UNESCO declares Istanbul a “Design City”

UNESCO declares Istanbul a “Design City”

Have the Ministry of Economy and the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM), which jointly organized Design Week Turkey 2017, realized that UNESCO declared Istanbul a “design city” almost 10 days ago?

I do not think so. If they had, they would have filled the streets of this year’s Nov. 8 to 12 Design Week with “Design City Istanbul” advertisements.

Hardly anyone knows that UNESCO has deemed Istanbul worthy of “Design City” status within the context of the “Creative Cities Network.”

This is because the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, which is connected to the Istanbul Tourism Atelier, the organization that applied to UNESCO, did not or could not publicize this brilliant piece of news.

Last year, on the other hand, everyone heard about Gaziantep acquiring “Gastronomy City” status, again within the context of UNESCO’s “Creative Cities Network.”

We were so proud for Gaziantep. Mayor Fatma Şahin spoke of the honor with such pride, stressing the importance of the accolade in terms of the city’s image

Istanbul should also celebrate the honor with gusto.

We owe the UNESCO success to Istanbul Tourism Atelier Director Tülin Ersöz and her team, who resigned after previous Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş resigned from his post.

The team created a vast data pool to showcase the variety of Istanbul’s design and culture industry.

So many crafts in Istanbul are on the verge of being forgotten. Think of the jewelers in the 554-year-old bazaar, known as

“Kapalıçarşı” in Turkish, or the silversmiths in the surrounding workshops, or the chandelier makers in the Şişhane district.
Culture will suffer a huge loss if their expertise is not passed on to the coming generations.

In their application to UNESCO, the Istanbul Tourism Atelier committed to monitoring the activities of the various master craftsmen and artisans.

All kinds of data – both written and visual – relating to Istanbul’s design, craft and creative industries, will be gathered and added to a continuously evolving inventory.

The Istanbul Creative City Platform (ICCP) will monitor and evaluate the inventory. The Istanbul Design and Innovation Center will also be established.

Detroit, Berlin and Turin have also won the UNESCO “Design City” status. The accolade can help a city with unique geography, history and cultural heritage such as Istanbul to regain its memory.

Can it prevent us from making decisions that we might regret later? How will future generations perceive Istanbul? Will they see iconic neighborhoods changed? A Bosporus bereft of natural curves due to concrete incursions? Historical venues turned into garbage? Giant shopping malls where artisans cannot survive?

This year the Aegean province of Kütahya (Handicrafts and Folkloric art) and the southern province of Hatay (Gastronomy) made the 64 “Creative Cities” list, which UNESCO compiled after considering contenders from 44 countries.

Let’s see if Hatay will be as successful as Gaziantep in announcing its title?

Gila Benmayor, UNESCO, Istanbul