Activists gather 80,000 signatures to prevent construction in Istanbul grove

Activists gather 80,000 signatures to prevent construction in Istanbul grove

Activists gather 80,000 signatures to prevent construction in Istanbul grove

Locals during a demonstration on Oct. 11. DHA Photo

Activists have gathered 80,000 signatures to prevent the opening of the Validebağ grove to construction by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, in a further attempt to preserve green areas of the city that have escaped an omnipresent construction boom.

The grove located on the hills of the Asian-side district of Üsküdar is a protected natural site at the heart of tangle of residential blocks that has been designated as a gathering spot in the event of a natural disaster for locals living in the area.

The local municipality, however, has moved to cancel the area’s protected status to turn the quiet oasis are into a vast park aimed at attracting a large number of visitors.

The project will include wedding halls, open-air theaters and artificial pools, according to Üsküdar Municipality, but activists argue that due to the location, the grove has the potential of becoming subject to new housing ambitions if its protected status is removed.

“Although the initiative has the appearance of being prepared for good, it will damage the historical and natural configuration of the site because it doesn’t aim to protect but to use it,” local activist Mustafa Uğur Akman said during a demonstration on Oct. 11.

The small grove also hosts a total of 116 bird species who stop by during their seasonal migration. It also harbors over 7,000 trees, some of which date back up to for 400 years, as well as historical buildings, such as the Abdülaziz Mansion and the Adile Sultan Pavilion along with a bird house.

It has also been reported that the municipality has authorized Marmara University to build a new campus on the site.

Üsküdar Mayor Hilmi Türkmen said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose personal house is in the district, had given him support for his project. Türkmen even described the park plan by borrowing the Erdoğan-patented attribute “crazy project.”

But locals also warn that other groves located on Üsküdar’s hills, Fethi Paşa and Hüseyin Avni Paşa – both overlooking the Bosphorus – may follow Validebağ’s fate if no dissent is shown.

Efser Surbarlas, a 90-year-old who attended the local protest, also expressed his hope that the green spot would be preserved for the future generations.

“I hope people will be successful and this site will be granted to us. I may not be able to see it, but that’s what I wish,” he said.