Posted on June 25, 2013
By Vasif Kortun, Director of Research and Programs at SALT Galata, Istanbul, with an introduction by Corinne Erni, Project Manager, IDEAS CITY
Last October, when the New Museum organized the first international IDEAS CITY Conference in Istanbul, the city’s immense beauty, cultural and historical significance, as well as its hyper-ambitious urban transformation was palpable to the international attendees. However, the young practitioners—artists, architects, urban planners, journalists, and sociologists—participating in the panels and workshops told a different tale of their city: Istanbul was presented as a deeply fragmented city where decisions about public spaces were made without involving experts in building cities or civic organizations. As one panelist, Yaşar Adnan Adanalı, put it on Six Degrees last year, “The scale of urban transformation in Istanbul could only be paralleled by similar madness, such as proposing to build a new city right on Central Park.”
What seemed apparent to us at the time was a sense of an almost fatalistic acceptance of top-down authority. On the Sunday that our workshops took place at SALT Galata, the demonstrations in Taksim Square were sparsely populated and hardly noticeable. We also heard about the impossibility of the different ethnic, religious, and social groups coming together for a mutual cause. In light of the events at Taksim Square in recent weeks, however, it now seems that for a microscopic moment in history these groups have unified to express their frustration and dissatisfaction with an autocratic government. What began in May as a protest by environmentalists upset over the government’s plans to build on a park adjoining Taksim Square quickly grew into a movement against the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The following essay, detailing the Square’s architectural history and the Justice and Development Party’s plans for Gezi Park, comes from Vasif Kortun, Director of Research and Programs at SALT Galata, a cultural and research center in the heart of Istanbul. Read the full essay here.