September 20 2012

Urban Gentrification vis-à-vis Real Estate Prices: The Tarlabaşı Renewal Project in Istanbul, Turkey

7,500 American Dollars per m2 is the price you have to pay if you want an office near the most important square of Istanbul. Seems reasonable, right? Until recently though, the area where the office is located was occupied by people in the poorest portion of the population, and the neighborhood’s name was associated with unsatisfactory living conditions. These unfavorable circumstances constituted the foundation for the biggest undertaking of gentrification Istanbul has ever seen: the Tarlabaşı Renewal Project.

A Demolished Building in TarlabaşıIn August 2012, I decided to examine the project’s progress for myself, because there are differing views in the media; some say that it is the ideal type of gentrification where the historical outlook is preserved and the people don’t suffer, and some say that this project is all about real estate business where gentrification is used as class cleansing, driving the poor out of the “valuable” areas.

The part of the neighborhood that is seen from the outside, the storefront of the area if you will, looks deserted and trashed. A big part of it is being demolished and is covered by a huge wooden curtain that displays the renderings of the project once it will be completed. I managed to get behind the curtain and bumped into a couple of people who were in charge of construction. I asked questions regarding the historical and architectural heritage of the site as well as what will happen to the people who are currently occupying the buildings. What they told me was the description of a perfect type of gentrification: the architectural details, floor plans and organization of buildings with respect to each other are carefully documented with photos, videos, and drawings in order to reproduce their original state once they are rebuilt. As for the people, agreements are made with all the owners who sold their rights for money, for office space or apartment floors, and they are relocated to somewhere else until the project is done, with the rent being paid by the municipality. I couldn’t get a clear answer about what happened to the people who rented and who are illegally occupying the space. They strongly claim that nobody is mistreated.

Construction work going on in TarlabaşıIt is reasonable to be skeptical and take everything you hear with a grain of salt because comments on these issues are usually very subjective. Even though it is great to hear the people in charge of the project at least have an idea of how gentrification should really be done, however, I am not very hopeful that what they were telling me is going to be the reality, bearing in mind the previous projects and the bodies in charge of the project. First of all, the architectural preservation of the site is extremely important because 278 buildings in this area have a historical heritage status. However, a news article in Radikal, a Turkish daily newspaper, claims that this is not always the case. The reporters who visited the real estate office of the private company that works with the municipality in this project say that the real estate agents told them that mostly the original state of the interiors will not be preserved. Also the prices have skyrocketed. One building is now worth about 7.5 million dollars. The number I got for the buildings that haven’t gone through gentrification yet were around 0.5-1.2 million dollars. This is a similar case of gentrification that took place in Sulukule, a Romani neighborhood in Istanbul, and it is indicative of the probability that the poor are being driven out of the area.

The most interesting part is the following: the private company that works with the municipality, the company that will literally rebuild one of the neighborhoods with the greatest income potential along with a unique typology, GAP Insaat, is run by the son-in-law of the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It might be a coincidence, of course, but it might also not be.

Already with a great increase in real estate prices and connections to the greatest political figure in Turkey, what do you believe will be the outcome of this project for the city and for the people who currently occupy the area, especially the poor?

Credits: Data linked to sources. Both images by author.

Erman Eruz

Erman Eruz is an undergraduate at Princeton University where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and Civil Engineering, along with a certificate in Urban Studies. Having grown up in Istanbul, Turkey, he is interested in a wide variety of topics related to the built environment and how people interact with it. Erman is fascinated by the interdisciplinary relation between architecture, engineering and urban planning, and his interests include squatter settlements, architecture of the 20th Century, sustainable planning, bonds between architecture and other forms of art, and global and local aspects of cultural identities.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, September 20th, 2012 at 11:06 am and is filed under Architecture, History/Preservation, Housing, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “Urban Gentrification vis-à-vis Real Estate Prices: The Tarlabaşı Renewal Project in Istanbul, Turkey”

  1. Kaner Says:

    Life goes on and there are many changes. You have to be able to change yourself, imagination, mindset, and your house as well. You can use current technologies to restore or refurbish; however you cannot corrupt the DNA; the structure of the place and how it functions. This is not only for normal people, but has to include politicians as well – Mr. Erdoğan. If you move people from their homes, you change the chemistry of the area and it will have repercussions. Current politicians ambitions are to make as much money as possible and benefits into their (including their communities) pockets – as soon as possible. The politicians never know whether they will lose in upcoming elections and they will have no chance to benefit more. This is not only for re-construction; they did same after the earthquake!

  2. Arizona Community Press – Repression in Turkey Leads to Worldwide Support for Freedom Protest Says:

    [...] son in-law of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan runs one of the construction companies given large contracts, GAP Insaat.  Other issues exist due to reports that some of the historical structures may not be [...]

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