The Tarlabaşı Community Centre is still looking for sponsors

For several reasons – some technical issues and a dire lack of time – the blog has been on hiatus for much too long, but what better reason to revive it than another plea for help for the embattled Tarlabaşı Community Centre ?

The centre was founded in 2005 as a project of the Istanbul Bilgi University Centre for Migration Research and was initially funded by the European Union. Later a private foundation covered the costs for keeping the increasingly popular community centre afloat, but with outside support finally trickling to a halt, the centre which had provided courses, creative workshops and psychological counsel for about 4,500 children and almost 2,500 grownups, finally had to close its doors and move into a much smaller space a few streets down from its former location.

However, there might still be a happy end: both residents and social workers want to keep the centre alive – all they now need is 60,000 TL (approximately US$ 25,000) to cover all its yearly costs.

According to a recent article on Bianet (Turkish), the Ministry for Family and Social Affairs had first offered financial assistance, but the promise was never held. Later the ministry proposed that the centre could continue working in the Social Services building of the Beyoğlu Municipality and that the ministry would pay salaries for four full-time employees.

Two weeks after the centre’s official request was sent to the ministry, the Family and Social Policy Provincial Directorate informed the Tarlabaşı Community Centre that they would carry out the proposed activities themselves, thus shutting down any hope for assistance. So far, the directorate has not made good on its promise, and most state-run social service centres in Istanbul provide only rudimentary social assistance like free lunches and pocket money for children of poor families and free bags of coal.

Ceren Suntekin, responsible for social services at the independent Tarlabaşı Community Centre, underlined that their project had a very different understanding of social work, and that the centre had quickly gained the trust and full support of the neighbourhood residents.

“Of course everyone was very sad. The centre has become such an important place for the neighbourhood. Support from both the children and the parents in the neighbourhood has been extraordinary.” And she added: “All along they have been asking what they could do to help us keeping the centre open and running.”

In November 2013, the centre finally had to move out of their old 400 m2 building on Kalyoncu Kulluk Caddesi – but they decided that they would not give up.

“We had to stop several of our music classes and other creative workshops, because we could no longer pay any of the teachers and because of a lack of space”, Suntekin explained. “It’s all a bit cramped now. But everyone loves the new centre, it is incredibly busy. And everyone keeps saying that it is better to have a smaller centre than to close down everything.”

The new home of the community centre is small – only one floor in a flat of 70 m2 – and there is now only one classroom which means that many activities had to be reduced, and some, like preschool classes, had to be dropped altogether. Grown-ups now come only in the mornings, while all activities for children have been scheduled for the afternoon.

And things have changed in Tarlabaşı. Much of the renewal area neighbouring the centre now stands empty and dilapidated. Only a handful of families still hold out against pending eviction orders, their court cases are ongoing. Most of the abandoned buildings have been looted for wood, metal and plastic, leaving most of them without windows and doors. Recently, some have been turned into makeshift homes by Syrian refugees – families who cannot afford to live anywhere else.

Ceren Suntekin explained that some Syrian residents have started to frequent the centre and for a while now, volunteer teachers offer free Turkish lessons three times a week. “They come here to learn Turkish so that they are able to look for a job, to make a living, to be less dependent”, Suntekin said. Over 600,000 Syrian refugees now live in Turkey, 100,000 of them in Istanbul, though many estimate these numbers to be much higher.

Some of the centre’s much needed support activities such as family counselling will be carried out outside of the walls of the centre. “We will increase home visits and help people deal with several issues in their own houses.” Several psychologists provide at no cost counselling for domestic problems such as parenting, violence, drug abuse and intra-family communication. Volunteer lawyers also offer legal advice to local residents.

But despite the reduced size of their project, despite the good will and the overwhelming support and solidarity shown by Tarlabaşı residents and volunteers, the centre is still struggling to make ends meet.

“In order to stay afloat, we need another 60,000 TL this year”, Suntekin said. Half of their modest yearly budget – for rent, amenities and the salaries of two full time and three part-time employees – is currently raised by Istanbul’s Bilgi University. Suntekin added that finding sponsors abroad proved difficult: “Maybe it’s because Tarlabasi doesn’t sound glamorous enough. Maybe the neighbourhood doesn’t sound good as advertising. But we know how important the centre is for the people here and for us. We will do everything we can to keep our doors open.”

In order to get in touch with the centre, please contact:

Adresse: Çukur Mahallesi Zerdali Sokak No.9 Tarlabaşı-Beyoğlu-İstanbul
Telefon: +90 212 297 23 05 or +90 507 253 70 97 (mobile)

Bank details for donations:

Account owner: Tarlabaşı Toplumunu Destekleme Derneği
Bank and branch: Garanti Bankası Cumhuriyet Caddesi-Taksim Şubesi (Garanti Bank – Taksim Branch)
Branch Code: 772 Account No: 6299673 IBAN: TR03 0006 2000 7720 0006 2996 73

For questions about the community centre, please contact:

Ceren Suntekin: Nurgül Öztürk:

For questions about the association, please contact:

Neşe Erdilek: Gizem Külekçioğlu

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Help needed for the Tarlabaşı Community Centre

Situated on Kalyoncu Kulluk Caddesi, a few houses down from the police station on Tarlabaşı Boulevard, the Tarlabaşı Community Centre has become an institution in the neighbourhood, providing free education, lectures and a place to spend after school time for seven years – but financial problems might now force the centre to shut its doors forever.

 (Jonathan Lewis)

The centre was opened in 2005 as a project of the Istanbul Bilgi University Centre for Migration Research. “We founded the centre to assist Tarlabaşı residents, and mainly the women and children, to adapt to life in the city. Most of the people here are migrants who have moved to Istanbul from [rural areas] of Turkey”, Neşe Erdilek, sociologist and head of the community centre, said.

The centre offers various courses and lectures for all residents who can find the time to attend: lectures on women’s health and hygiene for women and girls, literacy courses, psychological assistance to parents and children for issues like drug addiction, domestic violence or the challenges they face with family relationships, parenting, or inter-family communication. Volunteer teachers provide homework clubs, visual arts, guitar and rhythm classes amongst many others. In addition to that, the community centre works with several lawyers who provide free legal council on demand.

 (Jonathan Lewis)

Now the Tarlabaşı Community Centre struggles for survival – if no new institutional sponsor is found, the centre might have to close its doors as early as December of this year.

Initially funded by the EU, the centre received financial support from a private foundation after the EU Project came to an end, single projects and activities were financed by separate sponsors. While most of the people working at the centre are volunteers, fixed costs are very high: 6250 Turkish Lira of monthly rent alone, plus amenity bills, and salaries for the small core of local full time employees. “We are in a very serious financial crisis”, Erdilek said. “But we hope we will find supporters in Turkey, so that we do not have to close.” The Beyoglu Municipality pulled out of the project when EU funding ended and has not renewed the partnership since.

“From the very beginning we made clear that our association does not support any party politics”, Neşe Erdilek points out. Only a few doors up the street is the headquarter of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) – how hard is it to keep out of politics in an area where about 50% of the residents are Kurdish, and where clashes centered around the BDP headquarters with the police are relatively common?  Erdilek says that the centre successfully managed not to get involved: “We drew a very clear line and made clear that we want to be a centre for all residents of Tarlabaşı – not a centre for Kurds, for Roma, or anyone in particular.”

 (Jonathan Lewis)

Inter-ethnic tensions between Kurdish and Roma residents are a problem that the centre successfully tackled: “Provocations, if they occur, mostly come from outside the neighbourhood”, Erdilek says. “We never took sides for one or the other, and they know and understand that here, everyone is equal. People from all areas [of Turkey] fully trust us now, they know that everyone will get advice and help if they ask for it.”

She underlines that the community centre is not a charity, and that people do not receive any goods or money. “And since we made that clear from the beginning, nobody has ever asked for anything”, she explains. “Taking [alms] from someone puts people in a very difficult position morally, it takes away their pride, and it becomes a habit: they will not try to earn something by themselves, but will get used to ask others for help.” She smiles. “We try to raise the children in our centre to be proud of what they are doing.”

12-year-old Mert has been coming to the centre for five years. “It’s great here”, he says, sitting over his homework. “I love it here, because our teachers treat us so well, they are so nice to us, and I learn a lot.” If he can find the time, he comes seven times a week: for homework, to learn English, to go to the Games Lab. “It’s an awesome place.” His friend Ibrahim agrees. “I have been coming here for three years – learning English, and for art classes. I do all my homework in the centre.”

 (Jonathan Lewis)

A place to do homework – a quiet room, a desk, a chair, a person who will help where help is needed – is not a given for many children in Tarlabaşı. “The international standard for a child’s wellbeing is that they have a room of their own. If we adapt that to Turkey, the question should be if they have a bed of their own”, Ebru Ergün, psychologist at the centre, explained. Many Tarlabaşı residents live in poverty and whole families often have to share two or three rooms.

In addition, public schools in Turkey rarely offer after school activities, sports or homework clubs, and private tutors and classes are expensive, far out of the reach of lower income groups which is yet another reason that the centre is so popular in Tarlabaşı.

“[When we first opened the centre], people here were suspicious and it took a while for them to understand and accept us”, Erdilek recalls. “Now, after seven years, we have their full confidence. First children came here, and then their mothers.” And she adds: “Very recently, fathers have also started to come, and they want to talk about their issues, too.” Every month, about 200 children and 60 women come to the centre on average, and every term, about 50 volunteers work here.

 (Jonathan Lewis)

11-year-old Sevcan and 13-year-old Melike have both come for the first time to the centre this term, and are excitedly planning the courses they want to take: “I want to do visual arts”, says Melike. “I would love that.” Sevcan nods: “We don’t want the centre to close. It is the thing I love most about our neighbourhood.” And do the children like Tarlabaşı? Mert laughs and jumps up: “It’s the best place in the world!”

Donations to the Tarlabaşı Community Centre can be made at:

Tarlabaşı Toplumunu Destekleme Derneği hesabı

Garanti Bankası – Cumhuriyet Caddesi-Taksim Şubesi

Hesap no. 772-6299673
IBAN: TR03 0006 2000 7720 0006 2996 73










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Against vested interest urbanism – An interview with David Harvey

In an interview with acclaimed theorist and activist David Harvey, he talked to us about the impact of urban renewal and gentrification, the increasing class segregation of cities, and the question of how to fight back.

David Harvey is a distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography as well as the Director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and the author of many books, including Social Justice and the City, The Condition of Postmodernity, The Limits to Capital, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, The Enigma of Capital, and A Companion to Marx’s Capital.

His new book, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, can be found here.

His book Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography, has just appeared in Turkish at Sel Publishing.








Posted in Gentrification, Interviews, Tarlabaşı, Trades & work, Uncategorized, Urban, video | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Artists reclaim deserted building in Tarlabaşı

Sunday is the day when many non-residents visit Tarlabaşı for the marvellous market that runs through the streets.  This Sunday there is an added incentive above great food though – a group of international and Turkish artists have been at work in one of the now deserted buildings.  What was once a family home from which the residents were evicted months ago to make way for the “renovation” programme, is now home to a series of exhibits under the title “Division Unfolded: Tarlabaşı Intervention“.

The work has been in place for a week or so now, but this Sunday, between 4pm and 6pm will see new installations and features unveiled for the first time and from what we have seen already, we can definitely recommend a visit – our artist friends have already given their approval!

To find it, look along Tarlabaşı Boulevard and you’ll see that the frontage of the gentrification project area is split in two; one half has huge boardings up showing the future Starbucks and patisserie world that beckons; the half of the project area is the emptied buildings – between them running down hill is Sakiz Ağaçi Sokak.  50m down is the first right turn, Eski Ҫeşme Sokak half way along which is the artists’ building.

The other way is to take the side street running between Istiklal Caddesi and  Demirören shopping centre and the mosque – and Sakiz Ağaçi Sokak is on the other side of the boulevard as you come downhill.

Posted in art, Community, photographs, Tarlabaşı, Uncategorized, Urban | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The looted prospect of Tarlabaşı Yenileniyor

Despite ongoing court cases– some hearings having been postponed to May 2012 – and a couple of residents are still holding out, demolitions in Tarlabaşı have started. Among the buildings being taken down manually, storey by storey, with sledgehammers, are several historical bowfront houses on Ficici Abdi Sokak.

One of the original residents looked up this straight and compared it to a war zone.  "We have Beirut in Turkey now". (Jonathan Lewis)

Most of the buildings inside the project area are now empty, and for several weeks, people both locally and from elsewhere have been taking out windows and doors, exposing the buildings to rain, frost and snowfall. Pipes, cables, and iron bars have been ripped out as well, often destabilising the entire building structure even further. Residents who still live, work, or even only pass through the project area, have repeatedly expressed their anger and concern about this, debating how this fits in with the municipality’s promise to “protect” and “preserve” Tarlabaşı. Tamer Bekar, who has lived in Tarlabaşı  for 70 years and shares his small house with a friend, says that they have prevented looters from taking out windows and doors from their former neighbours’ house. “Now poor people take from poor people, thanks to the municipality.” He shakes his head.  “Why have they evicted everyone with such haste if they now plan to let all these houses stand empty and rot?” his roommate exclaims.

Another life-long Tarlabaşı resident who wished to remain anonymous told us that it depressed him to leave the house and see his neighbourhood like this: “They have destroyed the whole area. Should they not take care of these buildings, now, that they are the new owners?” In Çukur Sokak, a bowfront collapsed after the supporting iron bars had been removed, luckily nobody was hurt.

This bowhouse frontage collapsed (thankfully hurting no one) after looters started removing supporting columns for re-sale. (Jonathan Lewis)

The official project website claims that “the current decayed building stock will be renewed”, and that the municipality aims at “preserving the historical urban fabric on one hand”, while “bringing houses up to contemporary needs and modern standards”. Neither the developing company nor the Beyoglu mayor were available for interviews.

The municipality brochure for the renovation of Tarlabasi district emphasises how the buildings will be preserved; merely provided with a facelift. (Jonathan Lewis)

GAP Inşaat now employs private security guards that patrol the area irregularly, but they do not seem to be charged with preventing further looting, or the dumping of trash inside empty houses. Regular police patrols seem not to be responsible either, despite several residents having applied to the municipality to protect their neighbourhood and, in several cases, their property:  Cinzia Fiore and her husband Kemal Akgün have bought their house in Tavla Sokak six years ago, and are amongst the very few remaining who have not come to an agreement with the municipality. “We just won the court case”, Cinzia Fiore explains. “The house is legally ours, but we cannot use it, because the municipality has allowed the whole neighbourhood to be destroyed.” Lighting in the streets has been cut, and many of the people still living in the area say that criminality has dramatically increased. “They have stolen several paintings that have a sentimental value for me, they have broken windows and even taken planks of woods from the parquet.”

Beyoglu mayor Ahmet Misbah Demircan has repeatedly vowed to turn Tarlabaşı Boulevard into the Champs Elysées of Istanbul – And while one wonders if the irony of aspiring to turn the now gutted Boulevard for which over 360 historically listed – and mostly Greek – buildings had to be razed, into a street named after the mythological Elysian Fields escapes him, it certainly raises the question what exactly is to be “renovated” and whose history to be “preserved”?

Why are “modern standards” and “preservation” presented as opposites and how can “demolition” equal “renovation”?

Classic doors and features have been removed; believed in many cases to be melted down for the iron. (Jonathan Lewis)

Prof Dr Uğur Tanyeli, professor for the history of architecture at the Artuklu University in Mardin, traces the seemingly inconsolable tension between “the historical” and “the modern” in Turkey back to the Tanzimat Period – the period of Ottoman reform between 1839 and 1876 that was marked by modernisation efforts and an increased adoption of Western standards: “This is not something that has come up today, with this government. This ideological conditioning emerged during the modernisation process in Turkey, hand in hand with Westernisation. Modernisation meant to forcibly cut all ties with the past – all modernisation programmes and ideologies dictated that we could not live any longer they way we used to, the way we acted, that we could not live in the same kind of houses, wear the same kind of clothes. People were told that these things were the root to all problems.” He pauses. “Now this makes anything old problematic – but later on, in a different phase of modernisation – people started to see value in the historical and wanted to preserve it. So on the one hand; they despise everything historical, because they want to rid themselves of everything representing a traditional past, and on the other hand, the same historical objects are suddenly valued. So what is worthless along one definition is suddenly valuable along the parameters of architectural history.”

For Uğur Tanyeli, this most extreme form of the contradiction between tradition and modernity is unique to Turkey: “They want the historical, but they do not want anything old.” He laughs. “That’s an interesting dilemma. In Turkey, the historical has to be brand-new and squeaky clean. So what is actually wanted is the illusion of history – It has to be historical, but it is not allowed to carry any baggage of the past, or any of history’s patina, there can’t be anything about it that creates unease.”

Citing the example of the Demiören shopping centre, he continues: “In that spot, there never was a building like that.” The posters that have recently been hung there seem to suggest that the disputed shopping centre is a renovated building, but only from afar: “When people speak of ‘preservation’ in Turkey, this is what they actually have in mind: something that creates the illusion of the historical. The fewer traces of the past [an object] carries, the more successful they believe a preservation to be – and there is not only the Demiören shopping centre, but there are hundreds of buildings along the Bosporus like that. There are ‘renovated’ buildings dating back to the 13th century that look like they have been built yesterday and where not a single screw is historically justified.”

The classic 3 storey Cercle d'Orient Building next door to the new 5 storey Demiroren building is due for demolition and replacement. (Jonathan Lewis)Many outside observers have highlighted poor construction standards and materials at the shopping centre. (Jonathan Lewis)What about Tarlabaşı? Is it possible to renovate and preserve 19th-century architecture and add “modern standard” underground car parks to each house at the same time? Tanyeli thinks not: “What is done under the definition of ‘preservation’ in Tarlabaşı has nothing to do with actual preservation. They plan to reproduce the morphology of the old buildings, that’s all. It would be ridiculous to call this ‘preservation’” And: “The only thing they are ‘preserving’ is the current width of the streets. All that will come out of this is a historicist neighbourhood.”

He argues that this is exactly what is expected: “So in order to rid a historical building of the traces of the past, the Demiören method is the only solution – you just get rid of what was there before. And so they get rid of Tarlabaşı, they get rid of Sulukule, and call this ‘preservation’, rebuilding something that only looks like the old thing. This is a result of the modernisation ideology in Turkey.”

In his eyes, this most extreme form of contradicting parameters also leads to a very clumsy, but also very brutal understanding of modernisation and development that shatters social relations and suppresses any possibility of discussion or challenge, and this is reflected in the execution of urban renewal projects as well:  “To me it is clear that the actual aim of [the Tarlabaşı ] project is urban transformation – and just as in other urban transformation projects we have seen – they aim at the change of the social fabric, completely ignoring the people that live in the area now. And what is worse is that all of this is done with the broad consent and the support of a large part of the population.”

Uğur Tanyeli does not think that the demolition of the houses in Tarlabaşı will be the most important loss: “As a historian I am most dismayed by the fact that they cut out pieces of the city as if with a knife, with no regard for the history or the social fabric in these neighbourhoods. What they really mean to say is: ‘There is no longer any space for lower income groups in the city centre.”

Posted in demolition, Gentrification, History, Slums, Tarlabaşı | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It is buildings, not earthquakes, that kill people”

Today’s Letters Page from the Guardian includes a thought-piece on the need to create a social rental housing sector in Istanbul stimulated by Constanze’s Guardian article last Friday on the construction sector boom in Istanbul; featured here.

The two professors who have authored the letter, argue that unless such a social rental market is created in Istanbul,  opposition to any programme that removes the current poorly constructed housing stock from Istanbul, to replace with well constructed earthquake resistant housing, will face significant opposition from homeowners.


Istanbul needs neighbourhood regeneration

Istanbul may well not need the mega-projects described by Constanze Letsch (The razing of Istanbul’s history, 2 March). But make no mistake about it, huge swaths of the city’s older neighbourhoods must be demolished and reconstructed during the next 10-20 years if a humanitarian catastrophe is to be averted. In the aftermath of the 1999 Marmara earthquake, the Japanese International Co-operation Agency predicted that the likely toll of the next major earthquake would be some 90,000 deaths, 135,000 serious injuries and the destruction or serious damage of 170,000 buildings. This impact will be heavily concentrated in 12 of the city’s 32 municipalities, including the historic districts. JICA argued that effective mitigation will require more than a million dwellings to be demolished or structurally upgraded in 400 neighbourhoods, which are home to more than 5 million people.

Thus far, neighbourhood regeneration has been dominated by the state-sponsored gentrification of centrally located, historic districts such as Sulukule and Tarlabasi. This coercive “top-down” process sparked widespread resistance to regeneration across the city, epitomised by the slogan ‘”no Sulukule here”. But the vast majority of earthquake-vulnerable neighbourhoods, outside the historic core, consist of poor quality, concrete-frame construction, apartment blocks. Demand and land values are much lower, so improved compensation and cheap mortgages may well enable most resident owners to stay in their redeveloped neighbourhood.

However, as things stand, scores of thousands of poor tenants would be displaced. This prospect fuels continuing resistance. The Turkish government must now create a social rented housing sector. This would support neighbourhood redevelopment by providing re-housing for tenants as locally as possible. In parallel, the government should also sponsor capacity development for local municipalities and community organisations, in order to create a “bottom-up” process of community-led neighbourhood regeneration.

It is buildings, not earthquakes, that kill people. The failure to develop a socially just, earthquake mitigation-led, neighbourhood regeneration process will have terrible consequences for Istanbul’s citizens.
Mike Gibson Emeritus professor of urban planning, London South Bank University, Arzu Kocabas Associate professor, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Istanbul


The original Guardian letter can be found here.



Posted in Affordable Housing, Community, Guest Post, Mentions, Redevelopment, TOKI, Urban | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tarlabasi demolitions in The Guardian

Today’s article in The Guardian:

A few hundred metres from the bustling Taksim Square in Istanbul, the sound of jackhammers reverberates through the street: demolitions in the nearby neighbourhood of Tarlabasi are under way despite legal objections from residents, architects, and human rights groups.

Empty buildings, many of which date from the late 19th century and are used to house a large part of Istanbul’s former Greek population, have already been gutted, waiting for their turn. In the area’s main street, only the local barber and one cornershop still hang on.

Tamer Bekar, a 70-year Tarlabasi resident, shakes his head in dismay. “They are looting all the empty buildings, they take windows, doors, cables to sell for a few pennies. The municipality does nothing to protect these historical buildings,” he says. “There are not many people left but everything I have is here. I cannot go anywhere else at this age. I don’t know what to do.”

Up to 278 buildings will be demolished to make way for a high-end construction project that will include homes, offices, hotels and a shopping mall. Those who could afford it have already moved. “I don’t want to move into a tower block outside the city,” Bekar says. “What would I do in the middle of nowhere?”

But the Tarlabasi renewal project is just one of many in the most frenetic redevelopments Istanbul has known for a generation. About 50 neighbourhoods in Istanbul alone are earmarked for urban renewal projects, and 7.5bn Turkish liras (£2.69bn) has been set aside for Istanbul’s public development projects in 2012, according to the Istanbul metropolitan municipality mayor, Kadir Topbas.

The formerly Roma neighbourhood of Sulukule has already been razed to make way for “Ottoman-style” townhouses, and the transport minister, Binali Yildirim, has vowed to go ahead with the construction of a third Bosphorus bridge that, environmentalists and urban planners warn, would further increase traffic congestion and lead to the destruction of Istanbul’s last forest areas and water reservoirs.

The prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, has promised an array of mega-projects including a 25-mile canal between the Black and the Marmara seas as well as two new cities on both sides of the Bosporus, each housing at least 1 million people – the centre of his election campaign.

“We need to face it,” Topbas said in a press conference after the devastating 2011 earthquakes in Van that killed 644 people, “we need to rebuild the entire city.”

Now the Turkish government is preparing a new law that will grant the prime minister and the public housing development administration sole decisive power over which areas will be developed, and how. The law will overrule all other preservation and protection regulations, and allow the government to declare any area in Turkey a zone of risk.

Affected house-owners will have the choice of either demolishing their buildings themselves, or letting the government do it for them – in exchange for compensation.

The law’s advocates argue that it will enable the government to make cities safer against the ever-present risk of earthquakes without a lengthy legal process.

However, a growing number of critics point out that it will serve as a pretext to open valuable land to speculation, and drive low-income groups from city centres – as has already happened in Sulukule and is happening in Tarlabasi.

And the government’s appetite for ever more ambitious development projects is not likely to be sated in the near future.

According to the Turkish Contractors Association’s predictions, the construction sector, which contributes about 6% to the economy, faces decline and much fiercer competition abroad in 2012: domestic urban renewal projects, estimated to generate £250bn of profit – £55bn in Istanbul alone – are seen as a convenient alternative.


Professor Gülsen Özaydin, head of the urban planning department at the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts Istanbul, says: “There is no urban planning that sees the city as a whole. Projects are completely detached from one another, and take no heed of the existing urban fabric, or the people living there. That’s very dangerous for the future of a city.”

Özaydin criticises the complete lack of public debate prior to the announcement of major reconstruction projects. “Expert views are rarely taken into consideration,” she adds. “We only learn of projects like Taksim Square from the newspapers. How can that be?”

Neither the names of the architects nor the financial scope of the Taksim project have been disclosed to the public. For the architect and urban activist Korhan Gümüs, the main problem is the lack of transparency and the disregard of the people affected: “This reflects the highly centralised politics of the Turkish state and the rigidity of the national programme that it advocates,” he says.

“National programmes don’t require any form of participation, they don’t need different opinions and thoughts. But cities need experience, they need research, they need questioning, thoughtfulness and creativity.

“If you leave a city at the mercy of speculators, it will die. If you try to make money only by way of new construction projects, the city will end up poorer, not richer.”

Mücella Yapici of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects paints a similarly bleak picture: “Urban poverty will increase. People evicted from their houses not only lose their home, but also their jobs, their neighbourhood, and their social ties.”

Tower block developments on the far outskirts of the city further isolated disadvantaged groups. “A city should bring people together, not segregate them,” she says.

“But in Istanbul we will end up in a situation where everybody will be afraid of one another – the rich will fear the poor and vice versa. It will be the end of social peace in the city.”

Posted in Community, demolition, Gentrification, Interviews, Legal | 1 Comment

Charlie looks on……

We have had people asking us of late when the demolitions will start.  The fencing went up a few weeks ago along a main section of the development bordering Tarlabasi Boulevard; but then little happened after that.  Well now on the front and behind the scenes are the demolition work has actively started.


Workers demolishing one of the original buildings of Tarlabasi

Then shortly afterwards I pass an empty doorway; two street artists are at work…..crunching across broken glass, they are scratching away at a blue painted wall – revealing Charlie Chaplin to residents and passers-by.


Street artists at work: they were scratching off the blue paintwork with chisels to "reveal" Charlie Chaplin below.

Posted in art, demolition, Tarlabaşı, Trades & work, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Crossing the Bosphorus: a bridge too far

When on January 10 the tender for the Northern Marmara Highway Project that includes the construction of a third bridge over the Bosporus had to be cancelled for a lack of bidders, many an activist probably sighed in relief. Construction companies interested in taking on the task had been reluctant for a while: the first tender had been planned for August 23, 2011, but this had been postponed to January 10, 2012 at the construction companies’ request.

While some think that the financial crisis and a funding crunch were to blame for the lack of enthusiasm, others pointed to the sloppy and unclear building specifications that laid out the conditions for the Northern Marmara Highway Project as well as the lack of geological research and the missing report on the environmental impact of the project, announced as a BOT (build operate transfer) model supposed to carry both motorized vehicles and high speed trains over the Bosporus.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who as the mayor of Greater Istanbul had said in 1995 that a “third bridge would mean the murder of the city”, immediately announced that the cancellation of the tender would not mean the cancellation of the project: “There is demand for a third bridge, and nobody will be left on the road. In the worst case, we will build the bridge using the national budget. We can afford it.”

The cancellation of the tender did not come as a surprise and the minister of transportation Binali Yildirim, responsible for the project on the government’s side, seemed unfazed. In a press conference following the announcement that none of the 18 companies who had applied for a request for the proposal had actually placed a bid, he said that the government – dead set on realising the highly disputed project – would proceed to “Plan B”.

While Yildirim did not give any immediate specifications on what “Plan B” entailed, Turkish newspapers now call it the “Nuclear Model” – referring to the planned Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Mersin Province, where the Turkish government handed over the project to Russia in a memorandum of understanding signed on May 13, 2010, after no bidders had been found for the plant, and four consecutive tenders had to be cancelled.

According to the online architecture magazine Arkitera, Japan has already expressed interest in a similar deal for the Northern Marmara Highway Project that will span 414 km of road and cost an estimated 6 billion dollars to build.

A memorandum of understanding would give the AKP government the possibility to circumvent any local tender laws and other judicial obligations, many of which have already been lifted with the highly controversial, so-called “bag law” (torba yasası) that came into force on June 11, 2011, one day before the national elections: it took both the State Planning Organisation (Devlet Planlama Teşkilatı – DPT), who had previously rejected the current routing of the Northern Marmara Highway Project, and had criticised the project calculations presented by the Highway Administration as faulty and the Higher Planning Council (Yüksek Planlama Kurulu – YPK), that previously had to approve of all big construction plans, out of the loop and handed these decisions over to the Ministry overseeing the project.

This means that transportation minister Binali Yildirim will be able to single-handedly authorise 76 different construction projects currently in the pipeline, worth 45 billion dollar altogether.

Plans for a third bridge over the Bosporus have circulated since the early 1990s, with its proponents claiming that a third motorway across the water strait would ease traffic congestion and provide 350 billion dollars of profit. However, critical voices argue that it would on the contrary create more traffic and increase the number of vehicles in Istanbul.  In an interview with Cumhuriyet, transportation expert Prof. Dr. Zerrin Bayraktar who is also a member of the “Platform for Life instead of a Third Bridge”, told Cumhuriyet: “When you first build a highway, there might not be any traffic. But after a while, traffic will start. That traffic creates more traffic. In the end it will spread like a cancer cell.” The Istanbul Chamber of Architects published the numbers:  One year after the first Bosporus Bridge was opened in 1973, the number of vehicles crossing the strait increased by 200%. From the opening of the second Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge in 1988 until today, the number of people crossing the Bosporus increased by 170%, while the number of vehicles rose by 1,180%.

At a symposium held in 2010, civil engineer Prof. Dr. Semih Tezcan said: “The bridge traffic increases by seven percent every year. This means that we would have to build five bridges in 2010, and 15 bridges in 2015.” And he continued: “150,000 people a day can cross the bridge. Will that bring a solution to transportation problems? If there would be a rail transportation system, 1.5 million people a day could profit from it. That way, there would be no need for a bridge.”

Alternatives to a third bridge could be an increase of ferries and ferry itineraries, or underground tunnels like the Marmaray Project. Zerrin Bayraktar strongly criticised Turkey’s unwillingness to decrease motorized traffic on roads: “The biggest problem in Turkey’s transportation model is the concentration on roads. The General Directorate of Highways lauds itself for carrying 95% of all passengers and 92% of all goods on the road. If I were the General Director of Highways, I would be ashamed to admit that.” According to the Chamber of Maritime Engineers, 85% of worldwide shipping is done by waterway, but transport minister Binali Yildirim, a maritime engineer by education, does not seem to want to consider more sustainable alternatives to a third bridge.

Yıldız Uysal of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects explains that the third bridge is in violation of the Law on the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage; laws concerning the Bosporus and the Turkish constitution.

Environmentalist groups also warn that the project will endanger the remaining green areas to the north of Istanbul. 80% of the project will cut through forest areas. A report published by researchers of the Forestry Faculty of Istanbul University finds that about 5,000 hectares of forest would be in danger should the Northern Marmara Highway Project be realized. Several animal and plant species home to the region would be wiped out, and the fragile ecosystem would be in serious danger. Water reservoirs supplying the city, already too few to begin with, would be in danger of drying out or becoming too contaminated to use.

Another problem of the highway and the third bridge would be the rapid urbanization of Northern green and brown fields, and therefore further urban sprawl in a megacity that already grows uncontrollably, lacking both the infrastructure and the resources to sustain such rapid growth. Calling the third bridge a “profiteering project, not a transportation project”, urban planner Erhan Demirdizen warned in 2009 that it would increase Istanbul’s population to 25 million. A report published by the Istanbul Chamber of Urban Planners states that migration to Istanbul would increase substantially, negatively impacting on the social fabric of the city.

“If the third bridge is built, all veins of the city will dry out, and [Istanbul] will become a murder victim”, Prof. Dr. Zerrin Bayraktar warns. It remains to be seen if criticism and the difficulties of finding investors for the project will deter the government from the Northern Marmara Highway Project or if the prospect of profit at any cost will turn Istanbul into a corpse.

Posted in Activists, Environmental issues, Legal, planning authorisation, Protest, Public Space, Traffic, Transportation, Urban | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Tarlabaşı Boulevard: preparing for demolition

Three weeks ago the bright yellow concrete barrier blocks were installed over night.  A few days later they were spray-painted with the ” Tarlabaşı” development logo  and the construction company “Gap İnșaat” to the side.  The workmen started changing the layout of the road and now concrete footings are going in place along the front.

Security guards have mobed in to prevent people from lighting fires; the building blocks are going up with the development logo featuring prominantly. (Jonathan Lewis)

There is only one functioning building left along one complete section of the boulevard front; even then it’s a hotel that comes from a side-street.  Other than that most of the buildings are shells now, or “Beirut” as one resident referred to it, shaking his head in dismay at his own comparison with a city that he’d only ever seen on television during the wars that Lebanon is known for.

Whilst the residents have moved, or been moved, out.  New people have come in to the frontage; dealers and sex-workers who are new to the area and who appear able to work freely there, whilst residents who have attempted to gather fire wood have been turned away – forced to leave the wood they had already gathered behind.

The workers aren’t sure.   The demolition starts this week says one; no next week says another, the new year my friends contributes a third worker.    They may not know when the demolition will start; but it doesn’t appear to be long before the buildings will start to come down on the district and community of Tarlabaşı.


Posted in History, photographs, Redevelopment, Tarlabaşı, Urban | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment