[This is a follow-up to the excellent work of photojournalist Sebastian Meyer last week and Kamaran Najm that we will host next week.]
The recycling workers in Tarlabaşı recently made the headlines for their generous aid to victims of the earthquake in Van that killed over 600 people on October 23, 2011. “Many of the workers are originally from Van”, explains Veysi one of the workers collecting paper, cardboard and metal from garbage bins for recycling. “It made it easier to get organised, but it is not the only reason we felt we needed to help.”
On the Recycling Workers Association’s initiative, Tarlabaşı residents gave enough clothing, blankets, food and hygiene items to fill 12 large lorries, and send them off to earthquake survivors in Van. They even managed to persuade some of the stores to donate aid: “One shop gave us five boxes of winter clothing”, Veysi says. “As soon as we had collected these items, we sent them off for people to wear before the snow starts falling.”
“We will now start to collect toys for the children there”, one of Veysi’s colleagues says.
Ali Mendillioğlu, president of the association, told the daily Radikal that the Tarlabaşı recycling workers were inspired by news of their colleagues in Ankara and Antalya, who had also collected aid to be sent to Van. “We are not doing anything special, we are just doing what needs to be done”, Mendillioğlu told the newspaper.
Veysi has been working in recycling for nine years. Working together with his father and his brother, the income from recycling paper and other materials feeds a family of six – all of them live in an apartment in Tarlabaşı. “If there is enough work, we make about 30 to 40 TL a day, on slower days it sometimes is only 10 or 15 TL”, he says. A typical working day starts at nine in the morning and can go on until one or two of the next morning.
Because they are not officially commissioned to collect paper and other recyclable materials, they have to operate half-clandestinely. “The municipality doesn’t want us to collect paper, they try to hinder our work”, Veysi explains. “About 90% of our income comes from paper – if it wouldn’t be for that, we might not have been able to send aid to Van – but still they try and keep us from doing what we are doing.” The Municipality has a separate garbage collecting system, and sees the recycling workers as unwanted competition. “We were harassed, sometimes beaten up. So we founded the Recycling Workers Association four or five years ago”, recalls Veysi. “It provided us with a strong network.” He smiles. “Strength in numbers.”
Despite being now able to operate more freely, the recycling workers face trouble because of the municipality: “Sometimes they even intimidate shops not to give us any paper or cardboard. They threaten to fine them, that’s why shops often don’t give us as much paper anymore.” Often municipality workers and the zabita (municipal police) confiscate the karts the recycling workers use to collect and transport their load through the city. “One metal kart costs 80 Lira”, explains Veysi. “The bag costs 10 Lira. I myself have lost over 1,000 TL to the Municipality because they took eleven of my karts away from me.”
The depot the family rents in Tarlabaşı costs them 350 TL a month. In the storage room they collect paper, cardboard, iron, nylon and sheet metal that is first sorted into separate piles, and then picked up by lorry drivers who will transport it to recycling facilities on the edges of the city. With the pending demolition of the neighbourhood, Veysi’s family and their colleagues are now forced to look for another workplace: “We have been here a long time, but now we might have to go far outside the city centre. There is no other place around here where we could have depots like this”, says one of Veysi’s colleagues. Since many of the recycling workers and their families live close by, this would mean a long commute.
Why is this assistance necessary? Our colleagues Graeme Smith and Charla Jones visited Van in the aftermath of the earthquake and Graeme explained why it was that so many people opted to live outside, even if their homes were still standing in his blog entry at the Toronto Globe & Mail here. He also added for us:
“Waking up in the middle of the night, amid strong aftershocks, really does make you think seriously about sleeping outside. You lie there in the darkness and stare up at the ceiling, hoping that it won’t fall on you, and try to remember whether the building showed any sign of damage before you went to bed. You try to mentally calculate what kind of structural problems could have been caused by the latest tremors, and you stay awake waiting for the next one. It’s enough to make you crazy, especially if you’re among the thousands of survivors who lost friends or family in the rubble.
No wonder so many people in eastern Turkey are now choosing to camp in the freezing cold — and that’s not even counting the thousands who lost their homes entirely. This is a homelessness crisis on a massive scale, with winter snows already falling in some places. I’m sure the people in that region will deeply appreciate any donations that help them survive the coming months.”
Back in Tarlabasi Veysi says that the hardest part, however, is to be treated unjustly – not only by the municipality. “People often look down on us, they think of us as dirty.” He does not want to give in to that: “We might not be rich, but we have big hearts”.
[We are honoured to host below a guest blog post by international photographer and multimedia journalist Sebastian Meyer, a British-American photographer based in Suleymaniye, Northern Iraq. Sebastian and Kamaran Najm Ibrahim, his colleague at their Metrography photo agency, worked in Tarlabasi during the summer of 2010 documenting the lives of the recycling crews. In the intervening 18 months since they photographed there, the recycling workers and their familes have all been moved out of that street as part of the eviction process; the once busy street is now mostly empty of people.
Thanks to Sebastian for sharing his past work with us and next week we'll feature the work of his partner Kamaran.]
At all hours of the day and night, young men from Tarlabasi zip through the streets of Istanbul hauling enormous loads of what appears to be trash. They move at unimaginable speeds maneuvering their tak-taks–overflowing with cardboard, bottles, and paper–through the city’s narrow streets.
This isn’t trash, though, this is a semi-clandestine recycling operation that shadows the city’s own municipal garbage collection and is the source of income for numerous families in Tarlabasi.
As the collectors navigate the city, no trash can is overlooked, no dumpster left untouched. They even dart into stores to collect the empty shoe boxes. When the tak-taks are full, the young men ferry their loads back home where they empty them into basement rooms for sorting. Fathers, mothers, brothers, cousins then set about sorting the material which will eventually be sold to recycling companies by the kilo. A tak-tak full of paper and cardboard takes about an hour to collect and when sorted will bring in around $3.00
The majority of the families that do this work are poor Kurdish families that have moved from eastern Turkey to Istanbul. Many of the young men have left wives and children back in their village and can only afford to visit them a few times a year. In lieu of their families, they rely on their tight-knit community for support.
Searching through trash cans and hauling heavy loads of recycling by hand is extremely difficult and often dangerous work and although they aren’t proud that they have to do this for a living, they aren’t embarrassed either. Their concerns are focused on supporting their families and their tight-knit community of Tarlabasi.
Only 48 hours or so separated our strolling down one sokak in Tarlabaşı, but in that time the local residents had created a garden from nothing. An old house that had been filled to overflowing with old sofas, plastics and scrap materials now had flowering plants out front.
A week later the waste-filled doorways had been boarded up behind the plants. Make-shift seating and a low table were now occupied by the local guys as they protected their plants from local children and their footballs. A few days later the lower half of the building and the boardings had been painted a common colour; a trailing pea plant was being encouraged up the front of the building and a picture was hung on the building.
Much has been said and written about the missing tables and chairs in the Istanbul neighbourhood of Beyoğlu, an area marketed as the city’s hip party district for over a decade. On an apparent whim, the local municipality ordered the removal of every outdoor table, chair, beanbag or stool, leaving behind an angry and bewildered crowd of patrons and local business owners increasingly struggling to make a living.
These so-called “table operations” (“masa operasyonları” in Turkish) that started on July 20 have sparked protests, more protests, and discussions about urban public space and its use. While some argue that Istanbul should have outdoor seating because other “famous cities” – London, Paris, Vienna, New York – have it, others question the idea of urban management altogether: if the chairs and tables were a such a major problem, why was it not addressed earlier and in a more strategic manner? And what about the disturbing noise from roof terraces?
The “operations” were in several cases carried out quite rudely, with police and municipal police (zabita) pulling chairs and tables from underneath dining patrons. Several restaurants, bars and eateries lost their outdoor furniture altogether when the police threw it onto the back of trucks and drove it off to the municipality’s depots. Other venues heeded the municipality’s warning to remove their chairs and tables from the streets before they could be confiscated.
The municipality’s first official declaration of this disputed measure came one week after the fact: According to its press release, business owners had – despite warnings – disregarded the official confines of outside seating and were thus obstructing traffic, including the passage of rescue vehicles in the event of an emergency. The municipality, it said, would now work on a new master plan for Beyoğlu.
One month later, the tables and chairs were still gone, and none of the business owners we spoke to knew what the master plan would look like, or, almost more importantly, when it would be put into practice. On August 21, a Sunday, the usually bustling streets in Tünel and Asmalımescit are all but deserted.
A sign outside a bar advertises cheap tequila shots and Efes, but the tables inside are completely empty. Mehmet Papatya, who has been working here for seven years and lives above the bar, says: “The rents in this district are very high – we pay 6,000 TL every month for the space alone. In order to cover all costs, we need to have tables outside, even if there are only two.” The bar used to have four tables that have been taken away by the zabita – without prior warning, according to Papatya. “Nobody here pays rent at the moment. Our landlord is on holiday, we’ll talk with him when he comes back. There are only two possibilities, though: he will either grant us a rent reduction, or we will have to close down.” Papatya is not sure why the municipality suddenly cracked down on outside seating: “This is not a normal residential neighbourhood, this is a place that fuels the tourism business. Most people that live here are people that also work in this district. There were no complaints.”
Fatih Korkunç, the owner of a spacious bar further down the street, agrees: “I don’t understand why they make such an effort [to quiet this district down.] This is not a neighbourhood where families live. Beyoğlu is a place of entertainment, of tourism! Why don’t they leave us alone?”
However, according to the Beyoğlu Municipality, over the first seven months of this year 1,066 formal complaints have been made by people about not being able to pass by on the street next to restaurants and bars, as well as 868 formal complaints about garbage being left out on the street. At least one gallery manager in Asmalımescit said that neighbouring bar and restaurant owners put tables and chairs in front of his door, and refused to remove them.
Unfortunately it is unknown how many of the 1066 complaints cited by the municipality came from drivers who were unable to squeeze past restaurant tables in motorised vehicles. Rumour has it that the “table operations” were initiated by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose motorcade got stuck amid outdoor urban furniture on its way to the Galata Mevlevihanesi before the beginning of Ramadan, and who promptly ordered the removal of the obstructing chairs and tables.
Tahir Berrak Karasu, the deputy head of the Association for Beyoğlu Entertainment Locations (BEYDER), said in an interview: “[Beyoğlu Mayor] Demircan would not have the courage and the power to pull off such a radical operation all by himself. And why would he? For years he has lauded himself for turning Beyoğlu into a lively tourism and entertainment district. Why would he destroy that?”
Mehmet Aktaş, who works in a traditional meyhane on Sofyalı Sokak says the restaurant is having serious trouble staying open: “We used to have about 18 tables outside, with room for 40 to 50 people. Now we have three tables left. Five out of eight employees are on unpaid leave, we are really struggling.” Like many bars and restaurants on Sofyalı Sokak, they, too, have seen their revenues fall by almost 80percent. “At this rate, we won’t survive very long. Restaurants and bars will start to close. This street will be dead without them.” Aktaş points out that the restaurants will not be the only businesses affected by the municipality’s policy: “We buy from fishermen, butchers and green grocers. Our restaurant used to buy 150TL to 200TL worth of fish daily from a local fisherman. Now we can only afford to buy fish for 20TL to 30TL every day.” He shrugs. “This will affect a much broader local economy. Even the children selling Kleenex on the streets will make less money.”
The owners of two small corner shops on Sofyalı Sokak agree; both have seen their business drop by about 80 percent. Many wonder why the Beyoğlu Municipality deliberately risks such economic loss, and the loss of so many jobs: According to bianet.org, the number of layoffs stands at 2,000 after only one month.
Alican, who works as a chef at Kahve Pi, thinks that this burning debate is far from finished: “The municipality secures an important income with the taxes and fees that restaurant and bar owners have to pay. They cannot possibly want to lose that! My guess is that they will give us the tables back, maybe there will be fewer of them, and maybe the fee for each will be higher, but they will give them back.” However, he underlines that the present situation should not drag on for too long: “Asmalımescit – this whole area – had a certain atmosphere, a soul. This soul is about to expire.”
While the mayor of Beyoğlu, AKP politician Ahmet Misbah Demircan, has on several occasions talked about three different action plans for local businesses, no official announcements have been made as of yet. On August 27, the Turkish daily Radikal presented one possible “solution” to the table dilemma offered by the municipality: the 70cm balcony. So far, only one restaurant – Café Ist on Istiklal Caddesi – has put the idea into practice, at a price of 20,000 TL.
However, Tahir Berrak Karasu said: “Most members of our association reject this idea. For most it is not even feasible. It is illegal to add a balcony or terrace willy-nilly to a grade 1 listed building for example.” And he adds: “What is more important is that there is no written guarantee from the municipality, no document to show that this ‘solution’ has been authorized by the municipality. What if they change their mind again?”
According to Radikal, the guidelines given by the municipality are indeed quite vague: the balcony should be “chic” and not cheap-looking, but business owners could decide for themselves about the final design of their 70 cm terrace. A more recent Radikal report states that restaurants and bars that are for some reason unable to implement the balcony solution – as for example Helvetia Café on Asmalımescit Sokak – will not be allowed to put tables and chairs back out on the street at all.
Erol, a publisher enjoying a beer while sitting on a window sill at Kahve Pi, has been working in an office just off Sofyali Sokak for eight years: “About 15 years ago it must have been a little like this here, very quiet. And to be honest, the silence is quite nice. But of course from the point of view of the local business owners, this silence is not a good thing.” Did he ever feel disturbed by the noise? “If you want to feel disturbed, you could. Cuba Bar below our office turns on the music at full blast around 5pm. But that’s what happens in a neighbourhood like Beyoğlu.” He adds: “In Istanbul, there are not very many neighbourhoods left where you can sit and have a drink. So the people started to come here. In a city of over 10 million people, a neighbourhood like Beyoğlu will of course be loud and crowded.” He thinks that the municipality is not completely in the wrong: “All of this developed without plan or structure. Rules were not always followed. It is important to listen to both sides of the story.” It seems that listening – or communicating in general – is not a priority in the municipality’s new master plan. Both BEYDER and individual business owners complain about the total lack of dialogue and the more crucial necessity of short-term information. While there are rumours that tables and chairs would come back – in some form – after the Eid holidays, the authorities have largely remained quiet on the topic, consoling inquirers with the vague promise that “they were working on it.” Karasu of BEYDER says that this has not always been so: “After BEYDER was founded in 2000, we held regular meetings with the mayor and the municipality. Everything was discussed together. Now they don’t even answer the phone anymore when we call.” Bariş Deniz, who has been running a dürüm and börek eatery on Asmalımescit Sokak for 40 years, has put stacks of wooden fruit crates in front of his shop, makeshift tables in lieu of the three tables he used to have until the zabita took them away. “May I present the new furniture collection?” he laughs. “Courtesy of our dear Prime Minister.” He does not sell any alcoholic beverages, and says that he has always paid the monthly table fee of 235 TL; 75 TL per table. “I have made a 90percent loss in one month”, he says, shaking his head in disbelief. “God bless Tayyip for his generosity.”
Small removal trucks dart along Sakızağaç Caddesi, the main artery cutting through the Tarlabaşı Yenileniyor project area, carrying elaborate piles of furniture, bags of clothing, carpets wrapped in cloth.
Ali, who ran a tiny shoeshine store 50 metres off Tarlabaşı Boulevard carries bags filled with shoelaces, brushes, shoe shining creams and pieces of leather down towards Dolapdere. The yellow building where he rented out a small shop in the basement was not sold yet, but, he says, he has found a nice shop just outside the project area. “No use waiting to the very last minute.” he adds. “They’d evict me sooner or later anyways.”
The urban renewal project Tarlabaşı Yenileniyor was first mentioned in 2006, and slated for completion in 2010. The possibility of demolition has dangled over the neighbourhood like Damocles’ Sword for five years now, with rumours of eviction constantly present: they will come after school is out, after the municipal elections, maybe after school starts, surely after the referendum? While people had started to trickle out of the project area in Tarlabaşı by late 2009, many decided to test fate – and the likelihood of evictions starting just a tad later than official statements made believe.
The last rumoured estimate – that things would get serious after the national elections on June 12, that this time, they would start without any doubt, proved true, and to the surprise of many: After the AKP secured a majority of almost 50%, the AKP-ruled Beyoğlu Municipality has started evictions inside the project area in Tarlabaşı in cooperation with GAP Inşaat, and this time, they move fast. Eviction orders have been distributed to all those residents – both tenants and home owners – whose flats or buildings have been sold, and most residents who have found a home, workshop or shop elsewhere have moved out.
Handan* was evicted on June 24. Her door was welded shut immediately after the police and the municipality cleared out her apartment. “I was in the hospital with my mother when they called me to tell me that I should come to my Tarlabaşı flat immediately. When I did, they had already forced open my door and thrown all my things on the street.” Her son nods. “The police came with gas bombs and everything!” he adds excitedly.
Handan’s husband died five years ago in a car crash, leaving her with her mother and her son who goes to primary school in nearby Cihangır. Handan makes a modest living as a cleaner, wiping staircases in Beyoğlu. “The flat belonged to my husband”, she explains. “I could make ends meet because I did not have to pay rent.” However, since her marriage was only authorised by an imam, and never recognized by the Turkish state, the flat and everything the couple had jointly owned went to the husband’s first and “official” wife that he had never divorced. “She did not tell me that she had sold the flat to GAP”, explains Handan. “So when I received a notice by the company that I would have to clear out of my house, I was deeply shocked.”
The worst thing, she says, was to be treated like a criminal. “The police said I was committing a crime by living in the flat and called me a squatter.” After having received the eviction order, Handan started to look for a flat to rent, but was unable to find something she could afford. “I had bought cardboard boxes, I begged the police to give me one more night to pack my things. I told them that I had been looking for a new apartment but that I didn’t find anything.” When the police and the municipality-employed packers started to throw her possessions on the street and onto a truck parked outside, Handan had a nervous breakdown. “One of the packers was very sad. He told me that it could have happened to him, that he felt sorry for me”, she recalls. “My neighbours later told me that they took all my things to a municipal storage room. I have not heard from them again, and I don’t know where that storage room is.”
Many of Handan’s neighbours are angry with the municipality and GAP Inşaat for handling evictions like they have with Handan. “How can they throw someone out on the street like that?” asks a local shopkeeper. Her downstairs neighbours, a retired couple from Antakya who have lived in their spacious Tarlabaşı flat for 20 years, feel sorry for the young widow now sitting on their couch for the interview. “If she goes back to her hometown, her father will sell her to an older man in marriage”, says Elif* and Handan nods. “I want to be able to stand on my own feet and provide a good education and a good future for my son. I have nothing left in Ağrı, I cannot go back there.”
Authors Note: We will now closely follow evictions and events as they unfold in the neighbourhood, and deliver more regular updates.
Earlier this year during the TOKI Housing Convention 2011, we interviewed David Smith in Tarlabaşı where he talked to us about the importance of catering to all income groups in a city. Increasingly governments and municipalities are forcing its poor people out of the city centre and to the very outskirts, where they have little to no access to the low-skilled jobs that are often their only choice, and that need to be performed in any city. He discussed the impact of gentrification, radical redevelopment, the obligation cities owe to poor people as citizens and how experience in Western countries has shown that the experiment to house poor people in tower blocks on the outskirts of cities has failed.
When the Demirören İstiklal shopping centre opened March 17, 2011 – just in time for the Istanbul Shopping Festival – it was in fact still under construction: light bulbs had been hastily screwed in, and visitors had to step over bags of plaster. Neither the elevators nor the toilets were finished, and the upper two storeys lay empty and closed to the public.
“Life has come to İstiklal”, the company website shouts about the new addition to one of Istanbul’s main shopping arteries – and indeed, Demirören İstiklal has managed to stir things up from the start. After a construction period of more than five years, during most of which the building-to-be was completely concealed behind high wooden panels, the long-awaited centre got a rather frosty reception. Architecture critic Ömer Kapınak wrote: “[The building is] yet another example of risible design in Istanbul. To be honest, at a time in which anything that is dipped in historical sauce holds an appeal, this building can be seen as a monument to this societal change taking over architecture.”
It is unclear whose signature the building actually bears. The company website credits Turkish architect Han Tümertekin, who also designed the SALT Art Gallery, with the design of Demirören İstiklal, as well as Hadi Teherani and award-winning architecture office Autoban. However, in an interview with YAPI Magazine, Tümertekin explained that he withdrew from the project in 2009, after deciding that his views differed too much from those of the construction company on the design of the centre. Neither of the other architects has made public statements about the criticism of the building. “Very ordinary” was the judgement handed down by Cengiz Semercioğlu in Hürriyet, while Mehveş Evinprotested in Milliyet: “The Demirören shopping centre is nothing but a hormone-filled pumpkin. Don’t do your shopping there!”
However, while the appearance of the building’s façade has provoked much criticism and mockery, the real scandal around it is more serious: According to several reports, the Demirören Group – publicly known through Yildirim Demirören, the son of CEO Erdoğan Demirören and president of the Beşiktaş Football Club – has illegally doubled the surface of the construction area, added several storeys both above and below the ground and caused the demolition of two grade-1-listed, historic buildings and serious harm to several others. All in the very centre of the city on İstiklal Caddesi, a street that almost 3 million people walk along every day. While saying he was “not happy” about the appearance of the building and “uneasy” about the allegedly illegal proceedings, the Beyoğlu mayor, AKP politician Ahmet Misbah Demircan, complained: “This building was dirty and rundown for years. Were those who now protest happy with that state?” Both Demircan and his colleagues from the municipality, along with other officials responsible for having licensed the construction, are now under state investigation.
The building that had to make way for the new shopping centre was the Sin-Em Han, which was turned in 1890 into the Deveaux Apartmanları (named after the director of the Ottoman Bank, Émile Deveaux) and housed both the Lüks Cinema and the Saray Cinema in the 1930s. After a fire consumed a large part of the Sin-Em Han in the 1950s, the building was turned into a passage and office complex that housed, amongst others, the traditional Saray Pudding Shop (Saray Muhallebici), owned by Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş. The whole building was bought in 1980 from the Umum Insurance Directorate by the Demirören Group, which closed down most of the shops, offices and the Saray Cinema in 1996 and left the Sin-Em Han vacant.
The project to develop the building complex into a shopping centre – the first on İstiklal Caddesi, a grade-1-listed historic preservation zone – was approved by the Council for Preservation of Sites of Historical Interest in 2004, on the condition, in accordance with Preservation Law No. 2863, that the height of the new structure not exceed that of the neighbouring three-storey grade-1-listed Serkledoryan (Cercle d’Orient) building.
The classic 3 storey Cercle d'Orient Building next door to the new 5 storey Demiroren building
In 2006, the Saray Muhallebici moved into a newly constructed five-storey building across the street, and for the next five years, the construction area vanished behind high wooden panels plastered with advertisements for Milangaz, a gas company that belongs to Demirören Holding. The first to realize that the construction was apparently not proceeding as planned were the residents, owners and caretakers of surrounding buildings, who had begun to notice deepening fissures in their walls. Concerned, they reported their sightings in July 2006 to the Preservation Council, which asked both the construction company and the municipality to take precautions. Neither ever did.
On Feb. 20, 2007, the Council of Ministers decided to turn the plot belonging to the future shopping centre into an Urban Renewal Zone (Yenileme Alanı) and, in accordance with the newly passed Law No. 5366, handed the oversight of the construction project from the Preservation Council to the Renewal Council, which has the authority to overrule the former – something that can lead to contradictory policies, as has happened in the nearby Tarlabaşı neighbourhood. In the opinion of several experts, this administrative patchwork is part of the reason why the developer was able to get away with illegal construction.
“Just think about it – while İstiklal Caddesi is under the responsibility of the Preservation Council, large chunks of the area are under the auspices of the Renewal Council. This leads to confusing decisions”, said Prof. Mete Tapan, the head of the 2.Council for Preservation of Sites of Historical Interest which is in charge of the Beyoğlu area.
The decisions of the Renewal Council in charge of monitoring the Demirören İstiklal project are indeed confusing: While the council in 2008 condemned the increase of the construction area from the initially approved 19,000 m2 to almost 50,000 m2 and called for the demolition of one third of the building both in height and depth, it legalised these substantial – and officially unplanned – changes in 2010, condoning the demolition of two grade-1-listed buildings and the potential endangerment of several more, including a 16th-century mosque. Only one storey was razed by the time the shopping centre opened in 2011, and the structure is still twice the height of the Cercle d’Orient to its left.
Mücella Yapıcı of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects is not as reluctant as Professor Tapan in her criticism of the Renewal Council: “The first significant example of the problem was Tarlabaşı: While one council rules to renovate the area, the other annuls this decision and chooses to demolish it. This simply means that the definition of a SIT Alanı – a Protected Historic Area – does not bear any meaning anymore.” She calls the Demirören shopping centre a “5366 murder,” referring to the law of the same name, and asserts that the lack of transparency makes matters worse. “All urban renewal projects are being held under close wraps by the council”, she said. “In fact, the Renewal Council commits a crime in doing so. Normally they have to present at least all projects that have been approved by the council to the Chamber of Architects, but they didn’t even do that.”
Mucella Yapici of the The Istanbul Chamber of Architects (TMMOB), the organisation has been upset at the lack of planning and implementation of planning laws during the construction of the Demiroren centre.
Mehmet Ulaş works in the İnci Patisserie, said to be the birthplace of the profiterole and one of the last shops in the Cercle d’Orient building to have resisted eviction. The three-storey complex, designed by French-Levantine architect Alexandre Vallaury and built in 1884, is slated for renewal. While both the Beyoğlu mayor and Minister for Culture and Tourism Ertuğrul Günay officially claimed the Cercle d’Orient would be renovated, not demolished, the construction company refuses to share its plans with the public, as does the Renewal Board responsible for approving these plans. However, drafts that leaked on the Internet in 2010 clearly foreshow an eight-storey shopping centre being erected behind the original walls. According to these plans, the currently closed Emek Cinema, opened in 1924 and one of the oldest in Turkey, will be turned into a multiplex theatre and moved to the uppermost floor.
The comment by Beyoğlu mayor Demircan that it would hardly matter if the Emek Cinema moved up a few floors or stayed where it was caused outrage amongst the public. City planner Korhan Gümüş commented, rather dryly: “If this is the authorities’ understanding of protecting cultural heritage [...] we should not bother to try and restore old empty buildings, but instead demolish them all and re-erect them in a sort of Miniatürk museum.” The Istanbul Chamber of Architects (TMMOB) succeeded in halting the Cercle d’Orient construction project in 2010 – for now, with new hearings pending. The historical building might still go the way of its former next-door neighbour, the Sin-Em Han.
Ulaş of İnci Patisserie explains that the owners of the sweets shop, the family of Lukas Zigoridis, who founded İnci in 1944, are unwilling to give in to the pressure from the developers and have taken the matter to court. While he scoops portions of profiteroles onto small plates and hands them to a constant stream of customers, Ulaş says: “The construction of that shopping centre caused a lot of damage, of course! That they illegally added a few floors both below and above ground is just one aspect of it.” He is angry that the construction company got away with it. “Have you seen what happened to the mosque? It looks as if it could come down at any moment! I go there to pray as well, where are the worshippers supposed to go?”
The mosque in question is the Hüseyin Ağa Mosque, built in 1597, on the other side of the shopping centre. It has been extensively damaged due to the seismic shocks caused by the construction of Demirören İstiklal: Fissures run along the outer walls of the historical building, and many of the stone slabs covering the floor of the outer courtyard have cracked. On the inside of the mosque, the gaps are so wide that the wall has been fenced off by scaffolding.
The 400 year old Huseyin Aga Camii during prayer time; it's already squeezed floor area has been reduced further still by the scaffolding and maintenance work.
An employee of the Beyoğlu Müftülüğü (Office for Religious Affairs) who wished to remain anonymous said the General Directorate of Religious Foundations, which is in charge of the mosque building, had decided to close parts of the Hüseyin Ağa Mosque for Friday prayers, due to the danger posed by its damaged walls and roof. The Beyoğlu Municipality has erected a tent in the courtyard of the mosque to cater to worshippers, but because of the lack of space, Friday mosque-goers often spill out into the streets. “All of these cracks stem from the construction of the neighbouring Demirören shopping centre”, the employee explained. “The developer will pay for the repair work of the damage he has caused, but at the moment, we are still waiting for the Monument Board to approve the reconstruction plans.”
The owners of the buildings lining the narrow street just behind the mosque have had similar troubles with their towering new neighbour. Hassan Bakir, who opened the Rize Hotel in 1978 and has run it ever since, wonders how the development company was able to overstep regulations so brazenly. Gesturing towards the end of his street, he says: “They drove iron bars horizontally through the ground to reinforce the foundations of the shopping centre. The vibrations have done great harm to all the surrounding buildings.” He, too, goes to the Hüseyin Ağa Mosque to pray, just like the employees of the neighbouring kebab restaurant. “We are afraid that the whole roof will come crashing down one day while we pray”, a young man laughs while slicing bread.
“Six or seven months ago, the municipality decided to tear all the buildings on our street down because they don’t deem them to be safe anymore”, says Hassan Bakir. Asked what he will do without a hotel to run, he replies: “They promised to build me another hotel right here! And Demirören will pay 50% of the construction costs.” Bakir frowns. “If he doesn’t, I will go to court.”
Osman Eğilmez, the owner of the Ağa Lokantası, which was founded by his grandfather Hakkı Eğilmez in 1920 and was located on Sakızağaç Caddesi until recently, recounts how the developer literally forced him to vacate the traditional premises of his restaurant: “They had wanted to buy the building for a while, even before they started construction works. We refused. In the end, they simply started digging underneath our restaurant from several sides, so we had to sell it to them for fear the whole building would collapse.” Deep cracks in the walls of his former neighbour, the renowned Hacı Abdullah Restaurant, bear witness to the shifts in the foundation caused by the irregular construction work. “Our building and the ones next to it were all historically protected buildings that were illegal to demolish, but that is exactly what Demirören did.” Does he think about opening another restaurant in Beyoğlu? “Yes, certainly, but rents have increased so much that it is hard to find a suitable place.”
A series of articles in October 2010 by Radikal journalist Erkan Aktuğ stirred up enough outrage for the authorities to look into the matter once again. Culture Minister Günay, outraged by the allegations that an illegal structure had been erected in the heart of Istanbul, ordered an inspection council to draw up a report on Demirören İstiklal. The findings, published in March 2011, confirmed the former report by the Renewal Council: One-third of the shopping centre had been illegally added on squatted land and had thus to be demolished. Moreover, the unauthorised deepening 30 metres underground had caused great damage to surrounding grade-1-listed buildings. The ministry report also asked for the Demirören executives, the Beyoğlu Municipality and the members of both the Renewal and Preservation Councils, who had failed to prevent – or had even condoned – the construction, to be tried. The court case is currently ongoing.
It might now be the mayor of Greater Istanbul, Kadir Topbaş, who comes to the rescue of Demirören İstiklal: On March 30, 2011, two and a half months before the general elections in Turkey, he announced a “temporary residence license” for all illegally erected buildings in Istanbul, in order for their owners to be able to reinforce them against the danger of earthquakes. Sami Yilmaztürk of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects explains that such a law amounts to a de facto amnesty of unauthorised construction projects such as the Demirören shopping centre. “It is not a secret that 70% of 1,600,000 buildings in Istanbul have been illegally constructed”, he writes. “It is also curious that Kadir Topbaş has been the mayor for seven of the 12 years that have passed since Aug. 17, 1999, [the day of a devastating earthquake] and that he only now thinks about protecting the citizens against the risk of earthquakes, just months before the elections.”
He continues: “And since the vast majority of the owners of illegal housing have a very low income, they lack the financial means to reinforce their buildings anyway.” Yilmaztürk argues that those who will truly profit from this law are big development companies that have been building illegal skyscrapers, shopping centres and luxury housing all over the city – companies just like the Demirören Group.
Hüseyin, who works as a security officer at Demirören İstiklal and surveys the ongoing construction work outside, is not happy with the protests against the shopping centre. “You know how many people earn their living in this building?” He points to the stream of construction workers carrying bags of concrete. “What would they all do if they ruled to demolish the shopping centre? Can you tell me that?” He does not see what all the fuss is all about: “It’ll take only a year or two for the shopping centre to be as black as the [Cercle d’Orient] building next to it.” He shrugs. “In 50 years, this will also be a historical building; nobody will even notice the difference.”
“There’s a rumour that the municipality is offering TOKI apartments for people in Tarlabaşı to move into,” Özge Karataş says. Sitting in a small coffeehouse on a Tarlabaşı backstreet, she waits for her working day to kick off. As a sex worker, her shifts usually start in the late afternoon. “But that’s not for me. I can’t leave this neighbourhood for nothing.” Asked if she knows where the TOKI development is, Özge laughs and takes another sip of tea. “You go past Büyükçekmece, and then you go even further, and then further again. It’s pretty far from here.”
Only a few of the Tarlabaşı residents we spoke to have been offered an apartment in the TOKI satellite city; some said they had never even heard the name of its location, Kayabaşı, before. Nobody really knows where it is – so we decided to have a look. At the Taksim bus station, we are told to take a bus in the direction of Yenibosna or Ikitelli, and then ask again for directions.
After a journey by bus and minibus (dolmuş) that takes almost exactly two hours despite the light traffic, the driver of the dolmuş stops at a crossroads. “From here, you have to walk about 15 minutes,” he informs us. “This is as close as I can get you.” There are only a few low-rise houses around, some of them surrounded by gardens. Chickens scurry away to avoid an oncoming tractor and the occasional cow nibbles on patches of brownish grass. A variety of big and small road signs point in the directions of factories and businesses in the area. A shed is plastered with cardboard signs labelled “Kayabaşı Apartment Sales Office.” It is closed.
Following the dirt road, past scattered gecekondu, brick factories and a vast field on which garbage is burned in the open, we reach the outer ends of the TOKI development in Kayabaşı. Through the blue smoke, the immaculate yellow, beige and orange high-rises look like cardboard models in an architect’s office.
Despite the fact that a number of apartments have already been sold and a neighbourhood association founded, Kayabaşı is still a ghost town under construction, and access to the site itself is restricted to the employees of the construction companies, for safety reasons. We are lucky enough to hitch a ride with Ahmet*, the owner of one of the contractors working for the Housing Development Administration of Turkey, better known as TOKI. His firm is responsible for some of the many high rises currently being built in Kayabaşı. “Working for TOKI is a blessing for a construction company – there is just no end to the work,” he says. “We have barely noticed that there was a financial crisis. In France, many construction companies have gone bankrupt.” He agrees to take us on a tour of his company’s latest project.
Construction work on “Kayaşehir,” as the project is officially called, started in 2005. It is the biggest satellite city development in Turkey to date, a fact that the TOKI website proudly emphasizes. 65,000 apartments will be built here, and once the project is fully completed, the population of Kayaşehir is expected to total 400,000 people. Kayabaşı will be divided into 17 sectors and will be equipped with schools, policlinics, parks, mosques, police stations and sports facilities. According to the TOKI website, there will be 36 m2 of green area for each inhabitant of the development. The tender for a large shopping centre – planned to host 172 stores, offices, a hotel and a multiplex cinema – has been awarded to Makro Inşaat.
TOKI plans to hand over the keys to the first 11,500 apartments in April 2011. The rest of the houses are slated for completion in the following five years. In the meantime, evictions in Tarlabaşı continue.
With demand often higher than the supply, especially in Anatolian cities and towns, TOKI usually sells its apartments through a lottery drawing. In Kayabaşı, people from the low to very low income groups and people who “trade in” houses classified as a danger in the event of an earthquake can apply for a TOKI apartment without having to go through that process. At the moment, however, only 3 percent of the planned 65,000 apartments target the very low income group. Apartments in this category require a monthly payment of 306 TL (approx. 139 Euros) over the course of 180 months, as well as an initial 1,000 TL fee to be paid upon application. Additional costs of the move will include bills, fees for the doorman and money for the daily commute to work. Taking one public bus and a dolmuş, the roundtrip journey to Taksim costs approximately 8 TL, a considerable chunk out of the average Tarlabaşı resident’s salary.
For many of the current Tarlabaşı residents, the total cost of that bill is too high. Irregular employment and pay add to the pressure; very few people living in the area have social security, some do not even have health care. Esad Yarış, who has lived in the neighbourhood for years and has been told by the Beyoğlu Municipality to evacuate his house by the middle of March, is desperate: “I would move to Kayabaşı immediately if I could afford it. But 306 TL a month is simply too much for me. We cannot pay more than 100 TL a month.” Since he has a disability that prevents him from working, he has to rely on the very modest income provided by the rest of his family.
Because they cannot afford to buy property, roughly 70 percent of the people living in Tarlabaşı are tenants just like Esad Yarış – compared to an Istanbul average of 20 to 30 percent. Taking on the mortgage required to buy a house in a TOKI development is a risk that could only too easily end in homelessness – and the Housing Development Administration does not provide any rental housing.
In 2008, 300 Romani families from Sulukule in the Fatih Municipality were chosen to move into the TOKI development of Taşoğluk, approximately 40 kilometres from the city centre. Their neighbourhood had been declared an urban renewal area and was demolished, despite massive national and international protest. The average time to commute back to their neighbourhood, to their workplaces, relatives and friends, took three hours, according to Şükrü Pündük, head of the local Roma Association.
Only six months after they had moved into their new homes, 291 of the families moved back to Sulukule, complaining that their modern apartment blocks far away from the city felt like a prison. More importantly, many families had been unable to pay the monthly rates, the bills for gas, water and electricity and the fares for the journey back to Istanbul in order to secure a very modest income – Taşoğluk did not offer any jobs at all. However, with their old houses demolished, the returnees were officially homeless, and those who could not fall back on the help of family or friends started to live in tents or in the ruins of their old neighbourhood.
The Sulukule Roman Orchestra put their displeasure into song: “Rak, rak, raki… Yaktın bizi TOKI… Mahallemden kopardın, vicdansız TOKI” – “TOKI, you duped us… You ripped me out of my neighbourhood, unscrupulous TOKI.”
The relocation of people in low and very low income groups from slums into TOKI-style apartment blocks is a global problem, David Smith, the founder of the Affordable Housing Institute, said in a recent interview. “Throughout the world, high rises that do nothing but concentrate poor people fail. They failed in the U.S., they failed in the U.K., they failed in Paris,” he said. “Poor people are much more dependent on being connected with the street: [They have] flats over shops and workplaces, [their] kids need to be able to play.”
In many cases, Smith said, people would do what the residents of Sulukule did and simply move elsewhere, abandoning their allocated new high-rise homes in order to recreate these needs and minimise living costs. Citing the example of São Paulo, where the municipality demolished slum areas in order to replace shanty houses with five-storey apartment blocks, he explained: “Moving people from the ground floor to a high rise changed their lifestyle. They couldn’t keep chickens on the third floor, they couldn’t cut vegetables. They couldn’t burn wood for heat in a third-floor unit. The cost of living on the third floor was higher than what they could afford. So they were ‘market-evicted’ – they moved out.”
Many Tarlabaşı residents also fear that moving into a skyscraper in a satellite city will deprive them of the sense of community they like about their neighbourhood. Mustafa Arpacı, who runs a small second-hand furniture shop, has already moved from his house in Tarlabaşı to a more “modern” development in Üsküdar, on Istanbul’s Asian side. “Our neighbours in Üsküdar are very good people, but we don’t talk much,” he says. “Here, everybody knows everybody; we know where each neighbour comes from, and what kind of work they do.” He comes to Tarlabaşı every day, he says, and misses his friends on the days that he stays at home.
His neighbour Osman*, who has received several eviction letters since his building was sold a few months back, does not believe that the TOKI offer is being made with honest intentions. “They tell nothing but lies!” he exclaims. “You will have to pay with the last shirt off your back in order to become a homeowner with TOKI. You will have to work for 10, 20 years – I will probably not even live that long. They will suck you completely dry before giving you an apartment. That’s how TOKI works.”
It took Osman a long time to set up his shop and a home for himself and his family in Tarlabaşı, he says. His oldest children all work in textile workshops in the neighbourhood, making roughly 300 TL a week. “Our house, our workplaces, the schools – they are all here! If I have to move away, how will I be able to work? How will my son and my daughter work? With what money will we travel back and forth?” he asks. Having been displaced once from his home village in Siirt province 15 years ago, he knows how hard it is to start from scratch. “How will I be able to send my youngest children to school? They will have to work, too – what else could we do?” Osman is bitter that it is again the government that is threatening his family with eviction: “What kind of work will we be able to do in the middle of nowhere? We will become thieves, what else?”
On the way back from the TOKI development in Kayabaşı, we again hitch a ride with Ahmet, the contractor. He is proud of the work his company and the other TOKI contractors are doing and thinks people will be very happy in their new, modern homes. But isn’t Kayabaşı very far from Taksim and Tarlabaşı? Ahmet shrugs: “But everything will be here! There will be schools, hospitals, a big shopping centre, a cinema, parks and sports facilities – why would people want to go to Taksim? They won’t have a need for that, Kayabaşı will be a city in itself!”
To the question of whether a sense of community will survive the relocation to Kayabaşı and its radically different lifestyle, Ahmet remains quiet and smiles. Just before dropping us off, he admits: “Probably not. That won’t be possible here.”
In this podcast, Geoffrey discusses the gecekondu (“overnight home”) districts of Ankara.
From the late 1970′s up to 2005; Geoffrey has studied the development of gecekondu in Ankara and the lessons and opportunities they provide for other countries concerning socially-inclusive city expansion. This podcast covers the Ottoman laws that allow for ownership of the land on which a house is constructed “overnight”, how the informal housing groups would retrospectively work with city planners on putting in roads, how newcomers would secretly lay foundations overnight then get people to help them build a house over a weekend. You can also learn where to find the best places to shop for your window frames with glass, rails and curtains already attached.
A trained architect, Geoffrey Payne is an expert in urban housing, local land development, land tenure and project design issues in developing countries, a central theme of which is building local capacity to reduce urban poverty. Geoffrey’s website: www.gpa.org.uk
Common across Turkish cities and towns is the sight of a basket or bucket lowered down on a rope from an apartment window or balcony, followed by a shouted request for bread, rice, baking powder or any other commodity sold in the local corner shop (bakkal). The order will be shouted over to the shopkeeper or his apprentice, a neighbour’s child playing in the street or even just any random passer-by. The money is taken from the basket, and shortly after both the merchandise and the remaining change are placed in the improvised shopping basket that is then being pulled back up.
This bucket has been lowered onto Sakızağaç Sokak in the community of Tarlabaşı, Istanbul.