Who are the new city dwellers?

Who are the new city dwellers?

The topic of the day is the rainstorm in the Black Sea town of Samsun that flooded apartment blocks built by the Housing Development Administration (TOKİ). The discussion mostly revolves around the deaths that occurred on the basement floors of those buildings, and who is responsible for them.

Housing has been the cause of many problems in the past 50 years. Each year, the need to accommodate those who have migrated from villages and towns to big cities has grown, together with rapid population growth. The renovation of older houses has also added to the number.

In one way, our housing needs are met. We should be thankful that our people do not sleep near asphalt roads, as is seen in some Western countries. After 1950, the need for housing was not met, but a solution was found for it: It was called the “gecekondu” [A term that translates as “built overnight,” ergo, a shanty].

After 1960, the shanty towns began to bother other segments of society. Those who lived in shanty towns were “the other.” They were first referred to as “villagers,” and later as “those who make the city ugly.” After 1980, the reasons for their “otherization,” as well as the names for them, became more diverse. In the years since 2000 the areas in which shanty towns and illegal apartment buildings had been built have come to be called “varoş” [ghetto].

Governments sought solutions: The first was to ban construction on someone else’s land. The illegal buildings were without building permits or licenses, and no power or other utilities were supplied. All of them were to be demolished; however, one example demonstrates the result: In the mid-1960s I met a “villager” whose shanty home in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district was knocked down three times -- he was living in the fourth one he had built.

I don’t understand the 50 years we lived with the shanty towns prior to today: Their number, who the people were who arrived, what they were doing in the cities, how they lived in the cities… What happened to our villages? Many questions remain unanswered in the 50-year-old migration and housing issue.

From the beginning, it was assumed that answers would be provided through development plans and authorization principles. After each incident we understood slightly more that the answers were not to be found in the planning and zoning departments of municipalities.

We have seen that the same perception continues in the Samsun incident: If someone told us who was responsible, if we caught him and jailed him, then we would be free of all our issues, but that did not happen. Whoever we talk to points to a different responsible party.

New cities are being formed in our country and new city dwellers are living in them. The new cities are new settlements for old city dwellers as well; the old ones who move there and the ones who come from villages all live in the same place. For their children, the new city is their natural habitat. The old ones and the new ones now live together.

You could ask them hundreds of questions to attempt to identify the change. Who are the ones who came from the villages; who were their parents? How were their houses there, what did they do in their villages, what did they eat, what did they do in their leisure time? How did they choose this city? In whose house did they first live? Why did they live there, and how did they take the first step to the city? Where did they settle after that? Who joined them later from the village? How were their children born and raised? Who were their neighbors? Did they know them? How did they meet their new neighbors? What remained constant in their daily lives?

These questions may not have come to your mind. When 12 people are lost to flood waters in Samsun, you may as well say anything that comes to your mind. If hundreds of apartments in Samsun and hundreds of thousands of apartments across the entire country had been built with the accumulated answers to these question, then what is being sought would be easy to determine, the responsible parties would be known, and the mistake would be understood.

However, if hundreds of thousands of apartments were planned, and their yards, roads and schools built without knowing the answers to these questions, then you wouldn’t know what to expect. If so many settlements are created blindly, not knowingly, copying from a magazine, then how can you ask who those responsible are?

Tarhan Erdem is a columnist for daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared July 9. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

TARHAN ERDEM - tarhan.erdem@radikal.com.tr