It looks as if the month of May has ended before it started. We spent the weekends and two holidays at home. We were alone with ourselves. For most of us, it was the quietest spring of our lives. This does not mean that in other places in the world there were no other beautiful spring inspirations that we could very well adopt ourselves.

In Turkey, the pandemic seems to have also opened asphalt season for some local administrations. Municipalities regarded this period as a huge opportunity to pave asphalt. Well, everybody is at home, which facilitates this greatly. The Ankara Metropolitan Municipality has paved a total of 23,302 tons of asphalt on May 16-19, when there was a curfew. Including other curfew days, the metropolitan municipality used more than 77,000 tons of asphalt. If this continues at that speed, then the municipality will have paved more asphalt in one month than the total amount of tomatoes the province produces.  

96 kilos of asphalt per person   

When compared to the former mayor Melih Gökçek’s era, the amount of asphalt paved is much less, but nevertheless, when the pandemic and climate change are taken into consideration, this amount is just too much. Unfortunately, only one-third of this amount is for maintenance, while the rest is for renewal and for new roads.

Each kilogram of asphalt is good for transportation centered on automobiles, for automotive companies profiting from automobiles and fuel, for oil companies and for the government that feeds on vehicle taxes, special consumer taxes and added value taxes. Obviously, these things are no good for the people and nature. On the contrary, they are very harmful. This is information that is accepted by society. Only politics doesn’t talk about this.

While the situation is like this, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality announced that it had paved 200,000 tons of asphalt during the same period. For the İzmir Metropolitan Municipality, this figure is 418,000 tons. While İzmir leads the list, Istanbul, with its population of 16 million, is not worse than Ankara with its 5.6 population of 5.6 million. During these coronavirus days, Ankara has paved 14 kilograms of asphalt per person while Istanbul’s figure is 13 kilograms per person. İzmir, on the other hand, has done the biggest and best favor to automotive and oil companies with 96 kilograms of asphalt per person. The losers are nature and society. 

These are examples of incorrect actions. Let us take a look at the correct examples. Here are some models that are inspiring and out-of-the-box, that make us say “This is it!” 

Ban on tar

Fox Chapel is a town in Pennsylvania. The town council banned the usage of coal tar on April 20. This tar is usually obtained from oil and coal. It is used in several mixtures and in asphalt pavements, water insulation, asphalt surface insulation, and so on. This material, which is also used to seal people’s driveways, has been banned because its chemicals can reach people’s respiratory tracts, it has cancerogenic effects and it pollutes nature when its chemicals are transported by rain.

These coal tar-based sealants are objected to in the U.S., especially in pedestrian areas. Over the past decade, several bans have been introduced. In many cities such as Austin and San Antonio and in states such as Washington and Wisconsin, there are bans and restrictions.

Car-free roads

With social distancing rules introduced by the coronavirus pandemic, paved sidewalks are no longer adequate. When you want to respect the one-and-a-half-meter physical distancing, the pavement is not wide enough. When you walk on a two-meter-wide sidewalk, one person has to walk on the road. Of course, if there is a third person involved, things become more complicated. When you add bikers, runners and joggers to this equation, then the existing infrastructure is inadequate.   

At the end of March, Philadelphia closed the main street of the city, Martin Luther King Street, to vehicles, and opened it to pedestrians to use so they could social distance. Likewise, Colombia’s Bogota added 76 kilometers of road area for bicyclists. It built 22 kilometers of it overnight. Bogota has 550 kilometers of bicycle lanes. The share of bicycles integrated into the city’s mass transportation system has exceeded 12 percent. This share is even more than that of the rail system in our cities.

The last example is from New York. Even though the city has been hit hardest by the pandemic, the municipality does not make the outbreak an excuse to conduct business as usual. The demand for the pedestrianization of the city to allow physical distancing was a political issue. Based on this, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the decision to close two streets to traffic in every district. The New York City Police Department will be in charge of enforcement. The municipality has started an enormous pedestrian transformation.

Quito’s gardens

Quito is Ecuador’s capital. Its population is around 1.4 million. Together with its environs, some 1,6871,000 people live there. The municipality did its homework on food and prepared a report. In this report, the consumer habits of the urban population, climatic occurrences and the basic parameters of several dimensions of food, from producer to consumer, have been calculated and needs have been determined. A plan was made based on the City Food System (2015-2018) report. In 2017, a joint platform named PAQ was formed. The plan, through the joint effort, has facilitated the production of 1,350 tons of agricultural goods annually in lands within the city and suburban neighborhoods. More than half of this amount is consumed by the households of the producers, while the rest is sold to neighbors. They send 11 tons of vegetables to poor neighborhoods every week.

Because the Quito municipality has this infrastructure, it was very well-prepared for the epidemic. It was able to make political decisions, from organizing markets and stores to the food problems of immigrants and food supply to the poor.

The joy of the month of May

There are very good examples in the world where coal tar is banned instead of paved during corona days, where, instead of working for the good of cars, municipalities work for the good of the people. If we apply New York City’s decision to Istanbul, then 78 streets in the city would be closed to traffic. In Ankara, 50 streets would be closed, and in İzmir, 60 streets would be closed to vehicle traffic. Instead of that, these three local governments have paved 700 thousand tons of asphalt. In New York, a bit less than 161 kilometers (100 miles) of streets will eventually be closed down to allow pedestrians more space.

The town of Fox Chapel, which has banned coal-based tar, Bogota, which has added 76 kilometers to its bike paths, New York, which has opened up its roadways to pedestrians, the municipality of Quito municipality that produces its food in gardens within the city: these are examples of local governance that make you happy, that inspire you, that make you feel like May has arrived. I hope our turn is next.