“Have you noticed the change in the city?” – Mass Media and Housing Futures in Turkey
“Have you noticed the change in the city?” – Mass Media and Housing Futures in Turkey
“Have you noticed the change in the city?”
The above slogan is from an advertisement for a branded housing project in Istanbul (Figure 1). Istanbul is changing, so do the other cities in Turkey. The change is unprecedented and controversial. The change follows the neoliberal restructuring in this country, and in this context, branded housing projects, as housing enclaves providing services and facilities exclusively for their residents, have been developed since the early 2000s. The branded housing projects are produced under certain brands and advertised extensively through mass media while implementing various branding techniques and strategies. Although their extensive development in turkey take attention, it should be noted that this type of development is far from being a unique and can be seen in many other contexts such as Latin American Countries, Singapore, India, and Nigeria.
Figure 1: Agaoglu My World Atasehir Project magazine advertisement (Yeni Para, n.d.)
Since the 1970s, neoliberalism has been produced and contested globally in urban areas (Peck et al., 2013) while having “pervasive effects on ways of thought to the point where it has become incorporated into the common-sense way many of us interpret, live in, and understand the world” (Harvey, 2007, p. 3). Representation of housing futures and everyday life in mass media is part of this pervasive practice.
Representation of housing futures in mass media is an intricate one regarding various layers such as the representation of future everyday life in the projects, future residents, and the expectation and aspirations. In other words, understanding the mass media discourse is critical in understanding the production of ‘idealised’ housing futures.
The critical case study of the branded housing project that this article based on shows the some vital insights into recent discursive formation of branded housing as well as idealised housing futures in Turkey. The case study particularly focuses on the branded housing projects developed by Emlak Konut Real Estate Partnership (Emlak Konut GYO) – the major state developer in Turkey – in Istanbul between 2003 and May 2014.
Emlak Konut GYO developed 43 branded housing projects in this period in Istanbul (Emlak Konut GYO, 2014), which corresponds to 5% of the total number of branded housing projects in Istanbul based on the numbers provided in the report of EVA Real Estate (Gokkaya, 2014). As Figure 2 shows, the projects are fairly distributed within the city’s macroform.
Figure 2: Distribution of Emlak Konut GYO branded housing projects in Istanbul
(Source: The author | Basemap Source: Google Maps)
(Darker red points represent completed projects and lighter ones represent continuing projects by August 2014.)
The case study used specific subsets from these 43 projects for each layer of analysis in order to research a representative sample and comprehensive data sets while staying within manageable numbers of research subjects. The mass media discourse was captured and analysed through catalogues, advertisements and newspaper articles. For this critical discourse analysis, 28 catalogues of the projects produced by different developers, with different brands, and in different time periods, 8 print advertisements and 181 newspaper articles published by the first four highly circulated newspapers were identified, collected and analysed.
According to Jones (2006), the Gramscian analysis of different media and texts can connect the contents of media and text with agencies of cultural production: “Consideration of a newspaper article would reflect on the patterns of ownership at that moment, the composition of the reading public, the role of government in licensing the press and the activities of industry watchdogs” ( Jones, 2006, p. 5). Such an analysis can provide a basis to discuss the discourse together with the dynamics which produce the content, as well as the effect of the discourse on people, as in this research.
Newspaper Articles and Their Discontents
“Neither economics (e.g. money controls the media) nor culture (e.g. people’s values shape the media) contains the only key to unlock our understanding of communication.” (Mosco, 2009, p. 156)
As Mosco points out, in addition to the content of mass media discourse, it is also crucial to understand the economics behind the production of media discourse. A simple way for this investigation is analysing news-gathering practices. According to Kumar’s (2007) neo-Gramscian dominance-resistance model, the news source and the news collection methods explain how the news content is produced and reveal the dynamics of producing a hegemonic image for the projects through mass media. Identifying the news source unpacks whose views are represented in the news content while the news collection method (e.g. event attendance or interviewing the references) reveal practical limitations of contemporary journalism in the selection of news content.
The results show that the news articles are produced mainly by being based on the views of the executives of the development companies. Nearly half of the total number of references in the news is to these executives. In addition, the articles are heavily based on ready-made content distributed by the development companies, PR department or press releases of public institutions (which are also actors in these projects). Among those news articles for which collection methods were identified, one-fifth of the articles are based on meetings, ceremonies or press conference attendances, while two-fifths are based on various documents (e.g. reports). The results also show that counter-views are not represented in the articles. References to alternative sources (such as the project residents and NGOs) are extremely limited (referred to only 5 times in 181 news articles). Therefore, the discourse in this sense is produced by the hegemon groups.
Branded Housing Projects as Superior Places
The results of the case study reveals that, firstly, mass media discourse presents branded housing projects as superior places to the rest of the city, which contributes to the idealisation of these so-called luxury housing developments. The discourse presents these developments in relation with extremity (e.g. the best development in Europe or having the largest sport centre in the country) and affirmation by claiming that living in these places gives the resident rights to access world-class facilities.
An interesting point is that the emphasis on the brand is similar to other commodities on the market. Being branded is presented as a positive input and as a way of guaranteeing a high standard of living and certainty for the end product. Therefore, the similarity of the project with other projects of the same brand becomes a positive aspect and a desirable characteristic of a branded product.
On the other hand, the brands are also associated with unique experiences and living environments for their residents by being different and better from the rest of the housing stock and other housing projects. To illustrate, the print advertisement for the Istmarina Project (Figure 3) associates the superiority of the project with its uniqueness and claims “There is not any [project like this] in Dubai, Hong Kong, Sydney, New York, London or Tokyo. The best mixed life project [referring to mixed use] in the world has been rising in Istanbul” (Sabah, 2014).
Figure 3: Left Istmarina Project newspaper advertisement (Sabah, 2014), Right Ispartakule Project newspaper advertisement (Sabah, 2008)
Branded Housing Projects as Places of Opportunity
The discourse, secondly, presents these projects as places creating opportunities and advantages for a variety of groups such as individuals, the city as a whole and society. To illustrate, for individuals, these developments are presented as investment tools, as well as homeownership opportunities. The discourse also presents these housing projects as assets contributing to the city through improving the quality of the environment and urban life. On the other hand, for society the projects are presented as developments that create economic value to the benefit of the all as well as presenting the projects promoters for the economy by attracting foreign capital to the country. A news article excerpt published just before the 2008 economic crash (below) shows an ironic example considering the known effects of the crash on the Spanish economy and abandoned construction projects in this period.
“Let’s look at Spain and France, and sell the foreigners 1 million houses” (Hurriyet, 2007)
As a result, the discourse of projects as places of opportunity that every parties benefit from veils the high profits that the developers gain from these projects as well as the raison d’être of these profit-oriented developments.
Branded Housing as More-Than-Housing
“From now on, while buying a house, the having a ‘roof over my head’ period is over. Branded housing projects add many activities from social facilities to pitches where professional sports can be played, even hobby rooms, while selling the houses.” (Taş, 2012)
The projects, thirdly, are presented as a provision of something more than housing in the media discourse. This content is conveyed through the promise of a better life and living area, providing key urban infrastructure privately, and supporting welfare and well-being of the residents by the projects. The discourse propagates that these developments contribute to welfare and well-being of the residents through a better provision of the urban infrastructure, solving urban problems and meeting the residents’ everyday needs. It is also claimed that the projects contribute to people’s physical health and mental well-being as places where the residents find happiness and peace, and with their open-green spaces and sports facilities.
In conclusion: ‘Branded Housing is Good for All, So Let’s Build More’
To conclude, current mass media discourse in Turkey frames the branded housing projects as ideal places to live and an ideal way of developing more housing. It propagates that production of these projects is a win-win situation for individuals, society and the economy. Therefore, the discourse contributes production of social consent for these developments by shaping (Gramscian) common sense for housing futures around this idealised image of branded housing. This hegemonic discourse poses more questions than answers about the housing futures in Turkey. Perhaps the most critical one is do we want to live in a patchwork city composed of segregated housing insulars?
Emlak Konut GYO, 2014. Emlak Konut GYO A.S. Activity Report 2014. [online] Istanbul: Emlak Konut GYO. Available at: http://www.emlakkonut.com.tr/_Assets/Upload/Images/file/TheEmlakKonutREICActivityreportfor2014.pdf
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Sabah, 2008. Ispartakule Project Newspaper Advertisement.
Sabah, 2014. Istmarina Newspaper Advertisement.
Tas, D., 2012. Ev sahibi olmak icin son firsatlar. Sabah.
Yeni Para, n.d. Agaoglu My World Atasehir Advertisement.