Ankara: The Municipality

Ankara – The Municipality
In Bishkek even a small fish can become a big guy, simply because there isn’t much in the country. Few factories, few bigger stores, few contemporary apartment buildings, few good restaurants, few of anything – and thus very little competition. There simply isn’t a lot of development, a lot of visible variety. The country is still emerging, often time in ways that make it feel like the whole country isn’t moving forwards together.
Even the road from the airport to Ankara proper was a shock. By city standards it isn’t much – a mix of suburban housing developments, factories, outlet stores, office buildings and roadside restaurants. But after the barrenness of Bishkek, all I could notice was the abundance of opportunity, of people grabbing a stake in their country. In Bishkek small entrepreneurs are motivated by survival; in Ankara, it seems zeal. Everywhere there were bright signs for small businesses, be they construction, furniture, lawn ornaments and giant Disney statues. These individual enterprises are mixed in with new developments, a coca cola bottling factory, giant grocery stores, carpet warehouses. It’s a county of mid-sized entrepreneurs, a country of people personally pushing it forward, growing. Of course many people in Turkey cling to the stability of stable office jobs. But the atmosphere is so different from Bishkek, and I feel I’ve shaken myself of that clinging desperation mixed with the arrogance of the newly rich that enwombs the city.
I realize I haven’t been out of Kyrgyzstan since March, and most of that time I spent in Bishkek or the near vicinity. It may be the longest I’ve spent in such a small geographical area, and my perceptions may be a bit warped. Turkey isn’t perfect. But coming from cold, violent Chicago and the dismal disarray of Bishkek, it seems at least far more warm and alive.
Last night we walked through a park not far from the apartment, a park tucked into a gourge between two of Ankara’s many hills. A park is an interesting indicator of the relationship between state and citizens. In China, tellingly, the parks often have entrance fees, prominently feature grand statues and reminders of China’s majestic history, and no one is allowed to sit or walk on the grass. In Bishkek they’re beautiful, but overgrown and underkept, with bumpy sidewalks and weeds threatening the soviet-era swing sets and monuments half hidden by private-sector ice cream stands and inflatable play castles. In Chicago the parks are sometimes beautiful, sometimes dirty and dangerous – though that truly depends on where you reside in the city. In my hometown the parks are clean, full of picnic tables and swing sets, have functioning public toilets and reasonable rules covering public safety and public decency. Last night we walked along a newly cobbled path that meandered by an artifically-directed river studded with lit fountains and boardwalk cafes where people sat sipping chai and chatting. It seemed like the place was provided just for citizens to enjoy themselves, something designed with users in mind – and designed to reflect positively on the government, giving a grander image to he Capitol. But still, it was primarily a place where people could unwind and enjoy the elves with family or friends without worrying too much about gang fights or broken sidewalks or accidentally infringing on some law by stepping off the path.

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