Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Farewell to Istanbul: Part 1

As I end my stay in Istanbul, it is time to reflect briefly on my observations while living here as an urban planner, urban geographer and transportation planner. Over the next couple of weeks, while not packing up and sending out my curriculum vita , I will be writing my thoughts about my stay here. These are strictly my opinions. You may agree or disagree. If you have comments, please write your comments below. I would be interested in reading them.

Rootlessness and Lack of Civic Pride
I was always amused when strangers asked me where I was from (yes, I know one should not end a sentence with a preposition). I originally stated U.S.A., but then realized that I was a resident of Istanbul and responded Istanbul. I came to find out that all residents of Istanbul ask Turks too the same question. It appears that nobody is from Istanbul, they all hail from some other area, even if they were born in Istanbul. The consequence is that nobody in Istanbul takes pride in living here. It is sometimes perceived as a place where one can make money and then move back to one's hometown in Anatolia. In other countries, there is a pride in saying they are from a certain major city. Living in cities like New York, London, Paris, Rome. Charleston, San Francisco, Barcelona, Madrid, Mexico City, Rio de Janerio, Milan or Berlin often means to those not from those cities that one has obtained a level of urbanity. Orhan Pamuk stated in his autobiographical book, Istanbul that residents in Istanbul have a collective melancholy or "hüzün" from a sense of having their status as a world capital removed from them by having the capital relocated to Anakara. This was discussed in one of my articles as well.

The Problem of Being a Megalopolis
Istanbul's population is one of the largest in Europe, ranking with London and Moscow. Its population is officially 10 million, but the actual population is estimated to be 15-20 million due to the amount of residents that do not report to the government as having residence in Istanbul. This is for tax reasons. I have never seen how much taxes are lost to Istanbul because of people not reporting taxes for property in Istanbul, but it must be in the millions per year.
Its size is also impressive. It takes two hours by automobile to go from one end to the other. A rough estimate would be Istanbul's length is approximately 100 kilometers. The congestion is chronic and the public tranport system is inadequate. It is getting better. Howver, for decades the congestion caused by increasing automobile ownership has been ignorned. However, despite the massive investment in new heavy and light rail and a tunnel linking the European and Asians sides, they will make the situation slightly better.

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