Martin Kaltwasser/Folke Köbberling
Economic and political upheavals have let Istanbul grow from one to 13 million inhabitants in the past 50 years. Over half the city growth took place in informal new settlements, the Gecekondu, between collective land aqusition, individual privatisation as well as structural and social self-organisation. If the first generation of Gecekondu formed a unique phenomenon of a village-structured self-organised flat procurement programme, which makes social nets and securities for newcomers, then in the second generation every square metre of floor was sold, condensed, increased and urbanised. Almost every family in this way became an investor and property developer of the current mega-city, which is however marked out by huge settlement, environmental destruction and a ground market controlled by the mafia.
For the majority of the inhabitants who are affected by precarious and, in the long run, informalised working conditions of an increasing existential insecurity, the primarily independently and informally erected house in a Gecekondu area was often the only social and economic security.
Middle class circles and official city planners who in Istanbul, on the other hand, push their idea of „modern city“ through, see themselves threatened in their security by the highly politicised Gecekondu and long for a „cleaned up“ Istanbul, that is the demolition of at least those Gecekondu which have still not been legalised.
The city administration has put up larger social housing complexes on the „green fields“ to take the ground from beneath the feet of the undesirable Gecekondu. There is, however, another reason for this, the next predicted earthquake, threatened to come at any time, is the omnipresent smouldering uncertain factor in the midst of the planning, desires and house building reality. Since in the last earthquake in 1999 hundreds of houses collapsed, large-scale relocation measures and immediate programmes for securing earthquake threatened zones (which contain many Gecekondu) are being discussed in the city.
Tolerated by the city administration, members of the middle and upper class even build new gated communities in the disappearing earthquake secure green belt recreation areas, where they simultaneously escape from the (in their eyes) chaotic moloch Istanbul, and try to save themselves in an atmosphere of paid-for and accountable security.
So in Istanbul systems of „economic apartheid“ were settled. The visibly physically appreciated work and living areas of members of the mobile global economic society are sometimes directly opposite the Gecekondu, as in the area of the modern office quarter Levent 4, which is equipped with a decayed infrastructure and where beside all the self organised aquisitions, poverty mostly rules - therewith accompanying territorial ties of the inhabitants.
Growths of different ideas of security and smoldering uncertainty show up in the city and its environs. Many buildings in the whole city area such as government buildings, university premises, shopping malls, office blocks, parking lots or middle and upper class residential areas are fitted with fences, video surveillance and security cabins.
The parking spaces of a high rise sattelite city for 400,000 inhabitants built speculatively in 1999 (and now standing empty) in Kavakli, in the far west of Istanbul are also lined with security cabins. They are printed with the word “Güvenlik”, security in Turkish.
The personnel guard this ghost and city of ruins, built in the zone most threatened by earthquakes, in addition to the few cars
“We didn’t plan to own our own house. It wasn’t our plan but a compulsion imposed by Turkey. It is important to own a house in Turkey, as the Turkish economy forces you to own a house as in a rented house as a tenant in Turkey you have no rights. The house owner can throw the tenants out from one day to the next. The overheads in these flats are also rising steadily. So we didn’t have an alternative and so in this time had no social life, we wanted to save money to buy a house.”
Türkan Sarigöl, Gecekondu resident
There was not enough living space for newcomers. For this reason they built their own houses from their own resources. This is how the “Gecekondu” developed. These Gecekondu were without running water and connection to a sewage system, there were no secured streets, which gave the local offices a new task. New problems were constantly added to the existing ones.
“As there were still no apartment blocks, there were many Gecekondu in this area. When we moved to Alibeyköy in 1990 there were no apartment houses. This Gecekondu area existed before the apartment houses. The Gecekondu building began in 1975. Thee were only cornfields here before. Slowly more and more Gecekondu were built and unions were founded. The land was sold to these unions.“
Huts became houses and became as big as apartments. It became more and more difficult to reach the deformed districts.
“In the first generation of Gecekondu there were no permits or any kind of bureaucracy from the offices. The people had simply used their free initiative and built themselves a Gecekondu in one night. The Gecekondu houses are always built in one night, this is why that is the meaning of this type of houses. (Gecekondu: built in one night, Turk.)”.
This situation worsened the basic problem of the Gecekondu until there was no way out. The illegally built houses became larger and larger and partly those were sold which were to be legalises in the following elections. The areas grew enormously in a very short time.
“In some areas we set up our own public parliament. We want the people to react directly and transfer its rights directly. We are trying to solve our problems ourselves.”
The administration cleans the Gecekondu and takes measures to prevent new Gecekondu.
“The city has not yet created relocation politics in Gececondu unions, as there is strong political resistance there. They build within a relocation politics, but half the owners of these buildings are supporters and relatives of politicians.”
The residents of the cleaned up Gecekondu are not put out on the street but re-housed in completed social housing in a neighbouring district. They are given apartments in exchange for their land.
“They fetch the rubbish and I pay a rubbish fee for that. Apart from that, there is no infrastructure in the city. Sometimes they build streets. They take sewage money, but there are no sewage pipes. We collected money for the tarred street. It is also built with our money. We also collected money for a power mast. The people have formed their own infrastructure, except the water pipes and Kanalisation. There is a street on the map, but there are no houses on this map.”
From an interview with Ismail Sarigöl, Türkan Sarigöl and their mother Zaliha Sarigöl in Alibeyköy.
From an advertising video by the city administration of Istanbul Büyüksehir Belediyesi, 2000.
In Istanbul one kilowatt hour of electricity costs 196.000 Lira (approx. 12 cent). with all the additions and taxes. The service providers take a wage of between 120.000 and 170.000 Lira to read the electricity meter, but give the work force only 30.000 Lira. A worker earns about 200 million Lira (approx. 120 Euro) per month. As he cannot survive on this money, he naturally takes bribes. The workers of the service providers are then bribed by the illegal users so that they do not report them. It is actually common knowledge that the workforce cannot survive without bribes.
The state electricity company however do not suffer from this as they sell overpriced electricity anyway. There are also factories which tap electricity illegally. The illegally used electricity of a factory corresponds at least to that of 100 Gecekondu.