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A Preview of Istanbul 16 Feb 1996

THE EARTH TIMES/INSTANBUL PREVIEW

FEBRUARY 16, 1996

HABITAT: II

A PREVIEW OF ISTANBUL

By Ashali Varma

United Nations, New York: As PrepCom3 for Habitat II winds down and diplomats and NGOs prepare to go home, one phrase can be heard again and again in the hallways of the United Nations building, “Meet you in Istanbul.”  The work on the City Summit’s document is not completed yet, to be sure, the issues not quite resolved, but there is certainly a sense that the Istanbul Conference will be something to look forward to–even though it cannot solve all the problems of today’s human settlements. When the PrepCom participants meet next for Habitat II, it will be in a city of 10 million people that is a perfect backdrop for the urbanization issues to be discussed. Istanbul has been preparing to host a conference that may have been only two years in the making, but whose provenance goes back to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

As Rabia Bakici of Turkey put it, “Istanbul is a mega-city. All of the problems, which are to be discussed at Habitat II are apparent in Istanbul–it is like a laboratory of ideas. If you have a conference in a place where you don’t see the bad side of things, you won’t see the reality of what needs to be done.”

These realities are hardly hidden in Istanbul: thick traffic, increasing pollution, sub-standard housing. Some local NGOs are worried that the authorities may inhibit their full participation in the City Summit. Rising unemployment has triggered a new wave of restlessness in cities and villages alike.

But other realities will undoubtedly strike visitors: the traditional Turkish warmth and hospitality; the dazzling history of Istanbul, a crossroads for Asia and Europe; the fascinating architecture; the bazaars; the colors; the cuisine; the museums.  No travel guide can possibly do justice to the city and its culture.

So Istanbul beckons.  The Earth Times expects to be there, covering the daily drama of the City Summit, reporting on the players and the programs they fashion.  For this newspaper, which has covered every major UN global conference since our birth five years ago, Habitat is an event to look forward to.  Istanbul may be technically a summit about our cities, but it is really conference on people.  And covering people, not just policies, is the stuff of our journalism.