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Urban Governance between Ankara’s Local Government and Gecekondus

November 9, 2010

Hector Mendoza, MPA is very cool, very smart, and very accommodating in letting us post his work. He runs a website where he posts some of his academic writings that you should probably check out.

Here is a post where Mr. Mendoza describes the issues facing Ankara’s Gecekondular and possible solutions for them. I’ve attached the “Intro” and “Issues” sections, but I highly, highly, suggest that you read the rest. Issues without Solutions are boring.

This paper is a strategic plan in resolving the gecekondu issue within the city of Ankara.  This plan provides a brief history on how the issue came to existence, importance of a partnership between all stakeholders within the city, and a description of the Ankara Network model.  The purpose of this plan is not to obtain commitment from involve network stakeholders, but to emphasize that success will only come with cooperation, collaboration, and coordination amongst all members in meeting the goals of the Ankara Network Model.  This plan argues how such objectives can be implemented.

How gecekondus came to existence
Since the 1950s, when Turkey’s government adapted market-oriented policies, many migration workers left their villages for the city seeking a new livelihood.  According to 2002 estimates, 27 percent of Turkey’s urban population resides in gecekondus but figures increase within metropolitan areas such as Ankara where 62.5 of the city’s population resides in gecekondus (Baslevent and Dayioglu, 2005, p. 34).  Gecekondu are a form of “make-shift housing, rapidly built by the incomers, developed into extensive neighborhoods constructed on vacant or public land or on farms under absentee ownership surrounding the urban cores” (Dundar, 2001, p. 391).  When the gecekondus first became visible, local government wanted to demolish these makeshift homes and replace them with government-funded housing.  However, the government tolerated the gecekondus due to the political and industrial benefit it provided.  The migrant population and their shanty towns
“Were tolerated by the government and by the private sector as they contributed their cheap and flexible (unorganized) labor to the industrialization process.  Also, [Political Parties] are well aware of the voting potential of this large number of people and, through its populist policies, was able to gain their political support for they were content with the promises of title deeds, and infrastructure and services their settlements , made by the leader of the political party holding office” (Erman, 2001, p. 985).
Another element that helped reinforce the establishment of the gecekondus in Ankara was the lack of law enforcement on illegal housing.  Migrants  took advantage of “the lack of strict law enforcement and deliberate negligence by local authorities for political concerns, most immigrants invaded public land and became owners of gecekondus, located generally at the outskirts of the city” (Baslevent and Dayioglu, 2005, p. 33).  As a result, these settlements have helped rural migrants easily establish themselves within the city.           The evolution of gecekondus
Since the 1980s, Ankara and other Turkish cities have succeeded in attracting investments but have proved unsuccessful in improving their social service infrastructure especially within the gecekondus.  Such failure trickles down to the local governments’ inability to replace the make-shift houses with public-sponsored housing.  Reason for the government’s failure is their emphasis in pleasing special interest rather than the concern of the public.  If home-ownership is widely spread out
“Across urban households because of the availability of government-supported, low-cost housing projects, we would see a fairly uniform distribution of home-ownership across quintiles which would in turn have a favorable impact on income distribution.  However, such projects that aim to provide affordable housing to the urban poor are non-existent in Turkey” (Baslevent and Dayioglu, 2005, p. 37-39)
Hence, many of the housing acts, such as Turkey’s Mass Housing Act or Ankara’s Urban Transformation Projects (UTPs)[1] have failed to assist the Gecekondus.  An example of failed initiatives is the State Housing Bank (Emlak Bankasi) which was established to provide housing credit, and the Workers Social Security Fund (SSK) that provided housing credit but only to its members (composed of formal-sector wage-earners) have hardly served the poor (Baslevent and Dayioglu, 2005, p. 39).  Instead, such initiatives have mostly served the needs of the middle and upper-income groups.
Ankara’s lack of law enforcement on illegal housing did not only benefit both the private and political sector, but also the government.  By the time gecekondus covered almost half of the urban space in Ankara, the government discovered a new source of income by obtaining a share of location rent.  The government “changed their attitudes and developed new measures to obtain a share, preferably the largest share from rent” (Dundar, 2001, p. 392).  As a result, the government commercialized the construction of gecekondus which created strong political influence from developers.  Developing firms transformed the gecekondu areas into high-rise prestigious residential neighborhoods or transformed “existing stock into small-scale, four to five storey family houses in exchange for a few apartments which they obtained and eventually sold for profit” (Dundar, 2001, p. 393).  These transformations took place due to the political influence and financial power that developers had over government, thus intensifying mistrust between the government and the residents from the gecekondus.
Poverty within gecekondus
Gecekondus are experiencing numerous problems such as a poor standard of living, increase of population, poverty, and negligence from the rest of society.  With many rural migrants moving to Ankara for work, some gecekondu districts have experience enormous increases in population such as the Etimesgut district where its population increased to outstanding 810.76 percent (Dundar, 2001, p. 393).  With overcrowded blocks within the gecekondus, it is creating an unsustainable environment.  The realization of low standard living spaces,
“resulting from limited social services and green area usage proposals, to obtain extra shares of the increasing rent of the area…But the current rapid and unqualified dense constructions will eventually impoverish living conditions, and concrete constructions are not able to be corrected” (Dundar, 2001, p. 393).
The cause of both the population increase and poor living standards can be directed at the lack of government policies and intervention.  However, political bribes can also be the cause of blame why gecekondus are in a poor state.  The governing political parties “bribed the gecekondu population in order to keep them from political activism against the state” (Erman, 2001, p. 987).  This explains why the government has not improved the conditions within the gecekondus because they portray a rosy scenario for the public that such issues do not exist.
Another concern with many gecekondus is income disparity and a high level of poverty.  Turkey, like all developing nations, is known for their highly unequal income distribution where “the top 20 percent of households receive 55 percent of the total income while the bottom 20 percent had less than 5 percent” (Baslevent and Dayioglu, 2005, p. 31).  Not surprisingly, many from the bottom 20 percent originate from the gecekondu districts.  Hence, Turkey’s income disparity makes it one of the highest within OECD countries.  Many gecekondu residents live in poverty due to the lack of low-skill jobs within the labor market.  The attempts of the government to develop a liberal market economy
“shook society deeply, increasing migration to large cities and unemployment rates.  The lower-level jobs in the public and private sector, which once provided favorable employment opportunities for the gecekondu people, became very competitive” (Erman, 2001, p. 987).
Consequently, with high unemployment rates and acute poverty in the gecekondu population, the economic gap between rich and poor has widened thus intensifying discontent amongst the poor.
Gecekondus and social integration
With lack of government intervention to improve the conditions within the gecekondus, many residents are having a hard time adapting into society, thus creating a negative perception towards the government.  This mistrust can be explained from Ankara’s failed policies (such as the UTPs) that made living conditions worse than before.  The implementation of UTPs increased the existing economic and social problems, which spread throughout the different gecekondus within the city making integration difficult.  In addition, many gecekondus fail to integrate into society due to discrimination they receive from both the government and the rest of society.  The government view gecekondus as a threat to modernization and the existence of the republic, while the rest of society views them as a threat to Turkish ideology and an intrusion to society.  They believe that members from the gecekondus are not constructed any more as a rural population
“that failed to become urban, but as a population that is attacking the city, its values, its political institutions and, more importantly, the very core of its ideology [a secular and democratic society built on consensus and unity] and its social order.  They were once kept ‘outside the city walls’, but they are now inside: inside the city, inside its institutions, inside its political system – and yet they are against these values, trying to destroy them [‘inside yet against’]” (Erman, 2001, 996).
Such perception encourages hate and distrust between the gecekondus and the rest of society, thus creating an unstable environment within Ankara and the country.

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