“No Water or Gas, If You Don’t Pay Your Monthly Fee.” Says the Management

 

In my PhD research, I criticised private provision of housing enclaves in Istanbul and argued that this practice gives too much authority in the hands of private management companies and passivate the residents of these areas.

Usually, municipalities deliver urban infrastructure and services, and citizens pay tax in return. In this practice, private management companies are responsible for delivering urban infrastructure including water, sewage and gas networks, landscaping and roadworks within the confines of the projects. In return, the residents have to pay a monthly fee to these companies. The problem is that while municipalities are subject to many controls for their practice, taxation, and spending, these companies are like just any private company operating in the market.

I have come across this recent case, for example. It is very striking. Some families living in a luxury housing enclave were unable to pay the total amount of their fees, but they did pay their bills for water and gas. The private management company’s response was brutal: The water meters of the houses were removed and gas was cut in the middle of January.

The residents took this to the court and get access to water and gas again after having a court order!

In the news article, Cesim Parlak, an expert lawyer on criminal law, argues that expansion of this practice of shared use of water and heating in large housing estates, the estate managements became hegemonic in this practice. According to Parlak, the private management companies acts like car parking mafia. The carpark mafia in Turkey appropriate some places and demand parking fees from the ones who park their cars in those areas, although they have no right to the land they appropriate. So, Parlak says that according to law, estate managements do not have a call for giving or not giving this service to the residents.

Well, apparently, what the management company did was illegal in this case. But, the question is who is controlling what the private management companies are doing in more than 800 branded housing projects in Istanbul? The answer is a big fat no one.

(Image credit: Yeni Projeler)

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Advertisement-free Cities

What if we strip our towns from outdoor advertisements, which dominate public spaces for quite some time?

CATS – the Citizens Advertising Takeover Service did this for you in London and the result is marvellous.

It was funded via Kickstarter by almost 700 people who pledged over 23k GBP to get the project up and running, and as organizer James Turner noted in a blog, “This isn’t a clever marketing stunt. The people behind it are volunteers. We want to inspire people to think differently about the world and realize they have the power to change it.” (boredpanda)

 

Check it out:

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Image Credit: boredpanda

 

The result shows how much our public space is occupied by advertisements, and how they are commodified silently. It also shows potentials to use these spaces for public art (or other good causes, or just for feline world domination) instead of serving for more consumption.

Thanks CATS for making a point with our feline friends 🙂

 

Singapore: The Land of Condominiums

A Singaporean politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam once said: “If George Orwell and Philip Dick had an illegitimate child of a theme park, then this would be Singapore” (Huffingtonpost). As a politician defending privatisation of public assets, this allegory may have different connotations, but it has a point in terms of high level of control of mediation in daily life.

File:1 bishan park panorama 2012.jpg

Public Housing Estate in Bishan 

Singapore is an interesting city-state with its high-rise housing developments. Most of the population live in housing estates built by the state, and most of them are home-owners. These estates form self-sufficient towns providing services and facilities within their confines. Housing developments in Singapore are famous with successful applications of public housing in term of provision and quality, while being infamous with control over the daily life of the residents through these.

Housing Development Board (HDB) exercises control over every aspect of the system, not only building and selling apartments, but acting as a mortgage lender. The agency can also operate as an arm of the police. According to Phang, the HDB has the power to withhold keys from residents with unpaid parking tickets, and to evict those convicted of more serious offenses. (Miller)

It is not just the practice of HDB, but strict laws control or mediate, everyday life in Singapore; even the chewing gum:

The Economist assesses Singapore, where the PAP has run the show for more than half a century, as a “flawed democracy”. The degree of state power that has enabled such extensive and rapidly executed feats of urban planning has also led to policies that appear to the rest of the world as draconian, such as corporal punishment for acts of vandalism, a ban on the importation of chewing gum, urine detectors installed in elevators, and expression-limiting laws of the kind that put Amos Yee on trial. (Guardian)

But, not all public housing estates are equal. Executive Condominiums are built as a superior form of housing estates developed by the public sector. They are enclosed within a gated area with security and exclusive amenities. They are pretty much like private condos.

Visual from an add for a private condo Sturdee Residences

Glasear, who is working on private cities in US, explicit about his admiration of Singapore case: “Singapore is close to the ideal model of land-use planning in the 21st century” (Guardian).

While being far from in agreement with him, I think, we should ask if we want to live in such an ‘ideal’ world ?

Meet Gurgaon: A Patch-work Private City without Sewage System

Gurgaon is a city in India, where many private housing enclaves are located and run by private management companies. With no municipal services, the private management companies provide key urban facilities only within the gates of the enclaves.

The practice draws a horrendous picture of the piecemeal private provision of municipal services, replacing sewage system with gigantic septic tanks, dumping sewage to public land, replacing police force with the army of private security, dodgy lost spaces between the housing enclaves…

A patchwork of private services emerges, but only within property lines. “If you’re living inside the development, everything looks great. It looks like you have functional sewage, but those lines are not connected to a main line. They go nowhere.” Instead, the sewage collects in a septic tank at the edge of the property. The building’s owner contracts a tanker truck to ferry the sewage to a dumping ground or river.

Gurgaon’s developers can weather shortages in electricity by using diesel-powered generators … which serve only their own properties. They’ve beefed up the city’s 4,000-strong police force with an army of 35,000 private security guards.  (ideas.ted.com)

Another controversial topic regarding this developments is their relationship with surrounding slum areas.

Sewage trucks will frequently bypass treatment plants and dump their contents on public land, and while it poses a health hazard to nearby slums, public officials don’t have the resources to counter such infractions.(ideas.ted.com)

What we see here is double exploitation of the urban space: on one hand, exclusive private provision of municipal services is hampering public provision; on the other hand, the enclaves expulse their unwanted bits to the surroundings such as dumping their sewage on public land.

All in all, we should ask ourselves, if we want to live in such an unsustainable dystopia before it is too late. Because this is what we are heading towards with a speed of light in this level of the commodification of urban space.

High Rise (2016) – Ever wanted something more?

Ben Wheatley shot a movie about my thesis 😀 Can’t wait to see 🙂

The movie is based on J.G. Ballard’s novel written in the 1970s. However, considering the housing situation, condo developments, branded housing projects, housing enclaves, and various forms of exclusionary housing, it is very much about contemporary urban issues.

High-Rise is a 2015 British science fiction action thriller film directed by Ben Wheatley, starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy and Keeley Hawes. The screenplay by Amy Jump is based on the 1975 novel of the same name by J.G. Ballard. It was produced by Jeremy Thomas through his production company Recorded Picture Company.

In September 2015, the film received its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and its European premiere at the 63rd San Sebastián Film Festival. The film is scheduled to be released in the United Kingdom on 18 March 2016 by StudioCanal.

Check amazing trailers out! I absolutely love that they shot the first trailer as a housing project advertisement.

 

Taking Our Streets Back: Stripping Them of the Advertisements?

Comic by Gavin Aung Than

They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you, now it is time to take it back…

“People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you. You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity. Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.” -BANSKY

What a Bloody Screw-up: Venice Syndrome

 

Venice Syndrome brilliantly tells the story of a city turning to be a museum and loosing its soul by loosing its citizens.

 

What a Bloody Screw-up: Venice Syndrome

 

Director: Andreas Pichler
Release: 2012 (imdb)

From the synopsis:

Twenty million foreigners visited the city last year. That’s an average of 60,000 day. And this year it will be more still. By comparison, there are only 58,000 inhabitants, the same amount as they were after the Great Plague of 1438. And next year it will be fewer still.
For the city is becoming uninhabitable. Venice’s own urban life has almost collapsed; it scarcely still exists.

The film shows what remains of Venetian life: a subculture of tourist service industries; a port for monstrous cruisers which is waiting to be expanded; Venetians who are moving to the mainland as there are no longer affordable apartments to be found; an aged noblewoman who treats the municipal council with scorn; a realtor who is considering abandoning the sinking ship.

A Requiem for a still grand city.
An illustration of how common property becomes the prey of few.
An elegy to the last Venetians, their humour and their hearts. (venicesyndrome.com)

 

Busted: How Aid Money was Invested in Housing Enclaves and Shopping Centres

In 2014, Guardian revealed that British anti-poverty aid money was spent for gated communities, shopping centres and luxury property in poor countries.

CDC, the little-known investment arm of the British aid programme, has invested more than $260m (£154m) in 44 property and construction companies in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

At least 20 of these are hotels, shopping centres or companies that build or manage gated communities and luxury property, according to Guardian research.

CDC, formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation, says these investments will create thousands of jobs for poor people in construction and services. But leading British NGOs questioned how supporting upmarket property could be an acceptable use of UK aid money. (Guardian)

Some examples CDC was invested in are taking attention with luxury lifestyles they offer (below):

A glossy brochure for Garden City in Nairobi, which includes 400-plus flats and townhouses, boasts: “From the aquamarine water of the heated swimming pool to the ultra-modern fitted kitchen, solid bamboo flooring and glass balcony balustrades, quality is the defining characteristic of the Garden City Village.”

A brochure for Azuri, a development for the CDC-backed Indian Ocean Real Estate Company, invites would-be residents to “Close your eyes and imagine yourself breathing in the warm Indian ocean breeze, absorbing all that the Mauritian lifestyle has to offer.”

Azuri offers “exquisite, high-quality living” with an expansive oceanfront resort, five-star hotel, yacht club and spa – “the ideal living environment to promote both bodily and spiritual happiness”.

In Nigeria investments also include two Protea hotels – part of a chain recently bought by Marriott International – including one in Lagos at which rooms booked online start at $400 a night.(Guardian)

I wonder what happened since 2014. I don’t think much has changed since the excuse is to create jobs with luxury investment. This also shows the approach to working class people: people who have nothing to do but serve the rich and accept this as a good thing to do. The framing is so obvious and hideous: we create jobs for them with our luxury lifestyles, so they should be grateful for us to live like that! Shame on you!

This is not the only case, though. TOKI-Housing Administration in Turkey-, for example, claim that by constructing luxury housing enclaves for upper-middle income groups, they are able to build affordable housing for the poor. So, the poor should be grateful to TOKI by construction houses for the rich.

Thank you, thank you sir, case closed.

Vietnam’s Housing Enclaves Where Even the Air is Cleaner!

 

Wide spread of gated communities is global with different scales, characteristics and contingencies.

 

Gated communities and vast, privately built and managed “new towns” like these have spread across southeast Asia over the last 20 years as rising levels of inequality have redefined the region’s cities. Vietnam as a whole has seen a dramatic reduction in poverty over the same period – but inequality is growing, and becoming increasingly marked in the country’s expanding urban areas. (Guardian)

 

Rise in equality is the major drive behind this spread. Check this out rent for a villa in Ciputra housing enclave is 25 times the minimum wage in Vietnam! 25 times!

 

Beyond Ciputra’s walls, villas painted shades of beige are set amid lush private gardens – with price-tags of as much as £3,000 a month to rent (25 times the minimum wage). A world unto itself, the complex is a land of Greek revival architecture, tennis courts and amenities including a beauty salon and a post office. The United Nations International School moved there in 2004, followed by two other private schools, and a private kindergarten. Under construction still are a mega-shopping mall and a private hospital. (Guardian)

 

Well take a deep breath, or not! The most disgraceful part of the story of Vietnam’s housing enclaves is the commodification of air!

 

While security concerns and a fear of urban crime are typically among the motives driving the elite behind walls in cities in South America and sub-Saharan Africa, in Hanoi developments are increasingly being marketed as exclusive enclaves of convenience and clean air, away from the air pollution and traffic congestion of the city. (Guardian)

 

Traffic in Hanoi, Vietnam         Image Credit: Guardian

But, not everything is smooth, thanks to ordinary folk 🙂

Locals protesting development of a housing enclave Image Credit: Guardian

For the full story check Inside Hanoi’s gated communities

Meet Nigeria’s Private City: Same Story, Extreme Location

Eko Atlantic is where you can begin to see a possible future – a vision of privatized green enclaves for the ultra rich ringed by slums lacking water or electricity, in which a surplus population scramble for depleting resources and shelter to fend off the coming floods and storms. Protected by guards, guns, and an insurmountable gully – real estate prices – the rich will shield themselves from the rising tides of poverty and a sea that is literally rising. A world in which the rich and powerful exploit the global ecological crisis to widen and entrench already extreme inequalities and seal themselves off from its impacts – this is climate apartheid. (Guardian)

 

Eco Atlantic is one of the mushrooming private cities all around the world. The pattern shows us an extreme version of rising inequalities. While the rest of the society struggles with the lack of urban services, this private island provides upper – middle classes all the services privately and exclusively. As it is argued in this Guardian article, this is a form of apartheid.

Unless accessing the key urban infrastructure is considered as a human right, we will see these extreme versions of ultra-exclusive spaces.