Judicial woes stand over Turkey’s urban transformation process

Judicial woes stand over Turkey’s urban transformation process

Turkey has been experiencing an ambitious urban transformation process for a couple of years. This initiative, which covers the reconstruction of seven million properties across the country, offers great opportunities to have a housing stock of high quality in Turkey, which has been the site of numerous destructive earthquakes, but the ongoing process has serious judicial problems. 

Let me summarize the aim on which the initiative was originally built. Under the leadership of the Environment and Urban Affairs Ministry, a total of seven million houses would be rebuilt in a 15-year time-span. According to the original plan, private companies would lead the process in coordination with the municipalities. 

As a majority of Turkey’s provinces have not completed their master plans in the framework of urban transformation, the country has taken very few steps on the road to starting the reconstruction of these houses. A very small number of houses have been reconstructed so far. 

As a person who lives on the Asian side of Istanbul, but works on the European side, I see many houses under construction and the owners of the houses, who have found their own contractors to rebuild their houses, are generally happy with the initiative. The main problem with the initiative is, however, rising from the legal structure of mass urban transformation projects, in which mass gentrifications have been undertaken, such as the projects in the Tarlabaşı district of Beyoğlu and the Sulukule district of Fatih in Istanbul. 

A new report has addressed how serious the judicial flaws are. According to a report in daily Hürriyet on June 30, the Council of State rejected a revision demand by the Beyoğlu municipality over an administrative court, which reversed the judgement, saying the “expropriation in the Tarlabaşı Renewal Project is in accordance with the laws.” 

Ruling in favor of 164 property owners who had filed a lawsuit against the urban transformation project five years ago, the Council of State declared the project in Tarlabaşı was not “in the common good” in 2014. And now the Council of State has said it found no reason to reverse its former decision, noting that all expropriations were against the private property right and the Tarlabaşı people faced losses due to the demolitions which started in 2012 in an area covering 20,000 square meters, just a few steps from Istanbul’s most lively spot, İstiklal Street. 

What will happen after the Council of State’s latest decision? The process will need to be closely followed as, despite its former decision, demolitions in the neighborhood were still under way. In this process, the original settlers of Tarlabaşı have already moved somewhere else.

A similar situation rose in another controversial project in Sulukule. The Council of State approved the cancelation of the controversial urban transformation project in the neighborhood, which was historically populated by Roma people, in 2015 - years after the project was completed.

The Council of State anonymously approved an administrative court’s ruling from 2012, saying the project constructed in Sulukule, located on the city’s historic peninsula and surrounded by ramparts, was “not beneficial to the public.”

Yet, the decision came after Sulukule underwent an extensive change in recent years due to a project funded by the Turkish Housing Development Agency (TOKİ), which replaced the neighborhood’s traditional buildings with “modern settlement blocks.” 

The changes forced the local Roma residents to resettle elsewhere, as they were unable to afford the newly constructed houses built on valuable real estate. 

There are such judicial decisions on one side, but there are hundreds of people who were pushed to leave their houses and cannot go back their neighborhoods, which were demolished years ago, on the other. 

The “ambitious” project does not look sustainable and good for the public in this scheme.