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July 08, 2009

Turkish Delights

In pursuing a global perspective on the future of the world’s cities, IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook could have hosted deep dive discussions in nearly a thousand locations around the world. But you would have a hard time picking a more compelling location than Istanbul.

Besides being one of the largest cities in the world, with more than 12 million residents, Istanbul is the cultural and financial center of modern day Turkey. It straddles two different continents (Asia and Europe.) It has been the capital city of no fewer than four different empires (Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman). And its history dates back more than 8,000 years, during which time it has been known by countless different names (Constantinople and Byzantium, to name a few).

Not surprisingly, this long and rich past plays a central role in shaping Istanbul’s future. Our meeting featured a robust collection of local expertise, from Turkish universities to government leaders to some of the most successful private companies in the country. And many in the room agreed that transformation in Istanbul cannot be pursued without first considering the past. But whether history is Istanbul’s opportunity or challenge depends on who you ask. Two comments from the dive illustrate these contrasting views:

“Istanbul has so much history and each culture tries to put a straightjacket on the direction of development.”

And

“History and heritage can make a city a center of excellence.”

These starkly contrasting statements demonstrate how historical legacy can either be seen as a burden or an asset. Making ancient cities smarter is indeed a formidable challenge. Aside from the logistical difficulties of retrofitting systems that were designed hundreds of years ago, it can be nearly impossible to get citizens that are still culturally tied to the past to embrace change.

But if Istanbul’s history has taught us anything, it’s that great cities can be made and remade dozens of times over the years, and nothing is forever. In that spirit, participants in the Istanbul dive advocated for a new era of urban planning. Not the kind of planning that gets constantly interrupted by election cycles or quarterly earnings. But the kind of planning that is informed by a deep understanding of the citizens of a city, and an enduring vision of what the city can and should become.

“Istanbul has been a center for civilization for a long time,” said one participant. “People still come here and leave their culture. And Istanbul still embraces these cultures, and incorporates them into the dynamic nature of the city. So the city of the future should be the city that listens to people and their agenda.”

Many in the room recognized that a new ability to listen to citizens now exists with the millions of people already communicating through social networking sites and the like. And it is this generation of Turks that most participants identified as the key to Istanbul’s future. The trick is converting their input into insight, and crafting a plan that both moves the city forward while preserving its precious history.

July 8, 2009 | Permalink

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It is one of the greatest cities in theis region.

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interesting! its history dates back more than 8,000 years, during which time it has been known by countless different names

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