I remember I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Ataşehir for the first time. I passed it in a long-distance bus leaving Istanbul, and I turned on my seat because I just couldn’t take my eyes off it. Even now, every time I pass this part of the city, I’m amazed and overwhelmed. To be honest, I can still hardly believe places like Ataşehir exist.
How to describe Ataşehir? It’s a group of modern sky scrapers on the outskirts of Istanbul. Not three or four buildings, no, dozens of high concrete apartment blocks, wedged in between highways. Ataşehir is brand new, construction started in 2006. When I look at it from behind a long-distance bus window with my Dutch eyes, I can’t believe this is actually a place where people can live their lives. Ataşehir, I thought, is ugly, massive and horrible.
But the more often I passed it, the more intrigued I became. At first sight, it is horrible, no question about it. But Ataşehir is also totally overwhelming, impressive and, yes, beautiful. Not beautiful as in charming, but beautiful in it’s size, its pretentiousness, its architecture, and, above all in its success. Because places like these (Istanbul has more of them and new ones are being built all the time) are not inhabited by poor migrants from other parts of Turkey who have no choice but to end up in concrete apartment blocks. On the contrary: the apartments here are sold for huge amounts of money to the richest people in the city, the upper class of Istanbul. They pay millions of lira sometimes to get the most luxurious penthouses.
Why? Go take a look. From Üsküdar and Kadiköy buses and mini-buses go to Ataşehir – ask around at the bus station. On the European side of town, Bahçeşehir is a good example of a city area like Ataşehir, and the metro bus to Avcilar that leaves from Mecediyeköy (2 stops on the metro from Taksim Square) takes you there.
Urban areas like this actually have something to offer. From the outside you see only concrete, but from up close you see that there is a lot of green, there are swimming pools, tennis courts, play grounds, sports halls, schools, shopping centres, medical facilities, beauty centres, entertainment, and a whole lot of offices as well: you name it and it’s there. Besides that, the sky scrapers are built in clusters, and each cluster has a fence around it, and a gate with a security guy to let you in. This last thing, by the way, still puzzles me: Istanbul is a metropolis, but one of the safest in the world, with extremely low crime rates compared to other 10 to 20 million people urban conglomerates. Anyway, if you are ready to see another side of city life in Istanbul, take a day and wander around with an open mind. You will see the attraction it has for many people.
Not for me, by the way. And not only because I can’t afford it. I prefer to live in places that are more mixed, both culturally and economically. And there is one thing that Ataşehir and all these other hot spots don’t have: the Bosporus in walking distance!
I think it is important to realise that Ataşehir development did not begin in 2006. Ataşehir was built in the early to mid-1990’s. The phenomenon you mention is “Batı Ataşehir” (West Ataşehir), which started out in 2006. Ataşehir was already a very large community when the treasury released the free lands on the western side for building.
Interestingly, Ataşehir was the first modern community on the Anatolian side of Istanbul that was built around the automobile. Wnen it was first developed in the early 1990’s, it was quite different for its time. Here was an area that was not close to the water, was -relatively- remote, and accessible by motor vehicles only.
Ataşehir was also one of the first examples of “site” living (compounds), as you mentioned, with gated security, tennis courts, swimming pools, etc.
Actually (my own opinion here) Ataşehir was quite a nice area until Batı Ataşehir was built. There was a strong sense of community, nice shops, great walking areas, very little traffic. They connected Batı Ataşehir to the main part via a new road, and traffic is now terrible, all the little shops have become chain stores, and the sense of community is falling apart.
I am permanently tied to Uskudar and at first I wondered at the reason for my preference of home in Istanbul. Maybe it was the memory i have of my Ukrainian grandma in the 50’s here in Canada – a stout woman wearing a headscarf ( custom, not religion ) and carrying a ton of shopping bags. I ended up living in an area of Uskudar that connected me to my roots. I revel in hanging out my washing, knowing my local shopkeepers, and carrying shopping bags alongside the Turkish grandmothers. I look out my window and i see so much life below: marriages, deaths, the accordion man, children playing tag. I was shocked when i first saw the more modern sections. They seemed cold and lifeless, just like the Canadian cities i know. In Uskudar, I’m home at last 🙂