As Istanbul loses its green to buildings

As Istanbul loses its green to buildings

Alarm bells are ringing for one of the most beautiful green areas of the Bosphorus, the Emirgan Grove.

Turkey’s Housing Development Administration (TOKİ), which seems to be extending its hands to every corner of the country, is now eying the 158-decare green area in Emirgan where the annual “Tulip Festival” is organized.

The Emlak Konut company and TOKİ want to build a shopping street covering almost half of the park. They also want to build apartment hotels and restaurants that they say would not damage the silhouette of the Bosphorus.

The green of Istanbul has already lost out to buildings, and this process has accelerated in recent years.

According to the World Cities Culture Report, data from 2013 show that 38.4 percent of London is green, while 14.4 percent of Berlin, 14 percent of New York, and 41 percent of Hong Kong is green. Meanwhile, only 1.5 percent of Istanbul is green.

Just looking down at the city from a plane is enough to recognize the destruction.

When this is the situation, it is hard to understand how the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, TOKİ and other district municipalities have the logic of discarding those green spaces that remain.

On the other hand, we know that as of September 2014 we have 112 shopping malls in Istanbul. We also know that many of them are not doing any business. So why there should be a new shopping street on the Bosphorus?

Which is better for Istanbul residents? Protecting the green area, or making a shopping street and hotel out it?

Recently, we had a debate similar to the Emirgan Grove debate, over the Validebağ Grove on the Asian side of the city.

The grove accommodates the hunting lodge of Sultan Abdülmecit, built in 1853, and also the Adile Sultan summer palace. Therefore, the largest green area on the Asian side of the city was being targeted by the Üsküdar Municipality.

Actually, the Validebağ Grove, which also has monumental trees where migrating birds rest, was declared a protected nature reserve in 1999 thanks to the efforts of nature-lovers.

However, the district municipality, despite clear bans on any kind of building on protected sites, was planning to build a mosque and wedding hall.

Validebağ volunteers guarded their grove day and night, sometimes clashing with the police. The 80,000 signatures collected for the Validebağ Grove seem to have postponed the threat, but this is only for now, as the attack on green space can start anytime.

TOKİ is not only against green. It also played a major role in the famous Sulukule neighborhood, where Roma had lived since the Byzantine era, building villas under the pretext of “urban transformation” and changing the area into something completely different, incompatible with its historic and cultural texture.

Did the project in Sulukule work?

Although years have passed, many of the built villas are now empty and some will soon be sold in an open bidding process.

The main theme of a session that I attended in Davos on re-designing cities, was “learning how not to build, instead of learning how to build.”

If we don’t learn this, I’m afraid that not even one green spot and not even one historic neighborhood will be left in Istanbul.