy project is needed to improve the Turkish economy. First of all, the effects of this project will only last for a year at most. Are we going to try out a new crazy project every few months to keep up with the growing population, increasing budget deficits and unemployment?

I do really believe that if we focus on technical education and entrepreneurship we would not need any kind of a crazy project in the long run. Did South Korea or Singapore base their economic wellbeing on mega projects? No. Did Finland or Ireland do that? No.

Just like the saying “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” it seems some in the government believe that the only tool they have is the construction industry. But there is a need to look at Turkey from a different mindset. Turkey can be an agricultural hub, it can be a tourism hub, it can be a leader in renewables, software design, industrial design or in many other areas if the government gives the proper attention.