Court Order to Stop the Urban Renewal Project on the Famous Romani Neighbourhood Sulukule, in Istanbul, Turkey
Recently, a very important decision has been made that could set up a milestone on how the slum areas in Istanbul, Turkey are treated by the authorities in charge of urban renewal. Sulukule neighborhood, in Istanbul, which used to house a Romani community, was demolished and its residents were relocated to public housing projects built by the Mass Housing Administration (MHA) on the peripheries of the city. After the urban renewal project was approved by the Conservation Board, in opposition of the expert reports, a project was developed that replaces the Romani houses with Ottoman Villas (a concept that is utterly intriguing by itself to examine, since the Ottomans had no villas). Earlier this week, the court decided to stop this project.
Even though the idea of replacing squatter units with bigger houses, with better conditions sounds undeniably great at first, the problem comes when we start to talk about money. The new houses are nowhere near the prices that could be afforded by the Sulukule residents; approximately 80% of whom work in the informal sector. And this brings up the following question: Are the authorities looking for monetary gain rather than providing better living conditions for the squatter residents and a better public use of the area?
Well, looking at the drastic increase in the prices from 100-150 thousand Turkish liras to 400 thousand liras, one is inclined to say “Yes!” When an area undergoes gentrification of any sort, there is nothing more natural than an increase in value. However, if this causes an exclusion of the residents from that area, can we say that the urban renewal has achieved its aim to provide better living conditions for the people?
Let’s look at that what the expert reports say that terminated the process of building “Ottoman Villas”:
1) The authentic morphology and the street texture are not preserved;
2) A new typology is created that is not suitable to the existing texture;
3) Existing public areas are opened up for construction;
4) Green areas and parks are not included in the new project;
5) The Wall Protection Band (for protecting the Byzantine walls that the settlement is located next to) that is determined by UNESCO is halved in the new project.
Even though the Fatih Municipality, that is in charge of Sulukule, was aware of the report for more than three years, the construction is almost done. In fact, the lottery to determine the owners of these houses was going to take place on June 26th. Why has the court waited that much time to stop the project? This is an amazing question that nobody, even the Minister of Culture, doesn’t have the answer to.
Is the real problem here the improvement of the spaces to live, or the improvement of the society, since a spatial improvement has the possibility of removing a whole class of people, leading to class cleansing in certain areas? Shouldn’t we be looking at a social uplifting as well, along with spatial development to achieve true “urban renewal?”
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