Globalization and De-spatialized Space as Neoliberal Utopia in Istanbul

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Today (in 2011) İstanbul ranks seventh among world cities in the number of foreign visitors and international meetings it hosts and fifth in the number of dollar millionaires living within its premises…

What these numbers indicate is that İstanbul is moving at a fast pace towards becoming a global city and it finds its place in the world city map as a global magnet of capital and people. “Global city” is a project made possible via the reproduction of the city in the framework of processes of capitalist accumulation and mechanisms of neo-liberal production and consumption. This project consists of spatial, economic and social processes as well as those that are by content and application political.

Although İstanbul’s current transformation has been presented as a non-Western miracle of development in the face of the destructive effects of economic crises, it is actually possible to think of this transformation as a “skillful” application of well-known global(urban)ization strategies by an alliance formed between the state, the capital and local governments:

(a) The segmentation of the city into detached islands through the construction of profit-making fragments of the global urbanization catalogue, such as shopping malls, gated communities, mass housing settlements (TOKİ: Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Housing Development Administration of Turkey), residences, plazas, airports, techno parks, golf courts, cruise harbors;

(b) Rendering lower and middle classes “powerless” in the face of this transformation by means of forced evictions and legal pressure in order to secure the land necessary for the construction of these urban fragments; such that social and class-based segregation is conducted alongside spatial segregation;

(c) The production of urban corridors and transportation infrastructures that will facilitate the flow of capital, goods and humans between these fragments of the urban catalogue.

Consequently, while prioritizing the city of fluxes composed of corridors to the city of integrated urban spaces, İstanbul’s global(urban)ization project constructs wealthy spaces on the sites of poor spaces. Lower class neighborhoods inhabited by the city’s poorest, which at time same time carry the highest potential in terms of the rising value of urban land, are refashioned by local municipality-private sector partnerships and allotted to new İstanbulites with highest cultural and economic capital (such as local and foreign executives working in sectors that are in great demand in the post-industrialist era like finance, design and informatics, as well as professionals of the institutionalized field of arts and culture).

The aforementioned strategies can be explained with reference to gentrification processes inherent to neo-liberal urban transformation. While these processes construct new wealthy spaces and forge new socio-spatial relationships, they are abstracted from the concrete space where the transformation is taking place; they are de-spatialized. If we take a bottom-up-look at gentrification rather than adopting the bird’s eye view of capital, we will see that the transformed spaces are renewed without respect to their cultural and ecological contexts or the existing spatial habits and relationships belonging to their inhabitants. Consequentlyinstead of a “rational” planning process that functions via the accumulation of consecutive stages, in line with the conjunctures of the neo-liberal economy, İstanbul’s global(urban)ization project treats the city space as an abstract, empty plate (a tabula rasa) and plans, designs, and reconstructs the city and its constitutive elements from scratch on a daily basis.

Whether through “soft” transitions whereby spaces are acquired parcel by parcel by real estate developers in accordance with the imposing rules of the market mechanism, or through renovation/transformation projects imposed by state-capital partnerships that do not hold back from using police force, the inhabitants, the real owners of the transformed spaces, are displaced against their will. Throughout İstanbul, forced eviction does not only become the means of gentrification but an end in-itself.

The colorful images of the global city emerge along with conflicts and tensions…the local government-capital alliance imposes its vision of gentrification via commercialized and disciplined city spaces…

Adanali, Yasar Adnan; “De-spatialized Space as Neoliberal Utopia: Gentrified İstiklal Street and Commercialized Urban Spaces” Red Thread Journal, 2011

An Urbanist’s Guide to Istanbul (The Guardian)

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“We live in a giant construction site!”

I live in the historical Beyoğlu District of Istanbul, the center of my poly-centered mega-city. In any given day, 2 million visitors pass within one kilometer of my home. Taksim Square and Gezi Park are approximately 700m from my front door. My office, from where I work on urbanism-related projects, is also within walking distance of my home.

Living and working in such a central area has a lot of merits, yet it also has its drawbacks. The major problem is the intense level of commercialization and threat of forced eviction. The tourism industry and real estate developers are extremely interested in buying and converting residential buildings and local businesses into hotels or short-term rentals. For exactly this reason I was evicted from my previous house, which is not far from where I live now, two years ago – and I can see the encroachment of the tourism related spaces upon my existing neighborhood.

Istanbul is the city of transformation and contradiction…At the moment we live in a giant construction site, where skyscrapers, mega projects and urban renewal projects are taking place all around. There is a gold rush to real-estate development. Istanbul is a city of contradictions in many respects. It is one of the oldest metropolises in the world (more than 8,000 years old), but only a fraction of its buildings remain from 100 years ago. Istanbul is number five on the list of world cities with the highest number of dollar billionaires, yet on the other hand it accommodates some of the poorest people in Turkey. It’s a mega-city with 99% of its 15 million inhabitants living in an urbanized area, yet, it is still possible to find a ‘slow city’ lifestyle within the city’s boundaries…

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David Harvey Interview: Tarlabasi; Istanbul

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Acclaimed geography academic and Professor of Anthropology at City University of New York provides an interview on urban issues in the district of Tarlabasi, Istanbul; an area [having been] in the last throes of evictions for the long-standing residents. Tarlabasi [has been] in the process of a gentrification program to create an upscale housing and shopping district in the center of the city.