Can Istanbul’s new mayor end the rising wave of departures? - analysis
Istanbul mayor-elect Ekrem İmamoğlu might have a tough time reviving Turkey’s megacity, as economic troubles plus the city’s high costs and chaotic sprawl drove away a record number of people last year, said an analysis in U.S. magazine Foreign Policy.
Nearly 600,000 of Istanbul’s 15 million people moved out of the city in 2018, the first time that number crossed half a million, according to Turkey’s statistical institute.
“The key driver of the ongoing out-migration is probably Turkey’s deep recession,” Timur Kuran, a professor of economics and political science at Duke University, told FP. “Jobless people with roots in Anatolia are moving back to where they have family and friends prepared to help them.”
This outward migration likely boosted İmamoğlu’s candidacy, a shift away from 25 years of rule by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its predecessors, during which Istanbul has become exceedingly expensive, according to Istanbul-based freelance journalist Paul Osterlund.
“Rents are much higher there than in other urban areas in the country, and inflation has made basic goods out of reach for millions of residents,” Osterlund wrote for FP. “As hundreds of thousands of people are leaving Istanbul, those who are staying put have decided that their city needs new blood.”
Kuran said Istanbul was the country’s economic engine, home to a significant share of Turkey’s wealthiest and best-educated citizens.
“Such people value political stability as well as political freedoms. They also have skills that are transportable. A well-trained academic or physician can work elsewhere. Likewise, a creative entrepreneur can implement his or her innovations somewhere else,” he said.
Many professionals, freelancers, and early retirees have left for coastal areas, particularly the city of Izmir and its surrounding areas, according to FP.
“With money and talent flowing out of the city, the potentially devastating effects of brain drain remain,” said Osterlund.
Istanbul has been a city of migrants ever since waves of people from throughout Anatolia began showing up there in the 1950s, when new arrivals started building informal settlements across the city, many of which became lasting neighbourhoods.
“Others were demolished to make way for the megaprojects, skyscrapers, and luxurious housing developments that have multiplied throughout the city, particularly under the leadership of (President Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan and the AKP,” said Osterlund.
Kuran said the construction boom had eroded the city’s charms.
“This is not to say that Istanbul is no longer a beautiful and fascinating city. It remains one of the world’s wonders,” he said. “But to Turks who know what it was like 20, 30, or 40 years ago, the concretisation is an abomination. It is a source of great pain and anger. It has increased the incentive to move to a relatively green city and more open spaces.”