You know the Burger King at the corner of Taksim Square and Istiklal Boulevard? Of course you do; visit Istanbul once and you know where to find it. When I pass that spot and look up, I always wish they would tear down that whole building. It’s ugly, and what’s more, it blocks the view of the beautiful church behind it – maybe that’s why it was put there in the first place, who knows? That would be where I would start the transformation of Taksim Square.
The municipality has begun the actual transformation of Taksim Square this week. Unfortunately, they started quite differently to what I had in mind. They started chopping down trees. On the other end of the square to where Istiklal begins, there is a small park, Gezi Park, and the mayor decided it has to be replaced by a shopping mall. As if that is what people are crying out for!
I would make Gezi Park bigger. You know what? I think I would let it cover the whole of the square. And when I say the whole, I mean the whole. Including all the streets that surround the square. All park. The streets go underground, so we get rid of the terrible smell and exhaust gasses. The Republic monument that is now at the side of the square would be in the middle of New Gezi Park. Around it an immense field, where people can gather to celebrate national holidays and to protest at whatever they like. No tear gas allowed.
Around that central field and the monument, I picture outdoor seating. Some of it just for tea, some of it to have a bite or a nice dinner, some of it to have beer, wine and raki. We’d sit there in summer and in winter too, because outside life is the Turkish way. There’d be music, but silence too. There would be several children’s playgrounds, of course. And benches to sit on, grass to lie down on. Till late at night, we would not hear traffic, but the sound of backgammon being played.
It’s unrealistic of course. I’m no city planner. I’m just a citizen of Istanbul (well, partly I am, since I have moved to Diyarbakir for the time being) who happens to hate Taksim Square the way it is, and sometimes dreams about another reality. The sad thing is, all these Istanbullites who have their fantasies about Istanbul’s central square as well, have never ever been heard by the municipality. In a classical Turkish autocratic way, the new square was designed without asking the citizens anything. Their wild dreams about the square should have been heard, and taken into account.
The new square will have no park at all. It will be even more of a concrete hell than it is today. The entrances to the square will be smaller, according to some to make it more difficult for (protesting) crowds to reach the square. The rights of pedestrians, who should have been the most important group in the minds of the designers who redesign such an important city square, are hardly considered.
I’m not sure how long it will take to reconstruct Taksim. It will probably be a construction site for months to come. With a result that makes no citizen happy.