Who makes the City?

‘Who Makes the City?’ program will research political regimes, economic systems of The Netherlands and Turkey to contemplate on their future urban form through a traveling exhibition and open debates in 2012.


Professionals? Market parties? The state? or the People? It depends whether we are talking about today’s Shanghai [the state, 2012], Amsterdam in the golden age [merchants, 1662], or Paris in 1925 [Le Corbusier, Plan Voisin].

In Turkey, it was Anatolian immigrants who built the cities of the 50’s and 60’s. The government was overwhelmed by the rural exodus to the cities [between 1960 and 1990, 8 million new Anatolians left their villages for Istanbul], but the new urbanites hardly had any patience to wait for state-run housing programs. Adopting an old Ottoman rule, they built their new towns, or gecekondu settlements [meaning landed by night] very fast and very cheap.

Since 1983, gecekondu areas have been subject to massive legalization, densification, and regeneration. Under the widespread practice of yap-sat [build and sell], bigger building plots are generated on legalized gecekondu grounds, and buildings of up to five stories are constructed. There is the familiar image of the busy, enterprising laz contractor from the Caucasus, taking advantage of the yap-sat regime to densify Turkish metropolitan districts. Between 1980 and 2000, the combined housing production of gecekondu and yapsat builders added up to an average of 100.000 homes per year. In Istanbul they occupied 70% of the entire metropolis.

Enter the Turkish Housing Administration of the premiership [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] in Ankara. [image state capitalism] In 2003, law 2985 was renewed, broadening the responsibilities, power and resources of Turkey’s previously lax social housing administration. Now self-builders are increasingly pushed away from the housing production scene as centralized urbanization by TOKI takes root in 81 cities, with 800 new boroughs, and 2131 construction sites by 2012. In less than a decade, TOKI’s housing production has reached half a million homes. This is equivalent to an average of 50.000 homes per year.
Please note: Self-builders still produce twice as fast as the nation’s centrally run, mega-financed housing corporation!

State-led reconstruction and housing programs were also influential in post-war Netherlands. Willem Drees [1945-1958], also called Vadertje, or father Drees, was one of the most popular Prime Ministers in Dutch history. The author of the welfare state created a pension law for the elderly, constructed postwar neighborhoods, and instituted social housing schemes for a new, engineered society living in clearly defined enclaves. [socialists, catholics...]

In the 80’s and the 90’s the neo-liberal wind blowing through the world reached the Dutch social welfare state. The monolithic social engineering ideals of the 50’s state gave way to privatization and merger of housing corporations as well as developers building for the market. By the 90’s, privatize corporations had bought all the social housing stock from the Dutch state. Dit is onjuist. weglaten However, despite such mass privatization, a genuinely individualized and diverse housing environment failed to develop. Control by a handful of developer companies - the oligarchy of ‘usual suspects’ - might explain why.

Today, Dutch city-making practice witnesses a new movement. Amsterdam’s planning office is busy pondering what an open planning process would be, while researchers at TU Delft are engaged in publications on self-organizing Dutch cities; Slow Management magazine makes an issue on slow urbanism; meanwhile, the new town of Almere is building the largest self-made district of the Netherlands, Homeruskwartier. 

Does this physical outcome remind you of the Turkish gecekondu’s? Possibly it does! But there is an important distinction: in Homeruskwartier
there is a formal partnership between the city and self-builders to realize a city. The city broadcasts its future legal plans online. The urban scheme has a large variety of urban plots. This diversity allows inclusion of many citizens. Not only the rich, but also the lower and middle income groups find the possibility to build their homes. Entrepreneurs join the citymaking by ‘I build my shop in Almere’ program. In the beginning phase the city initiates meetings with the citizens, architects, contractors.

The combination of a strong city government, entrepreneurial citizens and solid protection of rights is a good base for the developed countries to make the citizen initiatives happen in the 21st century; a real public private partnership.

What will be the future of urbanization, on the global level? Will mass housing colonize the whole world? Will Hugo Chavez get his order for 2 million homes built? Will TOKI serve the Arab Spring countries with its knowledge and construction methods? Perhaps it is wise to remember the story of the nile perch, a fish introduced in African rivers and lakes in order to stimulate commercial fishing in the fifties. Its spread was so rapid and total that it is now considered one of the most invasive species in the world, with great negative ecological impact.

As an alternative, can we imagine a real state-citizen partnership flourishing, allowing for initiatives, interests and profits to be shared?