“It is buildings, not earthquakes, that kill people”

Today’s Letters Page from the Guardian includes a thought-piece on the need to create a social rental housing sector in Istanbul stimulated by Constanze’s Guardian article last Friday on the construction sector boom in Istanbul; featured here.

The two professors who have authored the letter, argue that unless such a social rental market is created in Istanbul,  opposition to any programme that removes the current poorly constructed housing stock from Istanbul, to replace with well constructed earthquake resistant housing, will face significant opposition from homeowners.


Istanbul needs neighbourhood regeneration

Istanbul may well not need the mega-projects described by Constanze Letsch (The razing of Istanbul’s history, 2 March). But make no mistake about it, huge swaths of the city’s older neighbourhoods must be demolished and reconstructed during the next 10-20 years if a humanitarian catastrophe is to be averted. In the aftermath of the 1999 Marmara earthquake, the Japanese International Co-operation Agency predicted that the likely toll of the next major earthquake would be some 90,000 deaths, 135,000 serious injuries and the destruction or serious damage of 170,000 buildings. This impact will be heavily concentrated in 12 of the city’s 32 municipalities, including the historic districts. JICA argued that effective mitigation will require more than a million dwellings to be demolished or structurally upgraded in 400 neighbourhoods, which are home to more than 5 million people.

Thus far, neighbourhood regeneration has been dominated by the state-sponsored gentrification of centrally located, historic districts such as Sulukule and Tarlabasi. This coercive “top-down” process sparked widespread resistance to regeneration across the city, epitomised by the slogan ‘”no Sulukule here”. But the vast majority of earthquake-vulnerable neighbourhoods, outside the historic core, consist of poor quality, concrete-frame construction, apartment blocks. Demand and land values are much lower, so improved compensation and cheap mortgages may well enable most resident owners to stay in their redeveloped neighbourhood.

However, as things stand, scores of thousands of poor tenants would be displaced. This prospect fuels continuing resistance. The Turkish government must now create a social rented housing sector. This would support neighbourhood redevelopment by providing re-housing for tenants as locally as possible. In parallel, the government should also sponsor capacity development for local municipalities and community organisations, in order to create a “bottom-up” process of community-led neighbourhood regeneration.

It is buildings, not earthquakes, that kill people. The failure to develop a socially just, earthquake mitigation-led, neighbourhood regeneration process will have terrible consequences for Istanbul’s citizens.
Mike Gibson Emeritus professor of urban planning, London South Bank University, Arzu Kocabas Associate professor, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Istanbul


The original Guardian letter can be found here.



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