It would have been too cruel, of course, to take Istanbul off the World Heritage List in the year that the city is European Capital of Culture. UNESCO decided not to transfer Istanbul to the World Heritage in Danger List. Just like last year, and the year before. And it doesn’t look like the yearly decision-making meeting of UNESCO is going to be less stressful for Turkey in coming years.
Somehow it doesn’t get through to Turkish politicians just how important Istanbul’s cultural heritage really is. In one newspaper article I read that the chair of the Istanbul Archaeologists’ Association sees a role for UNESCO: the organisation could pressure Turkish officials to make more effort to protect Istanbul’s treasures. In other words: protecting buildings and views in Istanbul is still not high enough on the priority list of both the municipality and the government in Ankara. A big shame.
Of course, it’s not easy managing a city like Istanbul, with historical and archaeological sites practically everywhere you put a spade in the ground. City planners go crazy for example while building a new metro line that will connect Üsküdar on the Anatolian side of town with the old city centre on the European side, with a lot of stops planned before and after crossing the Bosporus. Alongside the Marmara Sea on the Euopean side an old harbour with an ancient ship has been found. It has to be investigated thoroughly, of course totally screwing up the planning of the construction works.
As well there is the fast-growing population of the city. All these people need to be housed and transported, they produce waste and cause pollution. You can’t prevent urbanisation, but you can try to manage it, and that’s exactly what Istanbul is not doing properly. It makes ad hoc plans and has no long term vision on urbanisation. Look at the tram line that they want to build across the Golden Horn, and which could ruin the view of the historical peninsula of the city. The plans have been made, some money has been spent, and now it turns out it could anger UNESCO once more. Go on with the plans and try to find a compromise, or stop the construction altogether?
Amazing that this question has only just come up. It makes you wonder how things go during the decision making meetings. ‘Sorry gentlemen, we forgot to take into account the historical view of the city while drawing up the plans.’ ‘Oops, historical view, hmm, who’s responsibility was that again?’ Nobody’s, apparently – or everybody’s, and all these everybody’s are pointing the finger at each other when things go wrong.
I’m sure next year the tension will rise again before the UNESCO meeting. I see no sign whatsoever of the powers that be radically changing and treating the wonderful heritage of this city the way it deserves.