It’s hard to believe almost 3 months have gone by since the London adventure began, and here I am back in central Anatolia. Through the flickering airpline lights, the descent revealed snow, and lots of it.
It reminded me of the return trip from Stockholm last year – managing to get one of the last flights out before the piles of snow kept flights grounded for a day. Hot on the heals of Munich, where we sat waiting on the tarmac for an hour until the plows did their work, a very similar scene greeted us upon landing. Now for the snow giddy amongst us, this was a good thing. Snow, and lots of it. But lets remember where we are – Turkey and this was an extreme weather event. A natural disaster, no, but extreme weather event yes.
Good thing our van home had winter tires. The trip back was part Canadian Rockies snow, part Minnesota highways with balance of Turkish confusion. Cars crashed, cars abandoned, cars spinning their wheels, teams of men pushing, tying snow chains on (highway mind you). The 45 minute ride back from the airport took almost 2 hours. Entertaining? Yes, in a tragi-comedy way.
Two things immediately came to mind. Ankara, and Turkey for that matter needs some serious public transport infrastructure. Ankara is earthquake safe, the population and city grows in leaps and bounds. I was thinking, with a good subway, most of the crashed/abandoned stuck cars would surely be avoided. The easy to guess response would be ‘but we don’t have funds! Such a project will take years.’ Brief answer: short term pain, long term gain. International development organizations are in the country and attractive growth rates should not make this equation hard to resolve. There has been no real effort to brand Ankara, otherwise a bureaucratic middle income country hub. A couple of international basketball matches doesn’t cut it and high profile political visits are part of the package, not an added bonus. How long can the charms of Istanbul stand as the gateway for the rest of the land spreading east? Turkey stands to lose in the long run without an investment in logic… and logistics, especially as the other CIVIT’ii catch up.
Secondly, extreme weather events like this reveals the true capacity of the authorities in charge – be it municipal, provincial or national. It’s easy to splash on a fresh coat of paint, hang banners from light posts and spare no expense in welcoming extravagances, but a true test of capability could be an extreme weather event. I’m not suggesting natural disasters, but something that really tests infrastructure. So how did Turkey, or rather Ankara cope this time? Poorly.
Proper planning prevents poor performance. Turkey has every potential to succeed – it’s just a matter of investment – be it education, sports, an international intermediary or growing business hub, riding on its character as a metaphorical and literal ‘bridge’ between east and west. Little things count – paving sidewalks where mud is the terre-de -choix, or just ensuring footpaths are even and maintained is a simple step. Build now, deal with the consequences later is creating unnecessary frustration and expense. If governments, here, want to restore trust and competency for the citizens they apparently/are supposed to serve, a little deliberative planning and investment would not go astray. Or is city-planning/design as university courses just further splashes of paint?