350 buildings in danger of collapse in Istanbul’s Tarlabaşı neighborhood accommodating 1,000 people

350 buildings in danger of collapse in Istanbul’s Tarlabaşı neighborhood accommodating 1,000 people

Fırat Alkaç - ISTANBUL
350 buildings in danger of collapse in Istanbul’s Tarlabaşı neighborhood accommodating 1,000 people Nearly 350 buildings are in danger of collapsing in Istanbul’s Tarlabaşı neighborhood, but none of these houses are empty as they are inhabited by owners, tenants paying a rent of about 600 Turkish Liras monthly and “intruders.” According to local authorities, together with those living unregistered, the houses accommodate about 1,000 people.

In the Beyoğlu district, Tarlabaşı houses Istanbul’s oldest buildings, with some dating back to 100 to 150 years. Most buildings in the neighborhood are currently empty due to an urban renovation effort initiated by the Beyoğlu Municipality, which says nearly 3,000 buildings have so far been renovated, as the renewal project comes to an end. 

Tarlabaşı is a low-income Roma and Kurdish neighborhood that also serves as a sanctuary for Turkey’s marginalized population in the heart of the city. Many families were forced out of their homes in the area as historical buildings were being demolished for the urban renewal project.

Speaking to daily Hürriyet, Korkan Gümüş, the president of the NGO Human Settlement Foundation and an architect, criticized the driving out of the communities from the neighborhood. “Since things are looked at from the perspective of profit making in our country, people’s suggestions and needs are not taken into account. The municipality should bring its council and the people living in these neighborhoods [going through urban transformation] together. Help from NGOs should be asked. Like the buildings themselves, the people living inside them should also be protected,” he said. 

Gümüş said the authorities should not just consider the interest of house owners but those also of tenants and those living as “intruders” in the abandoned houses. “They are the society’s most underprivileged segment. These people, deprived of all rights, are living in difficult conditions. These people do not have a status. They are living helplessly in the ruined houses. And the places where they stay face the danger of collapse. Commissions should be established for these groups and they should be reintegrated into the society,” he said. 

Tarlabaşı also serves as a sanctuary for some Syrian refugees, including the 52-year-old Elif Hasan, who lost her husband in the Syrian civil war. “My children sold water; my daughter worked in workshops. We have rented a house whose staircases is about to collapse. When we walk, it is as if the woods on the ground are going to come out… I am very scared the house will collapse. I do not know how much longer we can stay here.  Death passes by us. If my financial situation gets better, I will move into a more solid house,” Hasan said.  

Beyoğlu district Mayor Misbah Demircan said the Tarlabaşı urban renewal project has almost come to an end, adding that thanks to the works, the problems in the area would be solved. “There were 650 historical buildings that risked the danger of collapse in Tarlabaşı and its environment. We saved 300 of them. There are 350 buildings left. We have incentives for these. With projects, the old buildings will be repaired,” Demircan said.

A headman in the neighborhood, Mehmet Ali Bilir said the owners of the old buildings were either leasing out their apartments or shuttering them. “The number of refugees has increased. The old buildings have the status of being a historic structure. Even if a demolition decision was given, the Council of Monuments [dedicated to the conservation of historic sites] does not give the approval. The buildings are left to their own fate. They can be wracked in a natural disaster,” Bilir said.