Sunday, June 9, 2013

Istanbul uprising: DIY urban planning

A year ago, Taksim Square was a traffic-clogged mess, with idling buses spewing exhaust on one side, cabs jostling for position on the other, and throngs of people bumping around in between, surrounded by mostly graceless architecture. Six months ago, those same throngs had been funneled into narrow walkways by even uglier temporary walls fencing off huge construction pits.

People walk across the re-opened square
Despite the square's previous lack of appeal, the government's plan to move surrounding roads underground and pedestrianize the area was not greeted with much applause. An animated rendering released by the municipality showing vast expanses of concrete did little to quell fears that the space would be left lifeless and inaccessible -- worse off than before.

But during the course of the protests that erupted last weekend, demonstrators tore down the construction walls, converting them into makeshift barricades to keep police out of the square. With the walls down and the barricades up, thousands upon thousands of people are flowing through Taksim Square and its surrounding area every day, and few motorized vehicles have been able to enter. Hardly what the government had in mind, but this unplanned pedestrianization has created a new feeling of openness in the square, despite the massive crowds.

A makeshift barricade blocks car traffic
A strange mix of collectivism and commercialization rules the day. While street vendors hawk food, water, beer, tea, Atatürk paraphernalia, Turkish flags, "V for Vendetta" masks, and a myriad of other accessories, protesters have been busily creating the services they need and the public amenities they envision for the area in and around adjacent Gezi Park. Volunteer lawyers and barbers have hung out their shingles, first-aid stations and soup kitchens have been set up, bus stops have been redecorated, community libraries and vegetable gardens are being established. Beyond the square, once-banned tables and chairs are back on the streets of the Beyoğlu neighborhood.

The people have firmly shown they have some ideas for how Istanbul's public space can and should be used. The question is, will anyone listen?


Senior Dogs Abroad said...


Thanks for the report. I wonder who is going to speak for the people who are in Gezi Park now. Yes, there are a lot of disparate ideas out there but in order to actually put them out there effectively, there has to be some sort of organization and discussion of those ideas and someone to put them forward.

Anonymous said...

hi Jennifer,
I just posted "Water Cannons vs. democracy" at

Unknown said...

Thank you, Jen. I have been following the protests with near obsession from here in the USA. I taught English as a second language classes for adults for some time and had many Turkish students. Their warmth, kindness, and ever-present sense of humor (with a wonderful appreciation of sarcasm) has given me a soft spot for all things Turkish. I worry about some of my students, who may be back in Turkey now. I've been following this closely on twitter - which seems to be the best source for up to date info. But, of course, most of the tweets are in Turkish and Google translate has its limits. Thanks for the updates in English! Stay safe and stay strong.