Livable Cities

Professor Zafer Erturk

Karadeniz Technical University
Trabzon, Turkey

It is an honor and indeed a pleasure to be with you in this historical city. First of all, I would like to thank all of those people: Dr. Arvanitis, the Ambassador of Turkey, Mr. Aktan, and Professor Keles who have created such an opportunity for us to get together. I believe we are starting to understand each other better in order to achieve a livable environment for us and for future generations.

As some of you well remember, during last October in Trabzon, Turkey, we came together and tried to set up a bridge between different cultures and professions towards working together for a better environment and better understanding.

I always hesitate to use the term ‘environment’ simply because that term has a wide and of course different meaning for different people. I am an architect, therefore, environment as a term for me means buildings; physical features of natural and artificial surroundings.

For an economist or politician, environment means something else. Today, I will try not to forget my profession and try to talk in architectural terms.

As we are living in a rapidly changing and developing world, these are the most important environmental issues we are facing at the moment:

  • urbanisation in the most developing parts of the world;
  • high rate of population growth in various parts of the world;
  • housing problems;
  • different planning problems;
  • different kinds of pollution;
  • loosening of the images of our cities – visual pollution; and
  • shortages of natural and artificial resources such as water and energy supplies.

Among the listed issues, for us as architects, visual pollution and rapid changes of the historical image of our cities and settlements are the most important ones, and of course different issues will be important to others.

I would like to ask a very basic question: What makes a city livable? A settlement first of all should meet the basic human needs such as housing, working and transportation. On the other hand, ‘city’ is not only a place where we meet our basic needs, but it is something more than that. It gives an identity and it should have an identity and personality. In our daily life, we ask each other: “Where do you come from?” When we answer, for example, let’s say Trabzon or Athens, we indicate some information about our habits, culture, language and also our beliefs. In this context, city means something more than a basic physical structure. It has something related to history, social life, culture, language and even music, etc. Therefore, identity, personality, cultural and historical heritage are the most important issues for our rapidly changing cities. So, I should say that the planners’ duty does not depend only on numbers but also on people, with their entire cultural and historical heritage.

Recently, I visited two very different North American cities. The first one is Dallas, which has plenty of identical huge buildings like models with too many glass surfaces and no personality or identity, because there is no unique history and culture there. Every building gives a machine image and it is very hard to see the importance of the human being. You can only feel the cold effects of high technology and a new concept of the aesthetic.

The second one, Santa Fe, is an old Mexican city that still retains its traditional construction style and, most important of all, its scale. The main difference between those two is the scale. Since the existence of huge and new buildings, the human being has been lost in Dallas. From the architectural point of view, Dallas means huge, and an inhuman environment even though the construction and technology are excellent. But in Santa Fe, parks, roads, streets, squares are full of people. It is on a human scale and the whole city reflects its history, culture and heritage. In most North American cities, the concept of the ‘city center’ or so called ‘downtown’ has been lost. On the other hand, in cities like Santa Fe, the concept of downtown is still alive and the city center is not only a place for shopping but also for social and cultural interaction. It is obvious that in new towns, as in North America, the role of the city center is unfortunately underestimated.

Now I would like to ask a second basic question; which one is more livable? The answer is clear: cities like Santa Fe. What makes Santa Fe a livable place? Features which bring us something from the past. In all urban environments like Trabzon, where I come from, Athens, Istanbul or Rome, we as human beings have our culture, and our past, and our personality. I believe that there is a lot to learn from them in designing new environments.

What could be done and which bodies are responsible for the creation of the alternatives for a better environment?

I believe that local governments, educational institutions and central governments have their own responsibilities on different levels. But much more than that, organisations such as the Biopolitics International Organisation have a unique role on the way towards creating an atmosphere in which different nations, even if they have different problems waiting to be solved, such as between Turkey and Greece, could work together.

We have tested the great Greek hospitality in the last two days. And we should realise that this hospitality and common behavior are the tradition of both sides of the Aegean Sea and will help very much to create solutions for environmental issues.

The interest in environmental issues is growing rapidly all over the world since the importance of them is well understood. I believe that all these conditions offer a unique opportunity to work together. The next step could be common research work on the environmental problems related to architecture in order to establish new design principles.

In this meeting, of course, important points on technical levels will be discussed in detail, but I would like to underline that the atmosphere which has been created by the Biopolitics International Organisation will affect the principle outcomes for future livable cities.

For her excellent efforts, I would like to thank Dr. Arvanitis again and also I would like to have the honor of inviting the Biopolitics International Organisation group to Trabzon and to my university for further common work together for the next generation in order to enjoy a more livable environment.



Professor Zafer Erturk, Ph.D., M.S., M.A., graduated in architecture and recieved a Master’s degree in Economics at LUT, England and a Ph.D. in building science from ITU, Istanbul. He is presently the Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration and Economics at the Black Sea Technical University in Trabzon, Turkey. He serves as Professor in architectural design in the Department of Architecture of the same university, and is also a designer of different kinds of buildings in Turkey, particularly of university campuses. The scope of his numerous publications includes those involving environmental problems, economics, anatolian architecture and the theory of design activity and design techniques.