The gated communities of Istanbul

I have learned the following things from an Oct. 7 Spiegel Online article by Kristina Karasu and the interesting reader comments in response to it:

– Istanbul is in the throes of a building boom. What many prosperous Turks want to buy, and what is thus being built for them in ever larger numbers, are apartments in high-rises in high-security gated communities 20km from the city center, many of them encircled by poor neighborhoods.

– Turkish newspapers are filled with advertisements selling the special merits of particular gated communities — one has its own megamall, one its own private school. One is currently being built in Venetian style, with canals and gondolas. “You’ve never been to Venice?” its advertising reads. “Don’t worry, we’ll bring it to you.” (Many monied Turks have, indeed, never been to Venice — because of harsh EU visa restrictions, Karasu points out.)

– Finding the right gated community is about religion as well as money, Karasu writes. In some communities designed for devout Muslims, divorced women are unwelcome and nobody swims in the pools; other complexes are emphatically secular and Western, and give dirty looks to women in headscarves.

– Some reader commenters say Turkey is booming and their relatives in Turkey have gotten much richer in the past ten years. Others say Turkey is in a big speculation bubble, and their relatives in Turkey are juggling consumer debt from a dozen different credit cards.

– Earthquakes, readers say, are a reason Turkish people want newly built housing, be it gated or gateless (earthquake safety standards in building have improved immensely since 1999); this feeds into the building boom.

– Readers mention a similar current boom in gated communities in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

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