Urban Decay in Istanbul

Last winter I was amazed by the poor upkeep afforded to buildings in central Marrakech. I spent part of last week in fascinating Istanbul, and there it was again: plentiful ruins of recent buildings in the middle of busy shopping and hotel districts. Istanbul is in even worse shape than Marrakech. Many older houses are only maintained on the ground floor. There may be eight ruinous floors on top, eroding steadily and falling piecemeal into the street.

Many property owners in Istanbul fit their buildings with horizontal metal-grille shelves sticking out from the facade above the first floor. This keeps bits of a building from falling onto the tourists frequenting the street-level shops that pay the rent. The grilles and their installation must cost a pretty penny. Still owners prefer them to putting the money into renovation.

Again, I wonder about the economics of this. Is the dilapidation a result of some poorly worded rule intended to protect historic buildings? Are the property owners waiting for the old buildings to collapse so they can legitimately tear the remains down and build higher and more profitable structures?

Or is there insufficient demand for housing and office space in central Istanbul, so that the only parts of the buildings that actually pay for themselves are the ones catering to tourists?

Then I thought maybe the problem with getting property owners to pay for upkeep isn’t insufficient carrot, but insufficient whip. Perhaps the reason no Stockholm property owner behaves like this is that if she does, she will get her ass kicked by the authorities. So I asked the city planning office of Stockholm municipality, stadsbyggnadskontoret. And they kindly explained that there are two levels of whip on these issues in Stockholm. The Planning Code demands that you keep your property in good shape: if you don’t, the city planning office will tell you to either get the problem fixed or pay a fine. And if, as is common in Istanbul, your building becomes so decrepit that it’s dangerous to people in or near it, you will no longer be allowed to use your building, for instance by letting out shop space in it.

Or maybe it’s neither carrot nor whip, but a culturally established readiness to see buildings in severe disrepair, combined with a unwillingness or inability to invest now for long-term profit.

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