Urban transformation and “Ekümenopolis”

Urban transformation and “Ekümenopolis”

With the introduction of the law on “urban transformation,” not only the construction sector but all sectors will see a boom, said Environment and City Planning Minister Ertuğrul Bayraktar in a speech at the Turkish Real Estate Summit 12, which took place in Istanbul recently. We are talking about an “urban transformation” the financial dimension of which is $400 billion. 

However, as with anything else, there are two sides to the urban transformation coin. As another speaker at the Real Estate Summit, city planner Faruk Göksu, pointed out, urban transformation also has a social dimension. 
In his speech, which received huge applause from the audience, Göksu said, in short: “There are no plots left in Istanbul. Therefore, the ‘urban transformation’ will be carried out at those places where there is a greater risk from earthquakes and where people [already] dwell. The public has to work in agreement together with the people who live in those areas and with nongovernmental organizations.” 

The issue of “agreement” Göksu pointed out is important. Unfortunately, in the urban transformations we have so far seen in Istanbul, such an agreement with the community was not in place. On the contrary, we have witnessed some rights being violated. 

I want to take this opportunity to mention a documentary I recently saw about Istanbul that has affected me very deeply. The documentary is titled “Ekümenopolis – City Without Limits.” The film is being screened at only one theater in Istanbul. Directed by İmre Azem, the film won the human rights award at the 2011 Sarajevo Film Festival. 

Ecumenopolis” is a term suggested by Greek city planner Constantinos Doxiadis in 1967 to highlight the dazzling speed of urbanization at that time. Ecumenopolis is the word Doxiadis invented to represent the idea that in the future urban areas and megalopolises would eventually fuse and there would be a single continuous worldwide city.

To return to the documentary, the film demonstrates magnificently how Istanbul, which is unique both with regard to its geographic location and also its cultural heritage, is slipping out of our hands. On one hand skyscrapers rise, on the other hand, the demolition of shanty towns in the name of “urban transformation” causes social trauma. The camera is turned toward İkitelli-Ayazma and Sulukule, which are also under the focus of the European Parliament. 

In the areas slum dwellers are forced to leave, the film witnesses one of Turkey’s most popular contractors, Ağaoğlu, building skyscrapers. The people living in Ayazma and Sulukule have been victimized. At one especially moving point in the documentary, a woman who has lost her house shouts, “How can this happen in a country which is to enter the European Union?” 

As a result, again in the documentary, an expert asks: “Ecologic thresholds in Istanbul have been exceeded, population thresholds have been exceeded and economic thresholds have also been exceeded; where do we go from here?” As Istanbul residents, we are waiting for the answer to this question.