The TOKİ conundrum

The TOKİ conundrum

               A view of Esenyurt. Barış Altıntaş doesn’t understand why anyone who owns a house here can still complain.

TOKİ is Turkey’s main state builder. It builds things — mostly housing projects, but also schools, bridges and sometimes even tunnels. It runs on empty spaces in the city as its fuel. Any plot of land in an urban area that belongs to the Treasury, as it always happens, can be given to TOKİ, which in turn will build something on it.

Sometimes, the Treasury will sell a plot of land to private construction companies, as decided by our municipalities and our Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, which is headed by a former president of TOKİ. But either way, these empty plots gradually turn into high-rise buildings.

And when people — only those who hate our government, of course — complain about TOKİ, they also mean to express their general frustration with the rapid urbanization our country has seen. These people — who do not know what it takes to civilize— claim that the unplanned and profit-oriented development complexes have ignored ecological and environmental concerns. They also claim that zoning plans and regulations are unlawfully or unethically being altered to fit the construction industry’s building needs.

The good thing, though, thanks to its building boom, is that our country breezed through the global crisis which has brought European economies to their knees and seen much of the globe highly distressed. Thanks to our construction industry we continued to grow economically during these times of hardship, and many people, who normally would not be able to buy a home, became homeowners.

But in return, all our government gets is criticism.

Just the other day, I overheard a colleague complaining that our cities are becoming unlivable. Because of permits being issued for high-rises without taking into consideration the state of the city’s infrastructure, İstanbul is doomed to live with congested traffic and no trees, she argued. I rightly pointed out that this person herself bought a house in Esenyurt — the heart of İstanbul’s construction industry, as its determined municipality never treats a restrictive zoning rule as an obstacle. Esenyurt possibly hosts the highest number of residential complexes in any of İstanbul’s recently gentrified districts and possibly the highest-rising apartments. “But it was affordable!” she said in her defense. “Admittedly, it is a tricky conundrum for someone like me, but I can’t boycott LIFE,” she said, claiming that she was being forced into living in these concrete blocks because she cannot afford an apartment elsewhere.

I quickly pointed out that no one really likes cutting down trees or destroying huge chunks of forest or declaring war on the environment, but as our Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar once said, we need this for the money, so that people like her can buy homes. “This is poverty,” she said. “The tiny cells of concrete we call home are built not for people to live in them but so that construction companies can make money. If you need to sit in traffic for three hours to get to your home, this is another kind of poverty. If you have no parks or woods or clean air, then this is another kind of poverty!” she said. Well I think she is wrong. If we could do “sustainability” and “growth” together, surely our leaders wouldn’t be cutting trees. This colleague tells me this is a lie, and we don’t have to choose between “oxygen and growth” (her words). How irrational!

Well, you can’t eat free time, can you? Or trees? We really wouldn’t have a traffic issue in İstanbul if those Gezi protesters who normally take the bus hadn’t deliberately bought cars to create the mistaken impression that we have traffic! İstanbul’s jams are created by Justice and Development Party (AK Party) haters, and everyone knows that. It is common knowledge, just like the fact that there are foreign spies who are trying to assassinate our prime minister through telekinesis.

Of course this person’s criticism is intended to weaken our government. And she can only say these things — as our prime minister has stated rightfully many times — because we do not live in a dictatorship.

I am deeply concerned about these TOKİ-haters. She is one of many who have been ungratefully complaining of how our quality of life is suffering, and things will worsen and how we need to, like, “plan” cities and stuff. And how we should protect the environment, because there is global climate change, and we can’t let our forests die or ponds dry out because we have a responsibility before future generations, blah blah blah.

Thank God this person does not even have a Twitter account. Because TOKİ-haters who want to undermine our government often use social media to share their toxic ideas. I know it comes close to treason, but this same person has also claimed that if people speak of the environment on social media, then the government “unleashes its Twitter gestapo” on them. Of course, I just laugh at such nonsense.

She should consider herself lucky because I am not reporting her to the authorities or writing her full name here in my blog, because as much as our judiciary respects freedom of speech and that people are entitled to their opinions, she would be in trouble if I went ahead and tweeted my opinion (as conscientious journalists sometimes do) that prosecutors really ought to take legal action against her. Because, let’s admit it, we all know that her only intention is to defame our government and she really doesn’t care about the environment, or the future generations. She should just be grateful she is not in jail and has a roof over her head.


This post originally appeared at TZ’s Blog Section

Author: E Baris Altintas

I am a journalist and a civil society professional. I can be reached at

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