(This blog post is written by Marc Guillet – see boxed text)
I’m angry. Angry about the plans of the city authorities to destroy little Gezi Park next to Taksim Square. And I am even more annoyed that not a single representative in the Metropolitan Municipality Assembly has voted against it. The vote was unanimous last September. That means that also the representatives of the CHP opposition, a party that claims to be progressive and social democratic, agreed with the destruction of that little piece of public green in Taksim.
It is all part of the “Taksim Project” that claims to make the square more pedestrian-friendly. Yes Taksim Square is a pedestrian nightmare if you are in a hurry and don’t want to wait for the traffic lights. But to rebuilt Ottoman Barracks – that were torn down in 1940 – on the spot where we now have a park? Crazy! Creative, cynical planners of Istanbul twisted laws to preserve a historic building (military barracks) that isn’t even there!
Authorities try to calm down protesting and worried residents by saying they want to turn the barracks into a cultural center. Aren’t there enough historical buildings in Istanbul that you can turn into a cultural center? I have seen more than enough empty and neglected Ottoman buildings that could be used for that purpose.
‘Taksim Platform’, a group of architects, civil servants, representatives from civic organizations and concerned citizens, is creating awareness about the negative consequences of this project.
When I first mentioned it on Twitter I didn’t only get supportive reactions, but several negative one as well.
“The Turkish Government is just rebuilding our history, they are not demolishing green spaces”, wrote one. And “Excuse me; do you have any idea what happens at night at Gezi Park in Taksim? It’s not a safe place, it’s really dangerous”.
Well, if it isn’t safe at night the municipality and police should take care of that. It cannot be a reason to erase it!
You can’t compare little Gezi Park with Central Park in the center of Manhattan (843 acres – 3.41 km2) or Hyde Park in London (350 acres). But it is a cozy oasis for young mothers with kids, old people who chat and sip Turkish coffee or tea, and others who just want to escape the constant noise of the city. This park, like all parks, is one of the vital components of urban existence.
What does the proposed Taksim Project involve?
It calls for the construction of enormous ramps –10 meters deep and 100 meters long– leading to subterranean tunnels directing traffic under Taksim Square. The ramps will be located at seven points near the square, including Gümüşsuyu, Sıraselviler, Mete, Tarlabaşı, and Cumhuriyet Boulevards. High concrete walls will be erected, and the existing sidewalks along the boulevards will be transformed into service roads. The trees in the hood will be cut down. And it will still be difficult to reach Taksim Square by foot.
Am I against a transformation of the Square? No. But as in any public project, financed by citizen’s taxes, citizens should be informed of and consulted about it. Taksim Square will never be like San Marco in Venice or the Red Square in Moscow. But it can be improved and be made more pedestrian-friendly without destroying the Gezi Park. I would even argue that there are enough architects in Istanbul who can beautify the park up to modern day standards.
I have to admit that successive mayors did their best to improve the quality of living in Istanbul since the first time I visited the city in 1983. They cleaned the shores and the water of the Golden Horn. Heavy industry is gone. The water of this historic inlet of the Bosporus isn’t used anymore as an open sewage. There is much more public green in the city. Clean LPG engines in taxis were promoted. And since 2006 we got buses Euro III environment friendly engines. A new Metrobüs system was introduced in September 2007. A growing number of the current IETT fleet of approximately 2,800 buses is ‘green’.
Tramway T1 has been expanded and modernized. Since the 1990s there is a new and slowly expanding metro system. Much more should be done. We need more metro and tram lines in all directions, not only along the north-south axis from Atatürk Airport to Sarıyer on the European shore of the Bosporus.
One of my objections against the “Taksim Project” in its current form is also the lack of transparency of this transformation project of architect and mayor Kadir Topbaş. The municipality has invited the public to express their opinions about the color and the models of new ferries and trams. But doesn’t give the public a chance to participate in more important decisions like the transformation of Taksim Square.
Dr. Kadir Topbaş, who was elected in 2010 as President of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) for a period of three years, is obliged to give an exemplary performance in handling transformation projects in his city in a democratic and transparent way. Therefore I urge the mayor and the Metropolitan Municipality Assembly to inform and consult residents, experts and civic organizations about the details of the project in public hearings. The authorities of the city should not ignore the voices of various groups and individuals who have the expertise to evaluate the effects this project will have on the urban fabric of Taksim.
Make your voices heard: protect little Gezi Park on Taksim from being destroyed. Sign the petition: Taksim belongs to all of us! Save our green spaces!