Controversial Renovation of Istanbul’s Taksim Square Has Begun

Despite all the criticism the plan received from urban planners, lawyers, activists, academics, and concerned citizens, Istanbul has begun remodeling its central square, a focal point for transportation and protests.

In a preview of how the square will be isolated from the rest of the city after the renovation is finished, barriers have gone up separating Taksim Square from Cumhuriyet Avenue (at the top right of the photo) – one of the Istanbul’s main arteries. Tunnels are being dug in the avenue. And construction started on Nov. 5 with no warning to anyone, leaving shopkeepers furious and traffic congested, according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News.

Although it’s officially called the “Taksim Square Pedestrianization Project,” the post-renovation square will be far less pedestrian-friendly than it is currently, according to the plan’s opponents.

The plan will turn the stretch of Cumhuriyet Avenue nearest Taksim into a high-speed underground tunnel, apparently remove sidewalks from the above-ground stretches of the street, replace the current park next to Taksim with a military barracks and a mall, and move the bus station underground.

(See an artist’s rendering of the new square here).

Opponents have charged that the plan is an effort to cut off Taksim from the rest of the city, making it harder to stage large demonstrations there.

Already, the unannounced start of construction has alienated many local residents. One shop owner who has nearly lost his entire customer base as a result of the construction, told the HDN that he would never again vote for Turkey’s ruling party, which controls the Istanbul city government.

Excavations may further delay project

To make matters worse for Istanbul’s pedestrians, journalists are already predicting major delays on the project.

Although the government has promised the project will be completed in eight months, the construction firm carrying it out must wait for approval from archeologists before they can bring in any heavy machinery. Since the archeologists will survey the area slowly, digging up the earth by hand, their approval will probably be a long time coming.

In addition, the excavation area will be widened each time an artifact is found. Remarkable findings have been made in the Taksim area previously — 5th century sarcophagi near the Atatürk Cultural Center on the far end of the square, and Genoan tombs right by Cumhuriyet Avenue — so the archeologists have reason to expect multiple exciting findings from the upcoming digs.

In the meantime, pedestrians should expect at least a year of inconvenient detours while walking to or from Taksim Square.

:: Hurriyet Daily News

Read more about controversial urban planning in Istanbul:

Istanbul’s Main Square To Become Lifeless And Isolated In New Urban Plan, Opponents Warn
Istanbul Court Annuls Almost-Finished Roma Project
4.1 Million Acres Of Land Previously Classified As Forest Goes On Sale In Turkey Today

Image via Anadola Agency

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