Blog | Talking Turkey: Village Trailer Park

The issues development raises for Santa Monica are writ large in Turkey, offering insights on our own dilemmas.

Escaping Santa Monica

Arriving in Turkey after submitting my absentee ballot and finishing my blog on how our City Council election seemed like the Hunger Games, I thought I had left Santa Monica’s problems behind me. But the developers troubling Santa Monica followed me on my trip and greeted me upon my return.

Visiting the Land of Redevelopment 

Turkey had been the key spot for development since humans first dug underground cities 8-stories deep to avoid the hordes attacking from both east and west. Each invasion redeveloped the land. Stones from the Hittite Empire built Temples to Greek gods, making towns into cult centers for studying medicine or practicing the arts. Romans recycled these stones into coliseums and bathes only for them to be further recycled into Basilicas and Mosques. The tribes that witnessed and survived each conquest rose up against the Ottoman Empire after having defended this unwieldy empire against the feeding frenzy by new colonial powers that precipitated World War I. The new Turkey, stripped of lands it could not control, now seeks to be invaded–only, this time, by tourists.

Rapid Development Promises Wealth 

Ten-story structures, still waiting for apartments to be shoved into their empty floors, are being constructed in cities along the coastline of the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. These apartments, at $500,000 each, promise to revitalize these towns by bringing in more residents and revenue to areas that still lacking adequate roads and infrastructure to service their growth. Sound familiar?

Rapid Development Delivers Gridlock 

Istanbul is Turkey’s most overcrowded city, serviced largely by a single four-lane highway, jammed so full that it can take two-and-a-half hours to travel in rush hour what could be traversed in twenty minutes late at night. Forced growth comes with consequences.

Profiting from the Past

To attract tourists and investments, Turkey is reconstructing ancient sites, as it has done ever since Atatürk, savior of the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Gallipoli, led a revolt that established the Turkish Republic in 1923. Sites that were barely recognizable now have a character resembling that of the past. One wonders, if this goes on, whether tourists might be able to tour the Seven Wonders of the World reconstructed in their original sites sometime in the distant future: Better than going to Las Vegas to see them.

Humility lost to Pride 

But, dressing up one’s past for consumption also comes at a cost. Twenty years ago, visitors could enter the stone hut where John brought Mary, mother of Jesus, to spend her last days and experience this dwelling as Mary might have. Now, the hut is filled with candles to light, a shrine to bow before, and walls covered with icons. The humbling experience of Mary is now proudly on display.

Preserving Neighborhood Character 

Strangely, amid this effort to draw people to its past, the development of cities is set to replace historic neighborhoods with new apartment buildings. Near an open market in the Cappadocia, where all the locals gather once a week to shop, gypsy homes, distinct in their character, are about to be torn down, and the gypsies are soon to be relocated all in the name of improving the area. Their fate would be the same as the residents of our own Village Trailer Park.

Same As It Ever Was 

Not only are these matters, faced by Turks, the same as we face in Santa Monica, they are the same matters faced by all cultures throughout history. During my travels, I read Heartstone, a mystery by C.J. Sansom, taking place during the time of King Henry the VIII. It involved a scheme by a rising class of “gentlemen” to take over the commons serving the village, bringing great wealth to them while leaving the villagers impoverished.

Money & Forces of History 

Despite all the forces at play in redevelopment, the acquisition of wealth and the manipulation of politicians and public servants to work against the interests of the people they are supposed to serve has been a constant throughout history.

Lost in the Details 

Coming home to Santa Monica, I am still jet-lagged and feeling strangely disconnected, living in some limbo land that takes me away from the arguments about development that engaged me before I left. Now, when someone asks how the LUCE relates to what the City Council is deciding to do with the residents of the Village Trailer Park, I find the details barely relevant. The issue is one of identity–who are we, and what do we want to become? Politicians who betray their promises to voters may offer reasons to justify their actions, but, in the context of history, they are merely the villains of their time.

Can We Change the Future? 

How unconscious we can be when sorting out our own place in history! There is much for us to ponder.

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Gregg Heacock November 27, 2012 at 05:41 AM
What Comes Around May Not Go Around The Thermal Baths of Pamukkale (“cotton castle” in Turkish) exemplify what can happen when developers gain the upper hand. Romans bathed in the warm white pools of Pamukkale, formed by the minerals of healing waters flowing up through the mountain. Noticing what a draw these historic bathes were for today's tourists, developers sought deals that would allow them to build hotels downhill and use these waters to fill their pools. Today, 5 hotels syphon off water before it reaches the natural thermal pools of Pamukkale. The lack of water has caused the white slopes of this “cotton castle” to turn brown. As a result, tourism is down. Here, we have a case of developers killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
Brenda Barnes November 28, 2012 at 04:40 AM
What a great blog! I never wanted to go to Turkey after seeing that movie about 20-somethings ending up in jail there. You've changed my mind, but I know I would see Santa Monica's mistakes there everywhere too, since I do everywhere else I go. The problem of bowing to the wishes of capital is one all over the world. We hear from people from Mumbai, Peru, and Ireland of course to LA--virtually everywhere but the rare place like Portland or Arcata or Austin or Hamburg where the residents have taken control--who are in planning societies and cannot believe the whole world has become ready to sell out its culture, civilization and people for a few pieces of silver.


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