taksim project: the reign of madness in Istanbul

Undoubtedly, one of the most important public spaces in Turkey is the Taksim Square. In the minds and hearts of Istanbulites and anyone who visits the city, Taksim will remain as a dazzling, cosmopolitan urban centre where people from very different backgrounds co-exist and pass-by in a somewhat surprising harmony not only among thousands of pedestrians but also with slow-paced  flowing car traffic. There are 7 roads coming together at the square, including the city’s most lively pedestrian main street, Istiklal, with over 2 million passer-bys a day. This is such a central urban space with extensive visibility that it is not surprising to see the appetite of the city’s and the capital’s officials to intervene, re-design and put their sign on the space.

Taksim Square, being as much as a vibrant urban centre, in the contemporary history of Turkish Republic, it has always been a political space, a space where the May Days were celebrated, various protests took place, access to social movements were denied by the authorities many times for many years. But over and over again it has been reclaimed by the social and political movements. Taksim is indeed the Tahrir Square of Istanbul.

Now, in the new Istanbul of the new Turkey, urban transformation of the city is visible more than ever. Taksim being at the centre of this rapid change, now targeted by the government as a space of intervention for yet another ‘mad’ project. Urban madness has became a norm and ethos in Istanbul for some time now, but especially promoted by the Prime Minister since the last national election. Projects such as Kanal Istanbul; 2 new cities; Third Bridge over the Bosporus were all determined the agenda of elections. And we knew that Taksim was part of this series of madness. Now, as the urban plans were approved, and the videos of the project were made in detail, we feel that the danger is closer than ever before. According to these plans, the car traffic will be transferred to underground by constructing a complicated motorway and viaducts system connecting those 7 streets; the diving and escaping tunnels will be built with service roads replacing the pedestrian streets; and an old army barracks demolished 60 years ago will be ‘re-constructed’ on the only remaining green park in this part of the city, probably to function as a lucrative shopping mall, one of the symbolic consumption spaces in the rapidly globalizing city. After the project, the accommodating symbiosis of the Square will be radically damaged; a parallel automobile universe will be constructed underground; the tunnels will drastically limit the pedestrian access to the square and de-humanise the space; and the shopping mall will replace a very valuable green oasis and commercialize this ‘political’ space, probably with an out fashined architectural intervention.

Sadly, we are observing a rapid death of a beautiful city, yet again with a combination of arrogant, undemocratic ruling; greedy investment; wrong and out of date consultancy; and self destructive  ignorance…

5 responses on “taksim project: the reign of madness in Istanbul

  1. “Urban madness has became a norm and ethos in Istanbul for some time now, but especially promoted by the Prime Minister since the last national election.”

    Ignoring the presumably unintentional non sequiteur/malapropism: actually similar complaints were being levelled during the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. If not about the space that became Taksim Sq, then about developments in other parts of the city – .
    And they continue to be levelled about developments in other cities in other parts of the world too.
    I wonder could the general opposition to them reflect a more general opposition to “change” per se, and so be more a reflection of the normal human condition of ‘powerlessness in the face of change” ?
    That said, “recreating” the Ottoman army barracks is absurdly pointless.

  2. I didn’t get the point in ‘malapropism’.. If it refers to the usage of ‘madness’, indeed it was intentional and explains well the kind of urban development model (i.e. neoliberal urban transformation) being promoted in Turkey at the moment and in other parts of the world. Erdogan himself described and emphasized his latest urban interventions as ‘mad’ projects, you can see the previous posts on this blog.

    I can see the point in ‘opposition to change’ and especially among the urban conservation circles this can be an element, a kind of immediate reflex to any sort of new projects. But Taksim Sq. project, apart from the absurdity of rebuilding the Ottoman barracks, is a very absurd project in general, as argued by many urbanist (including myself), architects, planners, citizens etc. which will have dramatic effect on the ‘quality’ of the space itself, on the transportation at this part of the city, and it has a broader political meaning.

    On the contrary, change is desperately needed in Istanbul. But what I want to question is the kind of change we are going through. To be more critical to the change-drive and claim something ‘different’. In a nutshell, more deliberative, democratic, principled, social and not only promoted by the techno-managerial, capital-driven rapidly trans-nationalising elite class in a post-political urban environment. What about changing the legal status of informally developed neighbourhoods of Istanbul and improve their living conditions? Or investing in the public transformation systems starting from metro line extentions? Or stopping to privatize all the heritage buildings to developers to develop shopping malls and invest in restoration of them? The list of ‘change’ can be extended endlessly but what is more crucial is the way in which the change occurs..

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