People who don’t like Ankara, especially those not native to the city, typically have two complaints about it. The first is that, like much of Turkey, it has no sea. But not every place can be on the Mediterranean, Black Sea, or the Aegean, and geography cannot be helped, so let’s take a look at strike number two.
People say there is nothing to do in Ankara. Whenever I hear that my mind goes back to when we spent the fourth quarter of Civics in 8th grade doing Project Citizen and the ‘problem’ my class tackled was that there was nothing to do in Plymouth (The mall is in Kingston, so therefore Plymouth was bereft of any sort of entertainment). My second reaction is to think ‘well of course there are things to do in Ankara.’ There are historical sites like Anitkabir and about a thousand museums in Ulus. There are several very large parks, many of which house amusement parks. There are 12 major shopping malls.
Recently, an unrelated comment from one of my students shed some light on what people really mean when they say there is nothing to do in Ankara. Ankara is the city you go to for work, and sometimes you also live there. Ankara is where scholars and politicians and government workers flock to if they want a prestigious job in their fields. It has become a place for very busy people who don’t always prioritize the arts and entertainment.
Outside the heart of the city, Ankara is very residential and becomes increasingly so the further out you go. I’ve talked with other Fulbrighters in the past about how I almost always make my own food and very rarely go out to eat. I always have to explain that I have five grocery stores in walking distance, but I don’t have a cig kofte place or a soup restaurant or a place to grab late night doner. There are a few cafes/a couple restaurants in the immediate area, but Eryaman was designed to be where your home is, not where you conduct your life.
I went for a walk the other morning. I went down a few paths I’ve never walked through, just to see where they went, and as suspected all I could see were apartment buildings. I tried to come up with an idea of understanding just how many people lived in my section of the neighborhood, and then expand that to all the other neighborhoods Ankara has.
On my last bus trip home, coming in from Fethiye, I woke up just past five in the morning as we rolled through the very beginnings of Ankara. We transitioned from untouched fields to metropolis with the concrete skeletons of apartments buildings to come. Some had signs in front with very fancy names and a projected image of what they’ll look like at some unnamed date in the future when they are finished. How many new residences are currently being built for residents that don’t even know they are moving to Ankara yet? How much longer can Ankara go on growing? Even with the massive expansion that has happened over the last decade or so, there’s still plenty of fields on the outskirts of the city that could be turned into more apartments if necessary.
But I just can’t see that being practical much longer. When you take out the time walking to and from the metro stops, it takes 50 minutes to get from Eryaman 5 to Ulus, and another 5 or so to get into Kizilay, and another 15 to the neighborhood where the other Ankara girls live. (As a measuring stick, it takes 45 minutes top to drive from 4 White Oak to Wheaton.) There is a great deal of the city, not to mention the far away residential expansions, that is not accessible by metro, and if there are busses out that way there are maybe 1 or two. Expecting all new residents to get cars isn’t practical—putting aside the fact that there would be nowhere to put them all, cars are extremely expensive in Turkey. So how are all these new residents expected to get to their jobs in the center of the city?
It’s become quite clear that Turkey is going through something of a transition period. I can’t predict what will happen with that any more than I could say whether it will be rainy on September 24, but I think it’s fitting that as the country changes, the city that houses its government is under construction as well.