The bloody protests in Turkey aren’t just about urban design, but it was a plan to redesign Taksim Square that sparked the original demonstrations. You may wonder what sort of plans could spark such a passionate response. Well, we’ve embedded animations from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s website to show you.
In February 2012, the city released the animation below. The video begins with an aerial shot of Taksim Square as it is today, with many mature trees, and then shows the barren pedestrian zone that was initially set to replace it. The plans call for the reconstruction of a historic barracks that was to serve as a shopping mall and cultural destination, and almost all of the greenery was to be enclosed within this structure. These plans were by far the most widely circulated on the internet and are the only plans that show up on the municipality’s YouTube channel. (Update, June 6th: These plans have been removed from the municipality’s YouTube channel, but we have found another link to them.)
Apparently, the government got the message that those plans would not do for one of Istanbul’s most prominent open spaces. But instead of engaging with the public, the municipality released these slightly edited plans last October—on the same day it announced that construction would begin. The plans, which the municipality was showing off as recently as Saturday, break up some of the vast stretches of paving with panels of grass but the space they show is still quite inhumanely scaled with benches surrounded by fields of pavement and none of the shade the square previously provided.
There was also little effort to get out word to people living and working nearby about how the plans would affect them. In November 2012, the Hürriyet Daily News reported that some shopkeepers were surprised to discover their businesses had been permanently blocked off overnight when construction began on the underpasses. “Nobody informed us about this,” one shopkeeper said. “Yesterday morning they came and built this wall in front of my kiosk. It blocks my doorway, light and air.” By early May, more than half the project was actually constructed. The protests last week were a last-ditch effort to save the trees that still remained in a part of the area known as Gezi Park.
The Atlantic Cities has a reporter in Istanbul who interviewed Betül Tanbay, one of the activists who was protesting the park’s destruction. “We tried to have a dialogue with the municipality,” she said. “We didn’t say that nothing should be changed [at Taksim]. We said, let’s discuss it together. As citizens, we deserve to be part of the plans — we don’t want them to be made behind doors and declared during construction.”
Yesterday, the Hürriyet Daily News reported that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğanhad backed off plans for a shopping mall on the site, but still plans to remove the existing park and build something there. “You cannot make an AVM [shopping mall] familiar to the international ones in this area,” Erdoğan said. “There is no conclusive AVM project here. Maybe we will make a city museum there or an architectural work that will put different activities in place. Is there any certain document? No.”