A leading Turkish architects’ association has condemned the lack of consultation over controversial regeneration plans which sparked major protests in Istanbul last week as ‘anti-democratic’
The country’s equivalent of the RIBA commented as occupation of the city centre Taksim Gezi Park – reportedly threatened with demolition to make way for mixed-use redevelopment – entered its seventh day.
In a statement Association of Turkish Consulting Engineers and Architects said ‘participation of citizens in the decision-making process’ was the ‘most important requirement of modern and sustainable urban management’.
It warned failure to engage the public in the scheme represented an ‘unhealthy’ way to reshape cities and violated ‘social rights’.
Protest groups descended on the 30 hectare garden last Tuesday (28 May) after bulldozers uprooted trees in what was thought to be the start of work on the controversial Topçu Barracks Project.
The high-profile scheme backed by Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reconstructs an historic barracks building which was demolished in 1940 to create the square. It is suggested the new building would include a shopping mall.
Turkish police used tear gas and water cannon to violently disperse activists but the demonstration has continued to grow, becoming the focus for a massive protest against the authoritarian regime dubbed the ‘Turkish Summer’. More than 1,000 people are so far thought to have been injured during the protest.
The Turkish architects’ association said: ‘In which civilized country, would green areas be used as a means to revive the economy? We, as the present citizens, do not wish to leave our cities which we inherited from the previous generations, only as a pile of building stacks.’
Campaigners against the redevelopment include Gregers Tang Thomsen of Istanbul-based Superpool.
He said: ‘Istanbul has around 3m² of active green space per capita, WHO recommends 9m² for a healthy city. To remove any green areas however small seems not to be the right strategy, particular when the purpose is to exchange it with shopping and hotel business that has limited benefit for the inhabitants of the city.’
He went on to say the ‘bigger issue’ was a widespread lack of public participation in urban issues in the city. ‘Presently the mechanism needs a lot of improvement to create the needed public debate around large interventions in the city. No one is really against development as long as the process in accessible, transparent and fair.’
City mayor Kadir Topbaş denied the barrack scheme was behind the demolition work which he said was related to extending pedestrian walkways, according to the Hurriyet Daily News .
Tommaso Principi and Paolo Brescia of OBR Open Building Researchm said: ‘The redevelopment of Taksim Square, a part from affecting an area loved by Istanbul citizens, doesn’t seem to take into account the historic and symbolic value of this place, ignoring the opinion of local architects and city planners as well as local residents.
They added: ‘We are currently working on, and committed to, the development of the Cesme waterfront in West Turkey. We hope the protests will not slow the project down but rather put more emphasis on the role of local authorities in understanding the significance of specific sites and the needs of local communities.’