Friday, June 21, 2013

In how good shape is Turkey?

Marc Pierini in Urban Transformation in Turkey Carnegie Europe 06/20/2013 writes:

... the Turkish government is implementing urban transformation through sudden, top-down decisions that do not sufficiently account for environmental protection or consultations with citizens. In the process, the population’s leanings are largely ignored, making it impossible to nurture civic consensus on the pace and nature of economic development.

In addition, there is no systematic monitoring of urban transformation practices and abuses. Few national and international NGOs are allocating time to the subject, and most of the evidence of abuses comes not from academic or other dispassionate sources but from stakeholders in the process and commentators. Moreover, projects such as nuclear plants and a new canal will affect other countries in the region and may be challenged on that ground.
He suggests that the now-famous protest over Taksim Square are an expression of broader discontent that very much includes issues in recent urban development. As he puts it:

The issue of urban transformation has morphed into a nationwide political problem in Turkey. It is now the symbol of the country’s disputed style of democratic management. ...

A micromanagement issue—the government’s refusal to consult the Taksim Platform, a local citizens’ initiative—has become the epicenter of a lasting political storm, the full political fallout of which is still to be measured. Subsequently, the excessively forceful handling of the protest created an outrage resulting in a degraded image of the government, both domestically and internationally.

The issue here is not the legitimacy of the Turkish government—it was elected democratically in 2002, 2007, and 2011, with up to 50 percent of the vote—but the way in which the opinions, beliefs, and lifestyles of the other half of the population are disregarded, when not suppressed.
But that urban development is also part of what the Turkish government has persuaded many news outlets to report, which is the supposedly exemplary economic development of the country over the past decade or so. As Pierini observes:

After winning Turkey’s 2002 general election, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government continued the efficient economic policies that were introduced by its predecessor after a major financial crisis. Thanks to that and to a fifteen-year-old customs union with the EU and EU accession negotiations that were opened in 2005, there has been a major influx of European direct investment in Turkey. The country has emerged as an integrated production platform for European manufacturing industries.

This growth period has led to major advances in Turkey’s public services and infrastructure, including airports, roads and highways, high-speed railroads, utilities, hospitals, universities, and museums. In parallel, a vast process of urban transformation and renewal has taken place in many Turkish cities, at times catalyzed by local conditions and events, such as when infrastructure was built and renovations made for Istanbul’s stint as European Capital of Culture in 2010.
The focus of his piece is his argument that the centralized nature of major urban development decisions is a significant course of discontent on the part of citizens frustrated at being shut out from a meaningful voice over these very consequential decisions.

Dani Rodrik looks at the relevant comparisons of Turkey's development recently in How well did the Turkish economy do over the last decade? Dani Rodrik's Weblog: "an important issue that is frequently overlooked is the conjunctural and comparative dimension. The last decade has been an exceptionally good one for developing countries as a whole. When Turkey's performance is compared to the average for emerging and developing countries, it hardly looks distinguished."


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