As a foreigner making her home in Istanbul, Turkey, I feel honored to hear the noise in the streets, the sounds of banging pots and traditional Turkish coffee carafes, honking horns, and chants; Turkish solidarity. And while I don’t have the Turkish cultural, political, historical or religious worldviews that a native would, what I see is an increasing importance for participatory planning in Istanbul. While there are political views, which have ignited the current situation further, what lit the match was a simple protest in Gezi Park. A group of individuals who wanted to be heard, who wanted their thoughts included in the decisions of how their built environment would be shaped and the loss of one of the last green spaces in the center of Taksim. What came of this protest, this peaceful sit-in, was a violent retaliation from the police. The use of tear gas to clear them from the premises and burning of their tents. These actions, with a lack of forethought, have now spurred Turkish people from Istanbul, and other cities such as Izmir, Ankara, and more, in addition to diverse people around the world joining in solidarity.
While the Turkish population may be unhappy with many other policies of the current government, as an outsider, I can see what they are most upset about is the decisions that are being made on their behalf – the shaping of policies and their urban environment without their inclusion. What if the current government had decided to hear these protestors voices? Or included them in the planning processes of Taksim Square, a highly political and historical area for the Turkish people? I believe that the, currently, five-day face-off, which has escalated to increased violence on the behalf of the police – using water cannons, rubber bullets, and violent brutality – could have been avoided. Loss of life would have been avoided, as civilians are dying in the streets from directly aimed brutality.
This morning, it was announced that the police were there yesterday, they are there today, and will be there tomorrow. But can the Turkish people live in a police state? A place where their voices are silenced by gas? Their requests for inclusion avoided? Their voices silenced? While the government continues to respond with insistence that Gezi Park will be turned into a mall (a whole other story), what should weigh heavy on the minds of the world is the importance of the individuals who utilize the built environment on a daily basis – and finding way in which we can include citizens in these decisions. Inclusionary, participatory planning for the Taksim Square, and many other projects, may have cooled the flame that ignited this fight.
These thoughts weigh even heavier on my mind as a resident of Istanbul and as our TweetChat for Equality and Social Inclusion approaches on June 5th. Please join me at 3PM EDT to discuss how we can garner the opinions and views of a wider, more diverse group of individuals, in the way cities are planned. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Until then, you can follow #occupygezi and #direngezi on Twitter, as most mainstream media is not covering the events.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.