TODAY’S – Giant construction projects continue at full speed despite criticism

Giant construction projects continue at full speed despite criticismNumerous major construction projects across Turkey under way in 2014 occupied key space on the mediaand#39s agenda as these projects moved full speed ahead — usually with the strong support of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) — amid heavy and varied criticism from different segments of society. Amid controversies, there were a variety of positive improvements — particularly regarding various transportation networks — that were made nationwide.

In Istanbul a new metro line was opened, shortening travel to the airport, and work continues on new metro lines and the extension of existing ones. After a string of setbacks, the high-speed train line between Ankara and Istanbul was finally opened this summer, reducing travel between Turkeyand#39s main cities to three-and-a-half hours.

Another high-speed line between Istanbul and the Central Anatolian city of Konya opened in December, reducing the journey between the two cities to four hours.However, these important steps were overshadowed by disputes over several massive projects that are likely to remain on the agenda going into 2015.

Istanbuland#39s third airport and third bridgeThe construction of Istanbuland#39s third bridge crossing the Bosporus strait plunged forward this year despite being mired in controversy. In April, three workers fell to their deaths from the construction site of the bridge.

Expert examinations concluded that a lack of proper security equipment was the main culprit, and that if the workers had been provided with steel body belts, their deaths could have been prevented. In August, another man working on the construction site died after the truck he was driving fell off a cliff.

It was recently announced that the third bridge will open in October of 2015. Turkeyand#39s Alevis, who make up 15-20 percent of the countryand#39s population, were furious to hear the bridge will be named after Sultan Yavuz Selim, who was infamously known for slaughtering tens of thousands of Alevis during his reign.

The bridge, which will cost an estimated $6 billion in total, will traverse the Bosporus on the north end of the city, linking the districts of Beykoz (on the Asian side) and SarIyer (on the European side). Considered to be among the greatest projects in modern Turkish history, the construction of the bridge has been the subject of controversy for a number of reasons.

Workers have gone on strike several times this year due to late payment of wages. The construction process has also been a main target of criticism among environmentalists, since the highway being constructed to support the bridge project has caused the deforestation of large green areas in the city.

President Recep Tayyip ErdoIan himself said during his tenure as Istanbuland#39s mayor in the 1990s that the construction of a third bridge spelled andldquomurderandrdquo for the city.Meanwhile, the cityand#39s third airport, which is being built to relieve the intense congestion at Istanbuland#39s Ataturk Airport, is expected to be the biggest airport in Europe upon completion.

The 22-million-euro tender for the third Istanbul airport was won by the Limak-Cengiz-Kolin-Mapa-Kalyon joint partnership in 2013. Mehmet Cengiz, the owner of Cengiz Holdings, is known to be close to President ErdoIan and the ruling AK Party.

The project has been criticized as being environmentally harmful because the construction site is in a forested area and hundreds of thousands of trees are expected to be cut down to make way for the new airport. Environmentalists are also concerned about the impact that the construction will have on the areaand#39s diverse population of various species of birds and wild animals.

On several occasions, wild boars have been found wandering around Istanbul or swimming in the Bosporus and it is believed that these boars –which normally live in the forested areas that are now being decimated due to the construction of the third bridge and airport — have roamed into the city out of confusion.Ak Saray, a palace beyond palacesAnother key construction project that constantly appeared in headlines is the Ak Saray, the newly completed presidential palace and current residence of President ErdoIan.

The Ak Saray was built at a cost of TL 137 billion, according to Finance Minister Mehmet IimIek, although various critics have alleged the cost could be three times as high. The gargantuan palace is said to feature over 1,000 rooms.

Claims have been made that gold-plated glasses found among the kitchenware at the Ak Saray cost $500 each, more than the monthly minimum wage in Turkey.Constructed inside the Ataturk Forestry Farm (AO) on 300,000 square meters of land, the Ak Saray may even be the worldand#39s largest residential palace.

The Guinness World Records currently lists the Istana Nurul Iman palace of the sultan of Brunei, in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan, as the worldand#39s largest residential palace, with 200,000 square meters of floor space. Completed in 1984, the Brunei sultanand#39s palace cost $300 million.

The Ak Saray was at the center of heated debates after ErdoIan ignored a number of court orders to halt its construction. Even after a court ruling in March of this year, ErdoIan, who was then prime minister, stood in defiance of the ruling, brazenly telling reporters: andldquoLet them demolish it if they have enough power to do so.

They ordered a stay of execution, but they will not be able to stop it. I will open it and I will sit in it.

andrdquoUnfinished city hospitalsAlthough the Ak Saray was unveiled in all its lavishness, receiving Pope Francis as its first official guest, the construction of over a dozen city hospitals throughout Turkey are not moving at full speed ahead, raising concerns that these much-needed healthcare facilities will remain unfinished.A plan to build 15 such facilities in 14 cities across Turkey under a public-private sector partnership project to increase health standards in the country began over a year ago.

According to the agreements, the state would become the contractorand#39s tenant for 25 years and the total cost of the project is envisaged to be TL 20 billion.However, there have been reports that well over a year after the ground-breaking ceremonies, many of the hospitals, including Yozgat City Hospital, which will cost TL 270 million and is due to be finished by May next year, are still at the excavation stage.

In Izmir, Turkeyand#39s third-most populous city, a city hospital was to be constructed in the district of BayraklI and the groundwork took place on March 12, 2013. The hospital with a total capacity of 2,060 beds was due to be finished in 36 months.

However, after eight months, there seems to be no new developments regarding the hospitaland#39s construction.Urban transformation?In Istanbul, many neighborhoods with structurally-questionable housing stock are undergoing major demolitions.

Fikirtepe, on the cityand#39s Anatolian side, is planned to be the site of a series of luxury condos featuring high price tags. The neighborhood attracted media attention this year due to the striking image of a lone apartment sitting on a hill in the middle of a flattened area that circulated in the media The building was dubbed andldquoFikirtepeand#39s last castle,andrdquo as the owner refused to sign an agreement with the construction company that had demolished his neighborsand#39 homes.

The owner eventually relented months later The impoverished Fikirtepe neighborhood is in the process of being completely made over via series of individual construction projects that will transform the neighborhood into a andldquohigh-rise heaven.andrdquoAlthough it commanded a good deal of attention in the media this year, Fikirtepe is only one example of neighborhoods that have undergone or are currently undergoing such rapid and dramatic transformation.

Inner-city real estate in Istanbul is gaining value as the city expands outward, and this means that poor neighborhoods in desirable and central districts such as KadIky and BeyoIlu continue to be seen as valuable opportunities for developers.Demolitions and urban transformation projects in other poor neighborhoods took place throughout the city this year and look likely to continue.

Critics of these swift and extensive projects have condemned their exclusionary nature, saying Istanbuland#39s poor residents are being pushed further towards the outskirts of the city. Given the volume and scale of these projects and their contribution to the alteration of the cityand#39s social fabric, they will remain a major issue in 2015 and in the years to come.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman