|BODRUM - Once a tranquil town surrounded by uninhabited hills, Bodrums transformation into one of Turkeys largest summer tourism spots has resulted in sprawling urban development and government plans for yet more growth. But the locals are taking a stand against the plans, arguing that the administration should take residents input into consideration.
The construction of tourism facilities and summerhouses has destroyed the beautiful nature in Turkeys Aegean towns, which now depend heavily on tourism income. Decades-old black and white photos are some of the only records left of the areas quieter days.
Once a small fishing town in western Turkey, Bodrum has become a top summer destination for both foreigners and local tourists. In addition to its natural beauties, the sea and the sun, Bodrum is a world-renown hotspot for nightlife. Of course, developing the towns famous establishments came with a price, best seen in the aerial photos of the town taken 44 years ago.
In a picture taken in 1965, Bodrum is a tiny town, with houses concentrated in the region around the ancient Bodrum Castle. The hills surrounding the town are empty as far as the eye can see. But today, the town is nothing but a concrete jungle.
Not only the town itself, but the whole peninsula faces the risk of being destroyed after the Cabinet decision May 11 that announced Yalıkavak, Gündoğan and Göltürkbükü as "tourism centers." The decision will make getting a construction permit for hotels easier, but it is a decision that politicians and activists in Bodrum believe will be abolished by the court.
"Every small piece of private land on the shore now has a building on it," said Bodrum Mayor Mehmet Kocadon, adding the only empty lands were the ones owned by the government. "It is time to put an end to this madness; it is time for Bodrum to take a breath. If the subject is Bodrum, the rest is all details."
Kocadon recalled a Cabinet decision in 2006 that declared the entire Bodrum peninsula a "tourism center." "We filed a lawsuit against it, and we managed to have the decision rejected by the Council of State after two years," he said. "And now they want the north of the peninsula."
Kocadon said the government should ask for suggestions from locals and experts before making such decisions.
"Bodrum is a holiday town. And it is Turkeys second door to Europe after Istanbul," said Kocadon. "The town should not lose its characteristics."
Yalıkavak Mayor Mustafa Saruhan of the Republican Peoples Party, or CHP, argued that the most important thing to do is plan, adding that the plan for Bodrum has repeatedly changed in the past 30 years.
"I do not wish to have any more buildings in Yalıkavak," said Saruhan when asked about the governments decision. "We must cooperate with the government to solve every problem, including overbuilding. Blaming one another is not the answer; in that case, we will all lose."
Chamber of Architects Bodrum representative Mahmut Yıldırım said the problem is in "the governments will to take all the power into its own hands." He said private properties make up a very small portion of the empty land in town and that the government will decide what will happen now.
"What bothers people is the ambiguity in the governments decision. As the Culture and Tourism Ministry has the authority to make plans, many fear that the public land will soon be allocated for tourism facilities," he said, adding that some people are "already acting to grab a share of the loot."
Yıldırım said planning is needed because having no development plan creates the risk of having shanty houses in the area. "The region from the Yalı district to Gökova was declared a tourism center 15 years ago. But no plans for construction were made. This means you are telling the citizens dont build houses, dont have children, dont create businesses. Of course, that is impossible, that is why the area is now full of unregistered buildings," he said.
Yıldırım also mentioned the importance of coordination between the government and the locals.
"Even if the government creates the plans, it should get the opinions of the people in Bodrum," he said. "Bodrum can help create a new model for Turkey through cooperation with local administrations, but unfortunately the government tries to impose the methods it implements all around Turkey. Most problems will go away if Bodrum is left to the people of Bodrum."
Filiz Dizdar, spokesperson of the Mavi Yol Girişimi (Blue Line Initiative), an environmental association, noted that overbuilding has been a longtime problem in Bodrum. The peninsula has serious infrastructure problems, she said, another reason the region should not have any more buildings.
Buildings without water
"The infrastructure work should be completed, agricultural lands and wetlands should be allocated and then it should be decided to what ratio of the area construction will be allowed," she said.
Another major problem on the Bodrum peninsula is a lack of sufficient water. Dizdar said many districts use underground water, and the peninsula will have even bigger problems if the wells are closed. "Although the water is not enough for the number of current buildings, we are still building new ones," she said.
According to Dizdar, the struggle between the municipalities contributes to the problems. "A major portion of the municipalities income comes from the building permits," she said. "But this situation cannot go on. The people in Bodrum should be involved in the process of preparing new plans for the future."