Istanbul: ‘Self-service’ production of built environment: End of the model ?

By Orhan Esen

The metropolis of Istanbul chronically faced striking public investment deficits: This fact became particularly evident when after 1945, when the city overcame shrinking tendencies of 1930s and entered a period of bottom-up urbanization, backed by a spontaneous process of industrialization. Its population boomed by 1500 % to 12 millions in 60 years. In this process, the production and renewal of the built environment was mainly financed by the social and micro-capital created by a whole set of ‘self service’ processes using peoples’ own resources. Land, that inevitable resource of this process was rendered as a governmental contribution to the model, at least initially, ‘free’ for squatting, when the production of built environment took place for its use value, in form of the classical gecekondu. (‘built-over-nite’). At that initial stage until 1980s, the collective efforts of the migrant groups settling down at the peripheries, created a threshold between urban and rural and eased for these groups the first step into their new, ‘urban’ world. The start-up investment of the migrants into the urban fabric, their social capital comprised of their skills, conceptions of housing and settlement as well as their organizational and networking capacities which they brought from their native rural areas, and was shaped by their own, partially collective labor and was supplemented only to limited extend by financial resources.

A ‘self-service’ model based on production through the agency of micro-capital seems dominant for a longer period, also after the rather fast disappearance of the phenomenon ‘classical’ gecekondu: In a second phase of the spontaneous urbanization after 1980, the production of the built environment took place predominantly for its exchange value. The through the initial urbanization accumulated ‘informal’ small capital remained the main agent, both converting the former peripheries into densely overbuilt post-gecekondu areas or, as an alternative, aggressively developing new territories in a second wave of informal urban expansion. The complete dominance of the production of built environment by micro capital is likely to be changed only in these days, with the introduction of the big businesses into the ‘housing market for lower income groups’, in the aftermath of the most recent economic crisis 2001/2002, as a strategy of overcoming the crisis of the capital accumulation.

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