Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Urbanization in Turkey

Gecekondu Settlements
Calorie Intake of Urban Workers versus Farmers

For some reason people studying Turkey love explaining the word gecekondu. Using it, along with perhaps the phrase "deep state," is pretty much enough to qualify you as an expert on contemporary Turkish politics and culture. Anyways, we don't have any good maps of the deep state, but here is one of gecekondu growth in Istanbul in the 1950s, when Istanbul was a much smaller place. Wait, allow me to explain, as if you've never heard the word before: 'gecekondu' literally means a settlement that was built overnight, and refers to a law stating that any building finished by sunrise could not be torn down. Anyways, with the increasing mechanization of agricultural in this period, in part thanks to US aid, a number of people who had in the past worked as farmers were forced to move to the city in search of work, living in shanty towns that sprung up beyond what were then the city limits. Over time, competition for votes led Turkish politicians to woo these communities by bringing them electricity, water and other municipal services. As this map shows, many of these settlements have since been integrated into the fabric of the city, and are now simply neighborhoods rather than slums. Meanwhile, new ones have continued to spring up further out.

 The chart to the right, though not technically a map, nor technically about Turkey, does an incredible job of illustrating the effect of urbanization on people's lives all around the world during this period. Written in the kind of French that even I can read, it shows the average daily calorie intake of farmers versus urban workers throughout the year. For farmers, it follows a seasonal cycle, with nutrition levels reaching a low point in the dry summer months (this chart is from West Africa. In the northern hemisphere this low point would come at a different time, but the general pattern would be the same). Nutrition levels for urban workers follow this same pattern to a more muted degree, but for them the variation within a single pay-period is much more dramatic. The hungriest time for them is at the end of the month when financial rather than environmental factors restrict their eating. On one hand the switch to an industrialized economy has benefited urban workers by protecting them from the vicissitudes of the environment. On the other, the capitalist economy has exposed them to a new form of deprivation, which as the chart shows, was often just as bad if not worse.

Gecekondu Map: Imar ve Iskan Bakanligi Mesken Genel Mudurlugu Arastirma Dairesi 10, reprinted in Necati Sen's "Plan ve Yapi Bakimindan Gecekondularinin Incelenmesi."

Nutrition Chart: Rapport Sur La Situation Sociale Dans Le Monde, United Nations, New York, 1957