VOL: 10 NO: 1  65-83  2013-1


Non-erasable human traces against urban transformation




Istanbul Technical University, PhD candidate, Istanbul, TURKEY


Received: August 2012         Final Acceptance: February 2013






The notion of urban transformation, which occupies Turkey’s agenda, has gained much more momentum because of new urban planning regulations. The regulations aim to make some parts of the city more ‘flawless’, affecting the physical character and societal norms of the city. The city of Istanbul, which is attempting to create this flawless look by clarification of timeworn urban parts with the help of urban transformation projects, is evaluated as a revenue generator; giving Istanbul the opportunity to advance its economy to the level of other global brand cities.

Istanbul, a capital city with many different civilizations since the Roman Empire, is such a glowing city in terms of its economical characteristics. The city developed during centuries by many overlapping layers of cultural codes and living spaces belonging to many different cultures. Preserving its history has an important value with this kind of cultural diversity and richness. As it is well known, inaccurate political decisions, intended to gain more votes, caused a significant amount of land to be informally occupied by immigrants who then constructed buildings lacking quality. The 1999 earthquake in the city created a need to rehabilitate these informally built areas and accelerated the movements of urban transformation projects of the timeworn and bedraggled areas on the uppermost layer of the city. But these efforts turned into a total change of the city instead of preserving the traditions and history of Istanbul.

By the expropriation law in 2006, Romans who were living in Sulukule since the 11th century were forced to abandon their homes. The Roman houses, which could not be improved because of the lack of education and unemployment of the people living in the area, were demolished and no trace was left of its history. The new buildings built in the area in the present time, appeal to a very high income group and the project only focuses to create private spaces for new home owners excluding any kind of urban space for the rest of the public. Although the project is planned with social functions for the Sulukule people, it is clear that those people will not be able to live in the area since the land value has increased ten-fold. Three different cases against the project, causing it to be canceled because no ‘public benefit’ could be found, have created recognition for the issue.


The kind of urban transformation movement which does not allow cultural values to be transferred to the present time is such an erasing activity—scratching out not only the physical realities but also a way of living. The people of Sulukule who were located to the houses built by the government at the outskirts of Istanbul, came back and moved in to the neighborhoods close to their old living areas to pursue their usual daily life activities since there has been no increase in their incomes. They could not adapt to apartment living, reimburse their rents, monthly revenues and transportation expenses.

Consequently, it cannot be told that such an urban transformation implementation has achieved its goal. While urban deprivation is the main problematic issue of urban transformations, the implementation, on the other hand, is only setting back this deprivation sweeping it to the edges.

So, the erasing activity of the dozers was not able to neither destroy nor cause social practices to disappear, but only caused them to be set back slightly. In the scope of this paper, Sulukule city part, which will be evaluated as a palimpsest urban space, is clarified from its flaws but many life stories engraved into the history that are assumed to be erased, are still leaking into the present time of ours beneath from the parchment paper. That form of leakage will be tried to be transferred to the reader by the help of observations and interviews made by the researcher in the area.

In the scope of this article, the issue of social transformation will tried to be argued upon an implemented urban transformation project in such a way that as long as urban transformation policies do not make a contribution to rehabilitate the problems of education, health and unemployment, they will unfortunately continue to be such phenomena increasing the unearned income in the city.


Keywords:Urban segregation, urban deprivation, urban transformation, social transformation, cultural identity


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