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April 27, 2011, Wednesday

Canal İstanbul and other crazy projects of the Prime Minister

We used to know that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a former mayor of İstanbul, has carried his municipality team to national politics level. Yesterday's Canal İstanbul declaration proved that he has carried his dreams about İstanbul to a national level also.

A new transportation canal to be built between the Black and the Marmara seas is a crazy project indeed, but there is nothing new to it. During his tenure as the mayor of the İstanbul greater municipality Erdoğan had voiced this dream project as an alternative to Bosporus transportation which was becoming more and more dangerous for the city. Even earlier there were plans to build a thinner canal in order to produce hydroelectricity utilizing water level difference between the Black Sea and the Marmara.

Compared to the Sues Canal, Canal İstanbul is not an impossible project. It is crazy, but not inapplicable. Sues Canal was dug about 150 years ago and it is 110 kilometers longer than Canal İstanbul that will be about 45-50 kilometers. It will obviously change the landscape in the Thrace. The 3D presentation made suggests that a Manhattan style city will be founded on the two banks of the new canal. Obviously this new city will be the finance center of the new İstanbul that will possibly have a new name. I hope that it won't be named after any historical and current political figure!

I have always been critical of the “tall building obsession” of the AK Party government and this new Turkish Manhattan bothered me a lot. But I won't elaborate on a project that is not thoroughly discussed yet. I am sure the sensitive architects of Turkey will say what they have to say about the project and it will be revised according to the newly emerging urban landscape tradition in the West. But I beg the politicians: Please, please do not build the tallest building of the World in İstanbul!

Whatever this new city will look like, the canal will also provide new address for the ugly and equally dangerous civil and military ports and docks of İstanbul. I hope the planners of the Second Bosporus and the Second İstanbul will regard this crazy project not as an opportunity for new waves of urbanization but as an opportunity to move financial centers of the historical İstanbul to an alternative location and an opportunity to turn former ports of İstanbul into green areas within the city. This will raise the living standards of the İstanbulites even if they do not directly profit from the new construction areas.

The project will also have political and legal ramifications. The Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits may well be opened to a discussion again and Turkey may enforce passage fares for the civilian ships in the newly formed canal. Because of this Convention Turkey was not able to found low level bridges on the Bosporus that would block naval transportation. After opening of a new passageway Turkey will have the upper hand to revive the Convention according to its national interests and security needs.

Yet still there are environment related issues that need to be discussed before the dream turns into a fact. I assume the prime minister have discussed the influence of such a canal on the flora and marine life on both sides of the Bosporus, on the fishing industry and on the beautiful beaches both in the Black Sea and on the Marmara. In anyhow, I am thankful to the prime minister that he gave the nation something other than the regime and lifestyle related issues to discuss on our way to the general election.

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