Regional, rural and urban development

OECD review of the metropolitan area of Istanbul


by Angel Gurría, Secretary-General
delivered at a press conference with the Mayor of Istanbul during an official visit to Turkey
Istanbul, 17 October 2006

It is a great honour for me to be here with the Mayor of Istanbul, Mr. Kadir Topbaş. It provides me with the perfect opportunity to showcase the vital work that the OECD is undertaking with key Mayors around the world.

Many of you may be asking yourselves “Why is the OECD, an international organisation, interested in cities?”  The OECD’s main mandate is to make the world economy work better to the benefit of all. We will not be able to achieve this goal without the active involvement of big cities.

Cities are the driving motor of their national economies. Most OECD metropolitan regions have a higher GDP per capita than their national average and a higher growth rate. Why is this? In part, it is simply a function of their sheer size.  But, it is also caused by the synergy that is produced when many people are brought together in close proximity. The geographic proximity of enterprises and people creates an excellent environment for innovation and knowledge exchange, often resulting in productivity gains and increased competitiveness.

But there is also an Urban Paradox. That is, big cities are often rich and successful but they also confront the greatest challenges. Permit me to name a four which come to mind:

  • Intensive industrial restructuring. Istanbul's textile industry is challenged by emerging cities in China, Eastern Europe and other Asian countries; but it is not the only one. Even a richer metropolitan area like Milan has seen its famous textile industrial districts challenged by new low costs comers on the international market.
  • The socio-economic consequences of such trends. Unemployment rates remain high in many large cities, even the richest ones, causing violence and poverty, generally concentrated in distressed neighbourhoods. OECD statistics show that criminality is higher by 30% in urban areas than in other types of regions.
  • Cities are also characterized by the concentration of harmful pollutants, which affect the air and water quality.   
  • In some cases, cities confront growing informal sector in the labour market. This is the case of Istanbul but I am thinking as well of the largest city of my country - Mexico - where around 30 to 50% of employees work informally.

Dealing with these issues is a difficult balancing act when cities are also facing fierce economic competition from other cities in attracting investment and talent. It requires wise policies and well functioning institutions - at all levels - to implement them. It also requires a good and transparent decision-making process that takes into account the voice of citizens and representatives of different sectors.

When talking about the global agenda, cities have a key role to play. In my mandate as Secretary-General of the OECD, I have recognised migration and water as main priorities. Both issues have a regional dimension. Cities attract people from everywhere and some have even become international hubs of migration. Water is a local issue that requires good management and strong institutional capacity. Cities have much to offer in the way of policy lessons.

Another item high on the international agenda is climate change. Here again, cities cannot be ignored as they generate 70% of total gas emission. I understand that Istanbul is being very responsive in this regard having signed the Clinton Climate Initiative last August along with the 23 other largest metropolitan areas in the world.

It was in this context that, in 2001, the OECD launched a series of metropolitan reviews . Our goal is to assess all types of urban policies so as to identify the best practices for cities to maximise their potential.

We are pleased that Istanbul, following cities such as Milan, Stockholm, Montreal, among others, has engaged in our assessment exercise. We have been working closely with the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and the State Planning Organisation on this review and we want to thank them for their excellent cooperation. We will complete the review by the end of this year and publish it in early 2007.

Although it is too soon to provide conclusions, I note that Istanbul has many challenges in common with other OECD metropolitan regions. Like Seoul, Istanbul is striving to improve its metropolitan governance to manage complex issues such as transport infrastructure. Like Tokyo, Istanbul has to incorporate earthquake risks into its building codes. Like Mexico City, Istanbul has to cope with a large informal sector. And like Shanghai, Istanbul has the ambition to become a regional logistics centre.

Cities in OECD countries are diverse and quite unique in their own ways, so the experiences are not always transferable.  However, there are often similarities, which we can use to learn from one another. Through its work on cities, the OECD will continue to support countries in their efforts to improve the prospects and quality of life of their citizens and that of the world economy.

I want to close by saying, Mr. Mayor, that we are delighted to be here and to have Istanbul participating in this area with the OECD. I hope Istanbul will benefit from the collective knowledge accrued by the OECD. I am sure we will be learning from Istanbul and sharing what we learn with the rest of the world, and probably you will be called upon to share it too.


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