London Model and Occupy Gezi Park

By Omer Cavusoglu (researcher and project manager in Urbanism, and has received his MSc. from the London School of Economics.)

When Turkey’s Sports Minister Suat Kılıç remarked “we want to adopt the London Model” (view link)  as part of the efforts to secure Istanbul’s 2020 Olympics Bid, what did he exactly mean? What aspects of governance do politicians in Turkey hint at when giving the example of London in their presentations?

A sit-in protest has begun at Taksim’s Gezi Park in central Istanbul when bulldozers were followed by TOMA riot control vehicles into the park for a demolition of the inner city’s one of the last remaining green and public spaces. While mainstream news agencies paid little attention, the movement quickly took to the social media (view link) under the hashtags #OccupyGezi and #DirenGeziParki (ResistGeziPark). Few journalists started to wonder whether Istanbul could finally create its own Hyde Park or Central Park if the resistance paid off. However, Turkish central government keeps itself busy with other types of mega-projects.

On 29 May, a symbolic day that marks the fall of Istanbul to the Ottoman rule in 1453, an entourage of the country’s including the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament launched the foundations of a new 3rd bridge spanning the Bosphorus, which they named Yavuz Sultan Selim, after the Ottoman Emperor, who upon conquering Egypt in 1571, took upon himself the title of Caliph of Islam. During the ceremony, Prime Minister Erdogan also addressed the tensions taking place at Gezi Park. He stated that “the decision has been made, the park will go” (view link). When thousands decided to turnGezi Park into Istanbul’s own extension of Occupy movement on the night of the 29th, a 5 AM morning raid with tear gas and water tanks, now a commonplace sight in most demonstrations in the city (view link) tried to disperse the crowds. Only to attract a larger amount on the night of the 30th, and as of writing, a similar raid took place the following morning.

The determination of the Prime Minister in re-building the artillery barracks that stood on the site a century ago, poised to serve as a shopping mall (view link) , in a city that is competing with Dubai and Moscow in becoming a global retail centre (view link) was met with little surprise. In addition to the 3rd bridge, the central government has announced intentions to build a new airport (view link), and implement the Prime Minister’s dubbed “crazy project”, Canal Istanbul, all on the northern fringes of the European side of the city (view link). The tender process will start soon, the Prime Minister announced, on the back of a busy month of May. None of these infrastructure projects were drawn onto the city’s new urban master plan, adopted by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in June 2009.

What seems to be happening here is that the Turkish state is in deed following a form of the “London Model”. Prof. Mike Raco of the University College London, defines the “London Model” as a deliver-based governance structure where the success of the political power depends not much on inputs but on the outcomes and the legacy, exemplified by the delivery of the 2012 Games. This model is best served by highly qualified firms that can deliver the complex contracts on finance, security, and provision, where the state acts merely as the underwriter. Recent upgrades in Turkey’s credit ratings have been a major boost (view link) for the government who has been embarking upon a number of public-private-partnership schemes to deliver such projects (view link 1) (view link 2). But there is a great deficiency of accountability.

The UK Government has put together an Airports Commission whose task is to answer the question of whether there is a need for increased airport capacity and where and how this can be provided (view link). The Commission will submit an interim report at the end of 2013 and a full report by the summer of 2015, which will outlive the current Parliament. It is not possible to speak of similar set ups in Turkey. A questionto the Parliament revealed that feasibility studies carried out for the 3rd bridge were handled by the Highways Directorate (view link) with little, if any, public scrutiny. While the initially £17 billion billed Crossrail keeps a good record of how it deals with the archaeological findings on the construction sites, its Istanbul counterpart, Marmaray’s unearthing of thousands years old artefacts have been repeatedly shunned (view link) by the Prime Minister for causing delay in the delivery.

There is some way before Turkish officials can lay claim to adopting a “London Model” of delivery in their mega-projects. Lack of accountability and transparency hinder public trust, and as exemplified in the protest movements taking place in Gezi Park, there is a constituency that will try to preserve the remaining pieces of land in Istanbul that is of significance to them. With such tensions in sight, there is little hope to believe that Taksim’s Gezi Park can ever become Istanbul’s response to London’s Hyde Park or New York’s Central Park.


Original article from:

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