Erdogan Goes All Robert Moses on Istanbul

turkish protestorsIn the New York Times, Tim Arango reports from Istanbul

“Across this vast city, a capital for three former empires, cranes dangle over construction sites, tin walls barricade old slums, and skyscrapers outclimb the mosque minarets that have dominated the skyline for centuries — all a vanguard for more audacious projects already in the works.

“For many Turks, though, the development is not so much progress as a reflection of growing autocratic ambitions by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government.”

Demonstrations in which construction equipment has been attacked were spurred by

A government plan to convert Taksim Square, historically a place of public gathering, into a replica Ottoman-era army barracks and shopping mall — what [a] historian, called “a Las Vegas of Ottoman splendor”. … But there are many other contentious projects that have drawn public outrage.

Arango, with an insightfulness a cut above the usual Times article, reports:

The swiftly changing physical landscape of Istanbul symbolizes the competing themes that undergird modern Turkey — Islam versus secularism, rural versus urban. They highlight a booming economy and a self-confidence expressed by the religiously conservative ruling elite.

He then writes of Dogan Kuban, who he calls “perhaps Istanbul’s foremost urban historian.”

He criticized the government for ignoring the country’s pre-Islamic history by not protecting certain archaeological sites and structures, an issue he cast as highlighting Turkey’s turn away from Western culture under Mr. Erdogan’s rule.

Erdogan’s behavior is reminiscent of Robert Moses, New York City’s “master builder,” who, with little or no input from legislatures, carried out development and infrastructure projects that often impacted aversely on neighborhoods.

Would that Americans rose up against an autocratic executive branch. Would that we Americans stood in the way of rampaging development — not to mention general tackiness — like the Turks have.