Economic growth and the rise of consumer borrowing have resulted in booming suburbs on the periphery of the city.

My doctoral research consists of investigating the lifestyles of Istanbul’s suburbanites as urban transformation has coincided with the rise of indebtedness and social polarization. They live in suburbs like Kemerburgaz-Göktürk, which has gated communities of manor-style houses as well as luxury condos; and Ataşehir and Bahçeşehir, where many families live in high-rise condo buildings.

A residential tower being built behind the Mimar Sinan mosque in Ataşehir in 2012
A residential tower being built behind the Mimar Sinan mosque in Ataşehir in 2012 © REUTERS/Murad Sezer - The construction of a residential tower is seen behind the newly built Mimar Sinan mosque in Atasehir on the Asian side of Istanbul in this September 4, 2012 file photo. Perched on the edge of a wasteland earmarked to become a financial district on Istanbul's Asian side, the curved facades of five massive luxury tower blocks sparkle in the sunshine, the centrepiece of a sprawling new residential complex. It is the sort of development that overseas property buyers in Turkey, mainly from Europe, have usually shied away from, investing instead in holiday homes along the country's Mediterranean and Aegean coasts. But a new wave of wealthy investors from the Middle East and Russia is increasingly eyeing luxury developments in bustling Istanbul, lured by a relaxation in property laws, relatively cheap prices and a thriving economy. Picture taken September 4, 2012. 

One of my interviewees, a high-ranking construction manager, told me: “It is all about a show of power relations. People are in debt, but what they show to other people is a fake prosperity. Social media nowadays in Istanbul is working as a mask to hide the indebtedness of the new middle classes.”

That is an incredible statement, explaining the current metamorphosis of life in Istanbul much better than any academic work could. Personally, I had never thought in this way, and it prompted new questions for me about the transformation of Istanbul’s periphery.

As part of my research, I am investigating two groups of people in the new middle classes of Istanbul. The first group consists of people able to network with the elites of the country. They can play the game of property speculation because they have either a high managerial position or some inherited wealth.

They usually own one house to live in and aspire to buy more and sell them at a profit, since real-estate prices in Istanbul have been increasing by about 20 percent a year (thanks to the rapid commodification of housing and the attraction of capital from the Persian Gulf).

The second group of people are those who are well-educated and work in the corporate sector, usually young professionals or couples hoping to buy a house as soon as possible.

Both of the groups rely on credit in the form of mortgages. The first group is using credit to increase its investment capacity, whereas the latter is using it to buy a dwelling. But the people in the second group may turn to investment once they’ve established a level of financial security.

....

However, the major effect of indebtedness may be on everyday life.

The manager I interviewed, who is planning to move to a suburb soon himself, said: “Usually people in those new suburban projects buy houses by mortgage credit. They basically work in the financial or marketing industries, and they could be identified as the new middle classes of Istanbul. Their life consists of paying their mortgage debts; that is why they usually stay at home nights and during the weekend. If they need to go out, they simply go to the closest shopping mall or they come together at friends’ houses.”

The new suburbanites are anxious for the maintenance of political stability, because an economic crisis could cause them to lose their jobs and not be able to pay off their debts. Because a home in a suburb requires a car or sometimes two, they will likely need credit for that purchase, as well.

New suburban life in Istanbul means being indebted, and this situation leads to the creation of new debts, in accordance with lifestyle expectations. Other interviews I’ve conducted bolster this conclusion. In the near future, the lifestyle of Istanbul’s suburban residents will become a major factor in Turkish society, because the commodification of housing is driving the social and economic forms of everyday life.