Introduction. The Turkish Prime Minister’s proposal to build a new shopping mall on the site of Gezi Park, the only remaining green space in the extreme densely populated centre of Istanbul, triggered a revolutionary moment. The protests rapidly spread beyond the city and led to the articulation of intertwined demands for social, political, and economic reform throughout the country. The different dimensions of the protests voiced and the nature of the demands made had global echoes. The event itself being larger than life, this article aims to reflect on the following questions in relation to the Gezi Park uprising.
- Is it possible to overcome the urban ecological crisis within the existing institutional framework, i.e. without tackling the crisis of democracy?
- What sorts of spaces can strengthen democracy and contribute to a more equal distribution of power?
- Can we imagine a radically different future, not for the few, but for all?
To answer these questions, first, the social and political context of the Istanbul protests will be briefly considered, followed by six propositions that analyze the specific spatiality of the movement.
Context: The double-edged crisis of urban ecology and democracy.
- An economy dominated by the construction sector. The AKP government came to power in 2002 in the aftermath of one of Turkey’s worst financial crises. Since then, the government has initiated and supported urban and rural interventions at a grand scale to resolve the country’s capital surplus absorption problem. Today, after more than a decade, economic growth in Turkey is heavily dependent upon the construction sector.
- Massive-scale urban transformation. Turkey is currently experiencing an urban transformation at a massive scale. The expected number of housing units in Turkey to be demolished and redeveloped is around seven million, a substantial part of which is located in Istanbul.
- Rapid and unlimited access to urban and rural land. Rapid and unlimited access to urban and rural land is at the centre of this economic model. In 2013, 60 percent of all decisions made by the Council of Ministers were related to real-estate development and construction. The dispossession of the urban poor, the loss of public spaces, and the threat to urban ecology are unavoidable repercussions of the search for additional urban land for development.
- Istanbul becoming global. Being at the centre of this economic policy, Istanbul, in the last ten years, has rapidly become a mega construction site where around 30 percent of the national GDP is produced. It is a Global City in the making. The fact that Istanbul was ranked first for real estate investment and development in Europe in 2012 underscores this assessment.
- Uneven social development. The construction boom that the city has been undergoing is accompanied by a highly uneven social development. On the one hand, Istanbul is now number five on the list of world cities with the highest number of dollar billionaires, yet on the other hand, Turkey is ranked last among the 31 OECD countries in terms of social justice.
The urban ecological crisis is intrinsically linked to the crisis of democracy. The Networks of Dispossession Project is an initiative that seeks to contribute to social and political reform in Turkey by exposing the collusion of political and economic elites in reshaping the country with no or minimal participation by the millions of ordinary citizens who are affected by these elites’ policies. The website offers a series of maps that identify the actors behind projects that have a detrimental impact on the ecology and exacerbate urban inequalities.
On one map the urban and rural projects in question are indicated individually through black dots; the monetary value of each project is rendered by the relative size of a dot. The blue lines connect the projects to their developers. The logos name relevant media outlets, which typically are owned by the same companies developing those projects. The map thus reveals a highly interconnected network of public and private actors characterized by an extreme concentration of power and wealth. We see an economy worth more than 100 billion Euros, around one fourth of the Turkish GDP.
Hence, within the established institutional framework, how can ordinary citizens reclaim their living spaces and overcome the current urban ecological crisis? The Gezi Park uprising gives hints at possible answers. […]
For propositions for an open space, that strengthens democracy and a more equal distribution of power and the conclusion, read on in Topos 85 – Open Space.