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'Urban Renewal' May Replace Community With Commerce in Istanbul Ghetto

Officials and developers in the Turkish capital have set their sights on a poor but centrally-located neighborhood for an urban renewal project, leaving longtime residents worried they may not be around much longer, Jessica Bourque reports.
July 5, 2012, 9am PDT | Ryan Lue
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Long a "sanctuary for Turkey's marginalized populations," Istanbul's Tarlabaşi area has all the makings of a troubled neighborhood. The buildings, many of them historic, are falling apart; the streets are littered with garbage; and worst of all, drugs and prostitution are in no short supply. 

It's a stark contrast from the "glitzy boutiques" of the monied neighborhood that sits literally across the street. And so it should come as no surprise that officials in Beyoğlu Municipality, along with Istanbul's Housing Development Administration, have selected the area for a lengthy process of urban renewal, hoping to recapture the area's latent real estate and commercial value.

"This is a good thing," said Mustafa Yesildas, a furniture dealer who has lived in Tarlabaşi since the 70s. "Everything here is in bad shape. No one here is washing or painting. They don't know how to take care of the historical architecture of these buildings." 

But not everyone is so optimistic. Many residents are wary of developers' profit motive – even the Housing Administration's website states that the renewal process will involve the relocation of residents to housing complexes and the eviction of squatters. Some fear that the neighborhood's strong sense of community will be lost in the process.

"Unfortunately, this is very aggressive and very wrong," said Huseyin Kaptan, director of the Istanbul Metropolitan Planning and Urban Design Center. "To keep the social structure safe, you need to involve the people. Contractors get to build some modern thing - could be a shopping mall, could be a high-rise - but they have no regard for the people living there."

"I call this kind of operation they're doing, ‘killing them while kissing them." 

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Published on Wednesday, July 4, 2012 in The New York Times
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