Videos

A Filmmaker's Scathing Critique of Istanbul's Urban Planning Policies

A 2011 documentary paints a frightening picture of the way bulldozers, bankers, and politicians are demolishing the city without regard to the environment.

Looking for some context about the struggle going on today in Istanbul and Turkey at large? The 2011 documentary film Ekümenopolis, by Imre Azem, outlines a scathing critique of the economic and political policies pursued by Turkey’s current government. Using interviews, animations, and beautifully edited footage, it paints a frightening picture of the way bulldozers, bankers, and politicians are demolishing and re-engineering this ancient city without regard to the environment or the complex social infrastructure of the place.

From a synopsis of the film:

Especially in the past 10 years, as the World Bank foresaw in its reports, Istanbul has been changing from an industrial city to a finance and service-centered city, competing with other world cities for investment. Making Istanbul attractive for investors requires not only the abolishment of legal controls that look out for the public good, but also a parallel transformation of the users of the city. This means that the working class who actually built the city as an industrial center no longer have a place in the new consumption-centered finance and service city. So what is planned for these people?

This is where the “urban renewal” projects come into play. Armed with new powers never before imagined, TOKI (State Housing Administration), together with the municipalities and private investors, are trying to reshape the urban landscape in this new vision. With international capital behind them, land plans in their hands, square meters and building coefficients in their minds, they are demolishing neighborhoods, and instead building skyscrapers, highways and shopping malls. But who do these new spaces serve?

The film includes interviews with architects, planners, historians, and many others who fear that the rapid pace of development in Istanbul, with its emphasis on bigger roads, taller buildings, and the displacement of thousands of poor and working-class people, will lead to its destruction. The demolition of the Ayazma neighborhood to make way for a deluxe gated community becomes emblematic of the changes. (Note: on the full-length video that's on YouTube, you need to click the "CC" button to activate the English subtitles.)

"A third bridge over the Bosporus really means a death sentence for this city," says Besim Selçuk Sertok, from the Istanbul Chamber of Forestry Engineers.

As the protests in Turkey continue, this film provides one window into how Turkey’s urban planning practices of the last decade have fueled the anger in the streets.

Below, the film trailer:

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn.