ULI Turkey: The Unknowns of Urban Transformation

Following the 1999 Earthquake in Turkey, large cities such as Istanbul have undergone vast urban transformation. Although an “urban transformation” law easing property rights of urban land was enacted five years ago, the results have been unsatisfactory. Without proper planning, the new built environment has been subjected to extreme, unwieldy density and the legislation lacks social and sustainability guidance.

To explore this topic, ULI Turkey organised a conference on “The Unknowns of Urban Transformation,” held over two days in Istanbul and Ankara. The aim was to create a platform to explore international best practices of urban transformation, as well as new approaches.  The main topics were density and planning, sustainability and healthy cities, and social impact. The conference ended with a “lessons learned” panel of local speakers who are leading the biggest urban transformation projects in the country.

Overall, the message that resonated with attendees was “a call for a common understanding.”  Nearly all of the speakers emphasised that Turkey needs a common understanding regarding the urban transformation process, and that the laws and regulations should be amended accordingly.

The statistics on the necessity of urban transformation support this fact.  In Turkey:

  • The number of houses to be rebuilt: 6.5 million
  • The cost of this transformation: TL 884 billion
  • The period forseen to complete: 20 years
  • The number of buildings that were announced as high-risk in the last 10 months: 123,106
  • The area that was annouced as high-risk in the last 10 months: 12,000 hectares
  • The population living in this area: 1.7 million

After the opening speeches of ULI Turkey Chair Ayşe Hasol Erktin and sponsor Kalekim’s Project Sales and Channel Development Director Altuğ Tezel, Dr. Özdemir Sönmez from Yıldız Technical University stressed that the migration to large cities is a major cause of unhealthy density, and density planning is not being addressed. Sönmez added that in the face of population increases, planned density should be used as a tool to reach a more liveable city.

Also speaking at the event via video conference, was Rachel MacCleery, Senior Vice President at the Urban Land Institute and head of the Building Healthy Places Initiative and Infrastructure Initiative. MacCleery presented how sustainable and healthy places can be built, and stressed the fact that investors and designers do not pay enough attention to human health.

Faruk Göksu, Founder of Kentsel Strateji, discussed the social impact of urban transformation. Göksu stressed the importance of bringing designers, end users, and politicians together to give their input on real estate projects. He said that the recent transformation projects in Turkey are not true transformation projects, but merely real estate development projects. He recommended introducing social impact assessment reports as part of the development process.

The day’s panel discussion, moderated by Levent Gökmen from the Ekonomist periodical, featured panellists from three companies heavily involved in urban transformation projects: Murat Özgümüş, Deputy Chairman of Rönesans Real Estate Investment; Selçuk Ilıkcan, General Director of SAMPAŞ; and Zeyyat Gümüş, General Director of GOPAŞ.

The panel discussed the amendments made on the implementation directive of the “urban transformation” law. The panellists agreed on the lengthiness of the legal processes, and the difficulties in reaching a reconciliation between the people living in the affected houses. Gümüş emphasised the necessity of effective municipalities, while Ilıkcan stressed that urban transformation is an opportunity for Turkey.  Özgümüş pointed out the importance of the design process for building more liveable and healthy cities, but noted that this comes at a cost.

On the second day of the conference, urban transformation was discussed in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, with messages around social impact, sustainability and healthy cities, and density and planning.  Following the keynote speeches was a panel on urban transformation with the Mayor of Yenimahalle Fethi Yaşar, Member of the Board of Ünal Akpınar İnşaat Birol Akpınar, and Deputy Chairof YDA İnşaat Cüneyt Arslan.

The panellists agreed that it is important to avoid tension between investors and the people. Mayor Yaşar pointed out the duality between municipalities and the Ministry. Arslan stressed the necessity of reconciliation mechanisms, and Akpınar discussed the importance of a qualification mechanism for competence of contractors.

The event was sponsored by Kalekim and Winsa, and was free for participants. There were around 250 participants in Istanbul, and about 100 in Ankara.

ULI Turkey currently has 75 members and is an active National Council.  In addition to monthly networking and educational events, members have launched a Women’s Leadership Initiative, organised a study tour to Norway with ULI members, created a mentorship programme with a vibrant Young Leaders Group (for members under 35).