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April 19, 2012, Thursday

Exurbs and family ties

The view over the city of İstanbul from the airplane while taking off recently from İstanbul Atatürk Airport was stunning. İstanbul has become a city with some impressive modern architecture alongside historic places. Major change is occurring…

The city sprawls in every direction. Much of the growth is spreading towards the forest and beyond to Kilyos, which is on the Black Sea on the European side of İstanbul. In case you are unaware, İstanbul is split by the Bosporus Strait, which is also considered the dividing line between Asia and Europe.

Impressive growth can be seen on the Anatolian side of the city as well. Empty property lots are being taken over as fast as builders can throw up framing and lay on siding and roofing for gated-communities and shopping centers. People continue to move to the big city. Major population shifts continue. Maybe you have noticed that private schools are in competition to open branches in the suburbs of the suburbs -- the exurbs.

Exurb growth is the trend…

You may be wondering just what is meant by this term, exurb. Merriam-Webster describes it as being “a region or settlement that lies outside a city and usually beyond its suburbs and that often is inhabited chiefly by well-to-do families.” In a short piece called “Pulling back from the Exurbs” in The New York Times, I read that demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution describes exurbs in the US as the outer suburbs which were once a place of the “cutting edge” of growth, but no more. Frey adds that the US Census Bureau reports that America’s urban population increased by 12.1 percent from 2000-2010, faster than the nation’s overall growth rate of 9.7 percent. It seems that growth has sort of come to a standstill in America, primarily because of the recent recession and also high gasoline prices, which makes commuting more expensive. However, just the opposite is true in İstanbul!

I witnessed from the view of the airplane this past week that in İstanbul this is definitely not the case. Moving further out and having a long commute is the trend in İstanbul, even though gasoline prices are exorbitant in comparison to those in the US. Unfortunately, as Turks migrate outward from the city center, traffic congestion is becoming a problem in every direction. Naturally, environmentalists are up in arms about environmental degradation, etc. Forest areas are shrinking.

It’s my guess that İstanbul has at least tripled in size since I first came to Turkey in 1979. Along with the demographic changes that have occurred, some others are happening, too. Just as in America, where in the 1980s and onwards the modern family began to undergo significant transformations in its structure, similar changes are gradually beginning to occur in Turkish society, particularly among the middle and upper classes.

It used to be common for Turkish families to live in very close proximity to each other, sometimes even in the same two or three-storey apartment building. But nowadays more are living further apart. Don’t let this mislead you into thinking that they are not as close. Even though Turkish families may be experiencing a change in demographics, certain family values remain strong.

Westerners who have a Turkish spouse need to understand that İstanbul and other urban centers may seem very contemporary and modern in many ways; however, family values are much slower to change. Reputation and honor remain important family values. The family’s good name depends much on the honor and modesty of the women and their virtuous behavior and/or the family’s economic status. Loss of face can be detrimental to relations with relatives. If honor is questioned and the family’s reputation is damaged, family members are responsible for restoring the family’s honor by ostracizing the member in question.

The foreign visitor may find it difficult to understand the emphasis on these values. Harmony in relationships is more important than being open and direct. If directness causes another to lose face and makes him feel that no value is given to his feelings, he may never be able to forget or forgive. A person who thinks he has been insulted may hold a grudge for a lifetime. In Turkish culture, it is an important value to preserve dignity and save face.

In my next piece, we’ll consider some examples. In the meantime, don’t be deceived by the outward modernity. I don’t see construction and the sprawl of exurbs in the near future coming to a halt. And family ties remain tight.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]

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