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Istanbul's Fight for Its Public Spaces

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The blogs I have written here so far have been to display how architecture and urban planning can possess significant political influence. Today, I kindly ask you to take a little of your time to read about the greatest evidence yet seen of the predicament above in the city I blog for: Istanbul.  

Twitter and Facebook are teeming with media related to this incident. In fact, it was the most popular worldwide Trending Topic on Twitter on May 31, 2013.

For the first time in the recent history, people of Istanbul are undertaking an organized movement at this big of a scale. This is a movement against the top-down, blatant destruction of the elements of Istanbul that constitute the history, the imaginary of the city which give Istanbul the unique identity it enjoys.

The setting is the Taksim Square, arguably the single most important public space in the city. As a part of the Pedestrianization Project of the Taksim Square, the only park in the area, The Taksim Park, where the locals can enjoy some green space is going to be replaced by "a shopping mall and a luxury residence", a global trend that is evident in the rising metropolises around the world to maximize the profit extracted from the valuable urban land.

This drastic intervention is quite expectedly not the result of lengthy discussions with the officials and the public. Just like the other major undertakings all over the city, such as the "Greatest Mosque Ever Built" that I wrote about before on this website, this is the decision of one person and one person alone: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Activists gathered in the Taksim Park on May 28th to stop the construction workers from uprooting the trees in the park. Fundamentally, they protested against the plans to build a mall (designed as the replica of the Ottoman Barracks that used to be there until 1939) on the last remaining breathing space in an area covered with multi-storey shopping buildings and apartments. Actually, the situation is a little more faceted than that.

The government aims to make its mark through strong urban interventions all over Istanbul. Simultaneously, two very important projects, the biggest airport in the country, and the 3rd bridge over the Bosphorus are fast underway, both of which have been projected to be deadly against the Northern Forests of Istanbul. These forests are critical for the city's survival, and like the Taksim project, they were done without any input from the public.

Finally, the people are reacting to the government's forceful decisiveness. Against their reactions, during the groundbreaking ceremony of the 3rd Bosphorus Bridge, the Prime Minister Erdogan said: "Whatever you do, we have decided. We are going to make it happen."

This is a sad remark. This is a pure and proud expression of the top-down authority in a supposedly democratic state. A selfish desire to change one of the most beautiful, most important cities in the world according to the will of one person.

So, these protests in the Taksim Park are against this authoritative attitude. People are reclaiming the public space. Regardless of age, political views, religion, football team affiliations, all of which are manipulated as ways to polarization through media, all the people gathered there to protect the spaces they care about.

This is where the situation gets interesting. The desire to reclaim a public space has grown into something much bigger through the use of social media. The urge to save no more than a handful of trees transformed into a rally to protest against all the political and economic concerns of the people towards the policies of the ruling party.

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My aim in this blog post is not to talk about the extreme police violence towards the protesters: this is not the place to do so. However, I strongly urge you to look at the following articles, and check out Twitter, to witness the international support and the violence that cannot penetrate through the filters of the mainstream Turkish media. They are literally oblivious to the one of the greatest public protests in the history of the Republic of Turkey.

Therefore, people ask for all the support they can get from all over the world. So far, the Occupy Movement, Amnesty International, and international media actors such as CNN International, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, NY Times and so on. The Turkish media is censored except for a couple of TV channels, and all the information is dependent on civilian journalists through means like Twitter and Facebook.

As Kwame Appiah states, in a cosmopolitan world, we are all responsible towards one another, regardless of where we are. Please be informed, and show your support for the people who took the initiative to mobilize and express their thoughts. Something worrying is happening in the public spaces of Istanbul, and it is relevant to everyone around the world.