Here’s something about Turkey, and everyone else

So, the urban development that kicked off all the protests in Turkey.

“This is the only place to hang out here,” says Yavuz Selim, 17. “And everything is very expensive. As students we cannot afford it.” His friends agree. “We are quite bored here. There is nothing to do for us.”…

While the municipality has increased local transport over the past year, the last buses leave at 10pm and many of the families living in Kaya?ehir cannot afford cars.

“We feel isolated from the city centre here,” Yusuf Sari, 16, points out. “A bit cut off, really.” Analysts say this kind of segregation changes the idea of a city – a space where different parts of society coexist – and will create long-term social and economic problems.

“It is very likely that these will end up like the banlieues in France,” said Adanal?. “Spatial isolation and the social concentration of certain segments of society will create discontent. This discontent, too, is isolated from the rest of society. People start to feel that they cannot escape this isolation, which makes matters worse.”

Actually, then, it’s not an urban development but a suburban development, or perhaps more to the point, an anti-urban development. As Jamie Kenny says:

Historically, the whole thing has a 19th century French feel to it, in the sense of government dominated by a pious, provincial bourgeoisie wanting to tame the big city antinomians. But reading about this stuff it’s amazing how well a certain type of – in this case – Islamic piety dovetails with neoliberal concepts of modernization. Maybe that shouldn’t be so surprising when you look at places like Dubai, but it’s remarkable how exact the comparisons are. The same basic suspicion of ‘urbanity’ in the widest sense of the word, the dislike for forms of life, commerce and culture perceived to be messy or low prestige, the way in which a form of commercial standardization seems to complement or substitute for a repressive moral code and the way in which the only unthreatening secular activity that the economic, political and in this case religious establishment can imagine is shopping.

Or, over here:

They started sinking their teeth into Taksim first by imposing a table ban two years ago: No tables on the streets. This deceptively simple move instantly drained much of the spirit of Taksim, since much of the charm was just walking around in seas of people who felt like your friend simply by virtue of being there, and probably were if you dug deep enough. That shattered the sense of community.

This reminded me of my review of The Spirit Level, and specifically this bit.

The states of the Deep South are reliably terrible. They are highly unequal, and they get the effects – but they are far off to the top right of the trendline. In a sense, their marginal productivity in terms of inequality is unusually high – for every extra point on the Gini coefficient, they manage to produce a sharply higher degree of suffering than the national average.

On the other hand, there’s the importance of being urban. The more metropolitan the state, the less it suffers from the impact of inequality – New York has the social problems of the average, despite being very unequal.

There are good reasons for this. Big cities tend to be unequal because they have some rich people. This does not preclude having a well-funded school system; in so far as the rich want to live there, it may be possible to squeeze some tax out of them. Further, there are limits to how far you can send the people off to the suburbs for the whole thing to work. It is hard to opt out completely in town. You may take a cab to the bank headquarters, but you’ll still curse in traffic.

Pulling this together, people fight over urbanity because it’s a sort of substitute for equality. In some ways, it’s real equality, as the institutions of the city are often open to all. In others, perhaps more important, it’s potential equality – we can all be the minority, we can all fall into the path of a tube train, the mob is out there.

This draws out different responses. One is an intense identification with the city, which turns out to be a latent coalition across all kinds of groups. Another is a deep horror of the mess of it all. Erdogan, like the mayors who went after Occupy, is constantly whining about needing to clean up and vandals and did you know some of them have dogs? Better to move out to somewhere on the motorway.

I met this response back in 2001, on the scene of a long-term occupation protest. Austrians, or possibly more importantly, Viennese who didn’t want Jörg Haider in government had set up a camp called the Concerned Citizens’ Embassy (BBB in German) outside the prime minister’s office in part of the old imperial citadel. Others held demonstrations marching there every Thursday. I remember vividly that on one of these, people carried a blank banner and pulled a projector on a supermarket trolley, throwing a documentary someone made about the campaign itself up on the banner so we could watch it.

Suddenly, the Fortress Captain – that was his title, the guy in charge of the Hofburg, a school friend of the prime minister – discovered that there was some rubbish lying about, it was ugly, there were rats, he had to clean it up, I quote. This completely circumvented the various legal protections of protest. The rubbish, of course, was us. There was stuff, nobody claimed to own it, and the imperial stormtroopers moved in.

We whined and sued and marched harder, but it was the finish. Anyway. We’ve established the motive. Here’s a piece about the characteristic protest style that goes with it. It doesn’t seem to work. Perhaps because the theory of victory for such a campaign is a flash revolution, like something from 19th century France?

And that reminds me of Pierre Mauroy, who died last week. As French prime minister, he insisted on sticking with European fixed exchange rates, but also on (as he said) holding out on the ridge line at 2 million unemployed. Looking back, it seems unsurprising given the first point that he lost the ridge and resigned. He then set about pulling money towards his home town and power base, Lille, specifically through the Euralille megaproject around the TGV station.

I have never seen a grimmer public space. It seemed to symbolise the combination of Euro-austerity macroeconomics and the effort to build shinier things on top of the city, as two halves of the same project. Similarly, the empty neon of Budapest’s EU-membership centre the last time I was there howled with blankness.

3 thoughts on “Here’s something about Turkey, and everyone else

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