The Taksim Platform is a citizens’ initiative that raises objections to the current state of the project, arguing that the project should have gone through more transparent consulting, regulation and supervision phases. And on the official website of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), there is a short video showing how the square will look after the project is completed. Yet, no information can be obtained from the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Beyoğlu Municipality and İstanbul Second Protection Board, which are officially in charge of the project. The Board’s unanimously taken decision does not mean that the project is the “right” one because expert opinions are not enough to decide whether such a project is right or not. Therefore, a lack of detailed information breeds rumors and speculation, but more importantly, triggers questions.
The Taksim Platform has simple questions. Who prepared the project and when? Is it really for pedestrians? What measures will be taken to compensate businesses in the area of Taksim for the losses they may suffer? What is the aim of rebuilding the Artillery Barracks and for whom? Who will be the losers and winners of this project? Are there sufficient measures for fire brigades and ambulances? Are the associations in the area informed about the project? Have cultural and art organizations and experts been informed? Why are the trees in Gezi Park in Taksim marked? Hasn’t Gezi Park in Taksim been designated as a gathering spot in case of an earthquake? Are the underground tunnels in the centers of metropolitan cities adequate to solve traffic problems? Does the project have an integrated approach?
These questions and others are typical of any regulatory impact assessment (RIA), which should be made in relation to any project that will be implemented in public locations or that may have any impact on the public. Roughly speaking, decisions that concern the general public should be examined with regard to their potential positive or negative impacts before implementation, and the findings of these studies should be shared with the general public and given to decision makers. This is a process of consulting, asking for advice, assessing the advice, learning lessons and making estimates... Unfortunately, we know well the fate of projects that were implemented without heeding these principles.
As you know, Turkey is an oasis of projects that were implemented without consulting anyone and eventually ended up erroneous. To refresh your memory: the subway bridge over the Golden Horn, İstanbul Congress Center, Eminönü Square, Sütlüce Congress Center, Feshane, Çeşme Highway and of course, the Black Sea Highway...
These projects are specific neither to the AK Party nor to Turkey. The central or local administrations before the AK Party and other parties of our time showed no difference in their ways of operating. Likewise, misguided practices can be found in every country. Abu Dhabi is a typical example of these practices, although it tends to produce awe in many people here. Soulless public projects are everywhere.
The apex of erroneously implemented public projects in Turkey is possibly the Black Sea Coastal Highway. Authorities decided to build a 541-kilometer highway between Samsun and Sarp in 1993. The state invested some $5 billion in this project, which was completed in 2006. Yet there was no end to the problems. In a paper he presented at the National Geography Congress held in September 2005 before the project was completed, Hüseyin Turoğlu, from the geography department at İstanbul University, asserted that the route of the project was not suitable for the terrain in the region. He argued that the project would lead to casualties and damage to property and frequent repairs would be needed and the costs would increase and the damage to the environment would be irreversible. In addition to experts, the people of the region, too, drew attention to the risk of building a road along the coastline, and they demanded that public authorities learn lessons from the case of Georgia. Now, experts must be watching the developments bitterly, and the local people must be cursing their bad luck.
Since it was built 70 centimeters above the level of settlements, the highway collects rainwater like a small dam, preventing it from reaching the sea, and this rainwater floods the settlements. It is not resistant to the waves coming from the Black Sea. Indeed, the road between Hopa and Sarp collapsed once again in January.
Before steering ourselves onto the “highway of no return,” let us learn a lesson from the Black Sea Highway.