Translated from Turkish by Translators For Justice
by Korhan Gümüş
Canal Istanbul, the third bridge, the third airport and the second city of Istanbul in the Black Sea shore projects… These are under threat of being evaporated because of the political crisis which occurred due to the stubborn approach of the government to rebuild an old Ottoman Artillery Barrack in Taksim. This may lead other crises in rapid succession because, behind this one, there is violence caused by the functioning of the nation centred government overwhelming locality, pushing environment out of politics, and restricting freedom of thought and speech.Functions and effects of these recently emerging projects shouldn’t be evaluated on their own. These are radical interventions that a regime has created to keep the city the economy under control of the central authority, further than transportation or residential projects.
In this respect, I think that Taksim Gezi Park event is a chasm that reveals the violence created by the regime. When we look through this slit, many problems reappeared at the same time.
First, there is a problem with the public system: While often skipping the issues related to production of ideas, how plans and projects are carried out, we read on the issue only within the context of politicians’ intentions and preferences. We transform public areas in a world of meaning produced by the functioning of centralized and authoritarian state. Doesn’t the perception and acceptance of projects and plans as non-political matters and technical jobs show this as well? Creative activities and idea generation in public area are stuck solely in philanthropic field. The form of suppression of ideas is a great injustice against citizens.
So, how does this form of suppression occur? Areas of class contradictions and violence produced are the status of a permanent representation. Urban space is positioned as an object of politics. It is given meaning and read through the eyes of the elite. Urban space is approached as a physical existence purified from social relations. Transport, cultural heritage, ecology, no matter what, they are non-policy issues, but as for the policy, they are perceived as intentions and preferences.
Whether the project is developed or objected, we’re trapped in the same information regime.
As seen in Taksim Project, idea generation, the most important phase of public decision is realized by bidding. In this case, only market participants and the official party remain in the public area. Conditions related to the participation of a civil society don’t develop and decisions cannot be conferred. People come across the projects only when they are in the implementation phase. In this respect, there is no choice but to protest. As a public function, decisions, before opening interest groups need to be improved by independent institutions and, in particular, the participation of people who share the living environment.
Another problem we face is the polarization of communities and preferences becoming a matter of life and death while discussing issues related to the living environment. The cause of polarization and the formation of a conflicted public space is that even issues that concern the people’s living environment are discussed through the tools of national politics.
However, there is an elected administration in Istanbul. What fuels the conflicted environment is that decisions about the city are taken and directed by the central authority. This also prevents peaceful and dialogue based developments, and the energy of the city to get involved in the process.
Whether the EU process of Turkey or the steps taken to solve other problematic issues are taken into consideration, there is a need to develop democratic standards in this regard. Centrist politics instrumentalizing the local issues, preventing participation and polarizing community have to change. Central authority deciding on a public space or a city square is unacceptable. (The legislation of EU, which we aim to become a member of, guides enough on this issue.)
When we look at the form of expression of images like Artillery Barracks or City Museum pronounced by the managers, these take part in as empty concepts: Who is programming City Museum and who is leading the project? The architect advising Artillery Barracks said ‘my project won ‘, if so, what are the other dismal projects and recommended by whom? We do not know about them. What is the role of the architect in this project? If what purpose a structure is used is not certain, how is it designed? I wonder if there are the ones who will do the job better than him. These questions show how an ‘anonymous’ project located in a public sense hides its subjectivity and mediates the production of violence. Besides, is this the only way to represent the sensitivity (for instance ‘Inonu administration, this top-down modernists, demolished our ancestors heirloom’ thesis) created in some circles because of its being destroyed in the past? Aren’t there other ways to compensate for this, rather than obliterating green space? Is it the only thing to do to make use of its development right, to make up for the destruction of a building in the past? Without leaving out the idea of building barracks, can’t many approaches be considered? How can an architect say ‘I am backed by public authority and there can’t be another idea but mine’? But as you can see, the process of architecture requiring reasoning is being neglected or intentionally skipping out. The decision is spoken directly through public authority. We are on the point where architecture experimentation and public attribute evaporate.
As is seen and understood, a company’s getting a tender by bid rigging is rather rot and pious. Attention is paid to select an architect having relationship based on self-interest with the management, sharing secrets, being easy going, and showing no architectural caprices.
In contrast, violently suppressed civil resistance, namely Gezi, can possibly be evaluated as an attempt to re-expropriation. Earlier in the circumstances, Gezi appeared as an alternative public model to a public area which was occupied by riot police, transformed into a car park, whose public cultural institutions were privatized and ramblingly planned and a hotel constructed on. The use of the park by civil society, its library, its orchard, its television channel, and its non-market stores should have considered not as a problem, but as a step towards solution.
It is not a conversion agreed by contractors and investors, but an entity realized separately from market mechanisms by independent people. This crisis showed that Istanbul is a real world city by presenting both democratization and the use of an alternative form. Regarding Gezi Park Project, I think that a totally new situation emerged in addition to the elements of the old politics. Even old items brought about a new experience in a fresh blend and this development cannot be reversed or erased from history.
Against the destruction of the discipline of architecture, not only professionals but also community should participate in decision-making regarding the realization of living environment and professional organizations also have responsibilities to guarantee freedom of thought and expression. For this reason, we must request that professional organizations do not limit their functions only to objections and be effective on public functioning. Professional field indexing only on the nation centric policies is not a political issue.Today, coming together at the urban scale, different political movements -without putting forward political identity design, blackballing and getting power from ennobling – are also in contact with forums. This development could transform the centrist politics and can be seen as an opportunity for the upcoming local elections. We can all imagine the emergence of a mayor candidate who understands this development cutting the umbilical cord tying him/her to centrist politics in peace. Management not excluding energy of the city and not seeing people as objects bring in a lot.