"Alternative" tourism is all the rage these days. Rio has its favela tours and New York its organized outings to the outer boroughs in search of obscure ethnic cuisines. And what about Istanbul? Well, perhaps the city should start thinking about offering excursions that allow visitors to take in what is becoming Istanbul's newest claim to fame: it's profusion of environmentally, aesthetically and legally dubious megaprojects.
Several recent articles and online projects are certainly making virtual tours of Istanbul's megaprojects -- grand construction schemes that are very much at the heart of the recent corruption scandals that rocked Turkey -- possible. A new article from the Istanbul-based Cornucopia magazine offers an introduction to Istanbul's "ten most gruesome development projects," from the new bridge across the Bosphorus to plans for a mall to be built on the spot where the city's most iconic movie theater now stands. The Megaprojeleristanbul.com site, meanwhile, offers an interactive map that gives a detailed look (in Turkish only) at many more of the big projects being built across Istanbul. Networks of Dispossession, another site, goes a bit more high-concept, with spider web-like maps that attempt to trace the relationship between all the different companies involved in Istanbul's megaprojects.
Yesterday was World Environment Day, a tricky occasion for the Turkish government, considering its brutal bulldozing of trees in the heart of Istanbul was the spark that led to the recent mass protests there and to what now might be a long-term "occupation" of the city's Taksim Square.
Tapped to give an official address to mark the day was Erdogan Bayraktar, the minister responsible for environmental issues. The environment was "number one" on the global agenda, the state-run Anatolian Agency reported the minister as saying. “The ability of ecological systems to renew themselves is severely limited and deteriorating every day,” Bayraktar further said. “Environmental issues have become topics that countries of diverse cultures and geographical characteristics have all agreed or have had to agree on.”
In a recent blog post, I suggested Turkey is turning into a "constructocracy," with an economy driven by the construction sector and ruled by a government that never met a large infrastructure or building project it didn't like, no matter how destructive to the environment or unnecessary it was.
The construction continues apace, with today's groundbreaking ceremony for a new $3 billion bridge across the Bosphorus, which separates Europe and Asia. Hurriyet Daily News provides some background on the bridge, which will be the third span to cross the body of water and which will be the world's widest when completed:
The construction of Istanbul’s third bridge on the Bosporus was tendered for last year as part of the north Marmara motorway project’s Odayeri-Paşaköy section. The tender was then awarded to a consortium consisting of the Turkish IC İçtaş and the Italian Astaldi that submitted the bid with the shortest term of construction and operation, 10 years two months and 20 days.
The bridge is to be constructed under a build-operate-transfer model, in which private companies build the bridge and will have the right to collect tolls from vehicles using the bridge for a period of time before handing the bridge over to the state.
The consortium is expected to complete the construction of the bridge in 36 months, at a total cost of about $4.5 billion, after the contract is signed. “The bridge should be ready for use by the end of 2015,” Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım had said earlier.
As the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Turkey's southeast region appears to be rich with water resources. But a new study indicates that the reality might be quite different. From a release about the study, issued by NASA and the University of California, Irvine:
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., found during a seven-year period beginning in 2003 that parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of total stored freshwater. That is almost the amount of water in the Dead Sea. The researchers attribute about 60 percent of the loss to pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs.
The findings, to be published Friday, Feb. 15, in the journal Water Resources Research, are the result of one of the first comprehensive hydrological assessments of the entire Tigris-Euphrates-Western Iran region. Because obtaining ground-based data in the area is difficult, satellite data, such as those from NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, are essential. GRACE is providing a global picture of water storage trends and is invaluable when hydrologic observations are not routinely collected or shared beyond political boundaries.
The town of Dilovasi, located some 30 kilometers from the eastern boundary of Istanbul, is a major industrial hub, home to some 150 firms, many of them heavy polluters, such as paint petrochemical factories. Recently, local residents woke up to find that a hard-to-remove sticky white substance had fallen on their town. From Bianet:
A new problem has been added to a series of environmental contaminations in the industrial area of Dilovası. The township belongs to the province of Kocaeli at the eastern tip of the Sea of Marmara about 100 km east of Istanbul.
A white sticky substance has been raining down on Dilovası for about one week now. The white precipitation cannot be washed away and has reportedly started to rain down on Hereke, another town in the region, as well on Saturday (12 November)....
....According to an announcement made by the Kocaeli Governor's Office, a sample of the white substance was taken and sent to TÜBİTAK on 9 November for an analysis. The Governor of Kocaeli, Ercan Topaca, said that the factory this substance came from was going to be closed once it would have been determined.
This is not the first time that serious environmental concerns have been raised in Dilovasi. As Eurasianet's Alexander Christie-Miller reported earlier this year, the health dangers posed by the town's industrial activity was the subject of a critical study written by an academic at a nearby university -- who then found himself the subject of a criminal investigation. From Christie-Miller's story: