q and a: urban transformation in istanbul

Questions: Özgür Göral

Answers: Yasar A. Adanali

1)     Urban transformation projects are one of the most controversial issues during the last years in İstanbul. In your opinion, what is the urban and political meaning of this term for İstanbul’s urban area?

The urban meaning of this term is disintegration of the city and segregation of its people. It is the vehicle in which cities are being divided into clearly identified functions and class-based clusters. The political meaning of the term is about monopolizing the decision-making power on the reconfiguration of the urban spaces and using the power of state for the benefit of capital accumulation of a privileged class.

2)     TOKI is a very influential public actor for urban transformation projects. How would you interpret its role? Do you suggest any type of change for its functioning?

TOKI has the leading role in the state-led privatization process of public land and assets. Not only the role of the TOKI but also the broader housing policy of Turkey needs to be changed radically. The current model is based on making people home-owners in TOKI-build houses (if they are not well-off) or in privately developed gated-communities (if they are well-off). Yet, the urban projects should be targeting mixed income groups, integrated to the cities, multi-functional, enabling small business, with adequate social infrastructure and public spaces. It is also important to protect the social fabric of the informal neighbourhoods by improving the living conditions, instead of following one size fits for all (forced eviction – demolition – relocation – reconstruction) approach to urban transformation. TOKI can also keep its own housing stock to allocate to local authorities for providing real social rental housing for those in need, but not as disintegrated poverty islands, but as mixed-income projects.

3)     What do you think about the change of the legal regulations related with the urban transformation project? How law could be used as an instrument for the right of housing?

At the moment, the legal changes related to the urban transformation projects are being introduced to by-pass the existing laws that are time to time being interpreted by higher courts on behalf of the project victims; to block democratic opposition movements; and to make election looses irrelevant with regard to the urban transformation process. One of the recent moves was to take off the responsibility of district municipalities on the decisions of the transformation areas and to give it to the Metropolitan Municipalities. This was a clear strategy of the ruling party to by-pass the electorate looses at the last municipal elections related to the failed urban transformation projects in certain districts of Istanbul such as Sariyer and Maltepe. Which can be interpreted as monopolizing the political power in the hands of the ruling party, by centralizing certain key decision-making powers. On the other hand, following the recent referendum on constitutional change and all the debates centered around open up a path for urban social movements to follow and fill the gap. The movements should take a proactive role in the right to housing related debates and come up with constitutional alternatives to advocate change in the housing policy of the country.

4)     In your opinion, what is the role of the private enterprises within the metropolitan context of urban transformation project?

Private real-estate developers are working as partners with TOKI and municipalities in these projects. They are openly declaring their interest in these projects, with their public statements on how important to demolish and rebuilt our cities, especially when considering the potential earthquake risk. They are keen to spell out large percentages or numbers such as “70 % of all buildings or 1 million buildings should be demolished in Istanbul”. This would mean substantial increase in the potential land-to-be-developed and marketed.

5)     How do you evaluate the situation of social movements related with urban questions? What are the key problems?

It is hard to call existing oppositions dealing with urban questions as urban social movements as different groups are far from acting in co-operation nor their ability to mobilize masses are quite limited. Yet, there are attempts to join forces for urgently awaiting urban issues. I believe the potential for future success of the movements lie in their ability to develop a strong coalition not only among the urban groups but also with the rural groups such as anti river privatization and peasant movements.

6)     What is your point of view about alternative planning?

Alternative planning is about politics. Actually, it is all about politics. It can be a powerful and empowering tool in the hands of urban activists and it can be utilized in their solidarity activities with the urban poor. Yet, this is a limited understanding of alternative planning. It should pave the way to active engagement of citizens in their right to build their own living environments, or in other words, to the right to the city.

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