A Workshop on Urban Resilience: Proposals for Ankara

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By Feyzan Erkip

The concept of resilience became one of the recent academic interests of researchers working on urban issues as it provides the opportunity to discuss cities’ complexity in a holistic way. Originated from ecological sciences and adopted by social sciences in the last two decades, resilience differs from sustainability since it proposes flexibility as a tool for transformation of cities into a new adapted structure following crises. Sustaining economic and social balances requires preparedness and robustness and a responsive urban planning. The aim of this workshop is to analyze cities as complex systems and develop a guideline for administrative processes and strategies for making Ankara a resilient city.

My research on retail development and its spatial impacts on Turkish cities led the way to the discussion on the factors making a city resilient and how different planning approaches influence the level of flexibility and adaptation to changes. However, I strongly believe that this is not merely an academic issue, rather an issue directly related to urban policies and needs to be built on feasible strategies. Especially when social aspects – considered as flexible structures which respond to the divers needs of citizens – are more appropriate for adaptation, transformation and development. The normative aspect of resilience needs to be addressed as a part of the system itself.

From this perspective, Rockefeller Foundation’s initiative – the 100 Resilient Cities (100R) – in 2013 gave an impetus for developing such strategies all over the world (Rockefeller Foundation and ARUP, 2014). During the project, the city resilience index was developed to guide selected cities. It is exciting to observe the approach of the Foundation perceives the complexity of urban resilience and works on its different aspects. Yet, resilience in diverse urban contexts may have complex meanings and who gets what from the results of resilience policies stays as a crucial question. 

The challenges that Turkish cities face with an increased urbanization at an accelerating pace  in the last few decades due to the unplanned development by means of corrupted urban policies. The consequences of the dominance of interest groups in shaping Turkish cities are the most visible in metropolitan cities, mainly Istanbul, the largest city with a population of more than 15 million, and Ankara, the capital with a population of about 6 million. Municipalities of both Ankara and Istanbul changed hands in the last local election in 2019 and this caused an optimistic climate in the country in general as citizens had long been suffering from the neglect and nepotism in the municipal administration. This change is expected to give a fresh impetus to new approaches and investments.

View of Ankara. Photo by Kunt Kuntasal

The daily life of citizens is not easy due to traffic problems, maintenance of the roads and side streets and infrastructure problems whereas the state and municipal funds are mostly used for shopping mall development, luxury housing and extravagant investments on Disney like spaces and ornaments on the streets. Considering the earthquake threat in Istanbul and avoidable floods in Ankara, it is clear that these cities need investments on survival needs and convenience of daily life rather than large constructions in the urban core. All these seem more problematic when the discrimination of gender, age and disability is taken into consideration. Instead of working on these issues, many municipalities spent their resources on large investments that became beneficial mostly for developers and investors, rather than citizens.

Under these circumstances, newly elected majors need to recuperate rapidly and find remedies for the harm done. Resilience as a concept is even more appropriate now as preparedness and flexibility are required by the municipality administrations and NGOs willing to take responsibility for the recovery of their cities. Considering that the political environment is now more favorable for suggestions by the academics, NGOs and citizens, I recently started a year-long workshop with the support of Ankara Chapter of the Chamber of Architects. Via the Chamber, I invited volunteers to participate in the resilience workshop to be able to discuss and enrich relevant concepts and strategies for making Ankara a resilient city. The main motive of this workshop is to develop policy proposals based on academic literature and global experiences and preparing guidelines of a feasible plan towards this end. We intend to work on resilience norms on various aspects of urban life, such as preparedness for disasters and climate change, sufficient and flexible infrastructure, guidelines for social and community resilience, public space use and legal structure to define and protect the rights of stakeholders, NGOs and citizens.

Ankara Chapter of the Chamber of Architects, Ankara

This workshop intended to attract the attention of academics, students, municipality officers and citizens who have a concern for the development of their city. The meetings held on October 5th, November 2nd and December 7th proved to be very promising in that respect. Dominantly architecture and city planning students from prominent universities of Ankara and colleagues from related disciplines participated in these meetings and contributed to discussions. They are willing to work on the problems of Ankara with a resilience perspective and to contribute to developing proposals for solutions. Our next meeting will be held on January 11, 2020 with an agenda of presenting resilience assessments of selected cases to lead the way to feasible strategies for a resilient city. As moderator of the workshop, this project need a multi-stakeholder teamwork to be successful. The expected end product is a report of the workshop to be presented to Ankara Greater Municipality via the Chamber of Architects.

About the author:  Feyzan Erkip is a retired professor of the Department of Urban Design and Landscape Architecture of Bilkent University, Ankara. She has publications on retail and consumption spaces and urban transformations and taught environmental psychology, urban sociology and research.