Urban transformation: Taking steps to prepare for an earthquake

The urban centres of Istanbul and many secondary cities around Turkey are set for a dramatic transformation, as major districts are rebuilt, historic areas renewed and new cities founded. This presents opportunities for the construction sector, even as the magnitude of developments makes it crucial for the government to be transparent and establish clear rules.

The most recent impetus for the current “urban regeneration” programme was the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the south-eastern city of Van in October 2011. Previous earthquakes have been even more deadly – a 1999 quake in Izmit killed 17,000 people, and a Japanese study predicted that 90,000 people could die if Istanbul were hit. In the wake of the disaster, which revealed the shoddy construction of many of the city’s buildings, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised to demolish illegal and unsafe buildings across the country and rebuild them. According to Erdoğan Bayraktar, the minister of environment and city planning, this will require the demolition of 6.6m houses across Turkey, approximately one-third of the country’s 20m housing stock. In Istanbul, the ratio is even more worrying; more than half of the city’s 4m homes are in danger, with most of the compromised structures concentrated in the western European side.

Eye On Risk

The government’s plan for urban regeneration was approved by the parliament as Law No. 6306, which was passed in May 2012. Under this new legislation, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning will determine risky areas and identify unsafe buildings within these zones. These building-owners will be able to voluntarily demolish their buildings in return for compensation; if there are multiple owners, a two-thirds majority will be required to proceed. Ultimately, the government will forcibly evacuate and demolish the buildings it deems unsafe, providing homeowners with new apartments in the same area or loans to buy housing in new areas. Demolitions took place in late 2012 and early 2013 in a patchwork of locations across Istanbul, with over 250 buildings already taken down.

The legislation gives extraordinary power to the Turkish Housing Development Authority (TOKİ) and TOKİ’s preferred contractor, Emlak Konut, who will be able to relocate current residents, determine their compensation and award contracts for the rebuilding. This level of discretionary control over such large parcels of land is controversial. TOKİ has been dogged for corruption recently and there are questions about the transparency of Emlak Konut’s tenders. Few can dispute that action was needed to address the earthquake risks but the construction sector will be watching carefully to ensure that the process is above board.

City Of The Future

Plans for Istanbul’s third airport and a third bridge over the Bosphorus have also set the stage for the city’s expansion northwards. This has been formalised as a new city known as “Istanbul Metropolitan,” which was unveiled by the ministry in January 2013. The new region, bordered by the Black Sea on the European side, will span across an area of 42,000 ha, according to Bayraktar, and be home to as many as 1.5m people. The project also houses five sub-districts: a high-density housing district, known as the KayabaşıUrban Transformation Project; Magnet City, a housing and commercial centre in Başakşehir; BioIstanbul in Başakşehir, home to a “biomedical science park” and other research centres; the Health City near Atatürk Olympic Stadium; and an aerotropolis centred around the new airport. The ministry is also discussing the development of a similar satellite city concept on the Anatolian side of the city.

The development of new cities will be partly enabled by the government’s decision to allow construction on so-called 2B land, which represents 1.66m ha, or 2% of the country’s land. This had previously been labelled forestland, but many lower-income homebuyers took advantages of loopholes to build houses on this land. Under regulations passed in 2012, the state will give those with 2B houses six months to apply for deeds, and will sell the land at 70% of its appraisal value. Unoccupied land will be used for mass housing projects.

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The Report: Turkey 2013

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