Today, Istanbul’s Taksim Square is a bustling hub of activity, with majestic Gezi Park providing some natural solace — even when the trees are brown in winter, as in the above photo. But a new plan would eliminate most of the greenery in this photo and cut off Taksim from the rest of the city. That’s the argument of the Taksim Platform, a group of concerned citizens, urban planners, lawyers, and academics who have so far collected more than 13,500 signatures against the project. See what the new square would look like after the jump.
In the government’s vision for the new Taksim Square, the front of Gezi Park would be replaced by a building with a courtyard, while the back would be reduced to a small patch of grass and a mall. The streets running through and around Taksim Square would be paved over and replaced by deep underground tunnels, increasing the volumeand speed of traffic as vehicles exit the tunnels.
No sidewalks are visible in the images of the reconstructed Taksim Square available on the website of Turkey’s ruling party (which controls Istanbul’s municipal government), adding to the impression that Taksim would be left as a sort of pedestrian oasis, cut off from the surrounding neighborhoods and streets to all not traveling by vehicle.
Taksim’s bus station, one of the biggest public transportation hubs in the city, would be moved underground, creating a hellish, toxic concentration of exhaust in the tunnels. Bereft of beauty and natural landmarks, Taksim Square would become a pointless expanse of concrete, disincentivizing citizens from gathering there.
Project was “rushed through” with little to no transparency
The plans for Taksim Square were never subjected to public scrutiny, according to a statement by the Taksim Platform. Civic organizations and residential groups had no chance to give input or ask questions about the project, even though it is being funded by their tax money.
At meetings every Monday night, the platform discusses new ways to glean more information about the project or prevent it. In last week’s meeting, attended by approximately 50 citizens, a protest demonstration was planned, a meeting with an association of professional and academic architects was scheduled, and attendees even tossed around the idea of flooding the government with requests for information in order to stall the project.
A constructive opposition movement
The Taksim Platform isn’t just about obstructing the project, however. Platform members are working with a group of 150 professors from three different universities around the city to come up with alternate plans for the reconstruction of Taksim. The slogan of the platform reinforces the idea that they want to improve the reconstruction plans, not simply cancel them: “A better project… A better Taksim… A better future.”
Construction on the tunnels is expected to start in June, while preliminary work on the project could begin in the square as early as next month.
Latest in a long line of urban planning follies
This isn’t the first misguided urban project that Turkey’s ruling party has proposed.
Architects and environmentalists were equally shocked when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proposed building a second Bosphorus Strait through western Istanbul last spring. At the same time, many cities around Turkey have undertaken projects of their own to become more sustainable, investing in clean energy, local agriculture, innovative public transportation networks, and more.
In fact, the most eco-friendly urban projects in Turkey seem to come from local citizens. Perhaps the federal government should stop trying to impose its vision of Turkey’s cities, and allow urban planning to proceed from the local experts and citizens who have the most at stake in the design of the city.
Read more about the ecology of urban planning in Turkey: