One of the many election promises of the Prime-Minister Erdogan is the rearrangement of Istanbul’s most important public square, Taksim. According to his recent presentation, the PM is planning to pedestrianize the Square, remove the bus stops, shift the traffic underground via tunnels, re-construct Topcu Barracks, which was demolished in 1940 due to the lack of restoration budget. Taksim Square has always received attention from politicians to be re-designed, probably not surprisingly when considering its visibility and symbolic importance within the broader public imagination. Once again an urban project is being proposed without any sort of public participation, nor consultation. Let’s hope that the new construction that will take place will not create another enclosed private space with shopping mall and hotel functions.
the plan of Topcu Barracks
Some months ago, Taksim Square was again on the news following the Mayor’s announcement of the plans. I believe the article below written by Bahar Cuhadar is still extremely relevant for today:
Experts call for debate before changing Istanbul’s Taksim Square
ISTANBUL – Radikal
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş’s recently announced plans to pedestrianize the city’s central Taksim Square are lacking in specifics and should have been developed in consultation with experts and the public, architects and city planners have said.
“We learn of these decisions through press meetings,” said architect Ömer Yılmaz, the CEO of Arkitera Architecture Center. “Of course politicians will make administrative decisions about the city,” but such moves should be part of a larger decision-making process, he said, adding that no such process exists for public works in Istanbul.
Topbaş said in early January that work would begin this year to close the major square in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district to traffic, with numerous roads in the area moved underground and bus stations and metro entrances relocated.
Taksim Square is a central transit point, providing connections for buses, minibuses, taxis, the metro system and the funicular, Yılmaz said. “The most radical intervention could be the removal of the transit stations. But it is difficult to avoid [Taksim] being a center for vehicle traffic,” he said. “It is also difficult to imagine Taksim being like one of the romantic squares in Italy.”
In order to make Taksim a true public square, it would need to be developed in relation with the surrounding buildings, according to architect Haydar Karabey of Limited Architecture. “What kind of relationship will it have with an enclosed AKM [Atatürk Cultural Center]? Currently, police barriers are on one side and public toilets are on the other. It is the right decision to rearrange all these,” he said, adding that people, rather than traffic, should be the priority on the square. “But if you empty [Taksim], you risk turning it into [a vast Communist-style] square. At least two or three project contests were held [in the past] for Taksim. They might be put on display, or more modern ideas might be produced as well.”
Emphasizing that a city is a living organism, Karabey added: “A city might need something new. Arrangements can be done accordingly. We are not against this, but people in this city have a right to know when these [changes] will be done.”
More study needed
“Work to open Taksim Square to pedestrian traffic should be taken care of not by circles expecting money out of these arrangements but by a meticulous study by relevant professional associations,” said Şükrü Aslan, a sociologist from Mimar Sinan University. “The local administration should guide the process in this direction. I am concerned about Topbaş saying work will be launched in 2011.”
According to Aslan, the involvement of professional organizations, experts and local associations is especially crucial because of the important role Taksim has played as a political space in the social history of the city, and of the entire country.
“Taksim Square is not an ordinary square. The 1977 killing of dozens of people at May Day celebrations there has given a political identity to Taksim Square. To keep alive the political image in the minds of people walking by Taksim is also a requirement for our political confrontation with the past,” he said. “Discussion on Taksim Square without considering its political identity is incomplete right from the beginning. I call on the metropolitan municipality officials: It is only humane to lend an ear to institutions representing the workers who lost their lives here when you make an attempt to change anything in Taksim Square.”
Architect Karabey also criticized the way decisions are made about the city. “Around the world, these [decisions] are made through public consultations. Projects are put on display; people discuss and vote on them,” he said. “Taksim Square is ours. It is the Republic square, the May Day square. It is a place for protests and entertainment. Acting like a ruler and saying, ‘I am doing this in Taksim,’ without asking anyone about anything is extremely wrong. I, as an Istanbul resident, would like to know what will happen.”
Mayor Topbaş said in his announcement that both Mete Street, which runs in front of the Atatürk Cultural Center, and the street curving from Tarlabaşı Boulevard to Sıraselviler Avenue will be opened to pedestrians. Traffic will be moved to a lower level and metro exits will be relocated from the center of the square to side streets. City buses that currently stop in the square will be removed.
As this Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has provided no additional details, Aslan said he inferred from the mayor’s remarks that Taksim Square could become a footbridge rather than being totally opened to pedestrian traffic. He also noted the possible harm to the historical texture of the area.
“[Installing] tunnels everywhere irreversibly harms historical texture. A similar mindset killed a part of history in Tarlabaşı, next to Taksim Square, during the 1980s in order to open the square to vehicle traffic,” Aslan said.
‘Vehicle and pedestrian traffic to be integrated’
It is possible to transform Istanbul’s Taksim Square from a crossroads for traffic and give it a new appearance and function as long as the process is well thought out, according to city planner Faruk Göksu.
“Designing a square should begin with taking into consideration image, proportionality and public-usage criteria. Pedestrian access should also be increased,” Göksu said. Greek and Roman squares set an example in terms of scale, function, image and feeling, but Taksim has lost traces of its past, he said, adding that squares designed to answer today’s needs should be considered as examples instead.
“[These examples include] Times Square in New York; Potsdam Square in Berlin, with its new arrangement; or Konak Square in the province of İzmir. However, a unique arrangement is needed in Taksim,” Göksu said, identifying several strategies about design principles that should be utilized to reflect the identity and image of Taksim Square.
Image and identity strategy: As Taksim Square is redesigned, the Independence Monument in the center of the square, the Atatürk Cultural Center, İstiklal Avenue and the nearby church, cistern and park should be considered as main design data.
Accessibility strategy: Taking into consideration its location and its role as an intersection of so many transportation modes, work should be done to integrate uses for parking and both vehicle and pedestrian traffic, rather than opening the square to pedestrians only.
Integration strategy: An integration strategy will help with spatial, social and economic development. The new design needs to focus on nearby Tarlabaşı Boulevard, Sıraselviler Avenue, the Talimhane area and Gezi Park as an integrated whole.
Creating public areas strategy: The number of accessible public areas should be increased in order to encourage activities by social groups.