“The government ordered us to leave, but Taksim is ours —The Young Socialists…” —Istanbul Graffiti, Nov. 2013
I was lucky enough to travel to Istanbul in the aftermath of the pro-Gezi Park protests in the Fall of 2013 and revel in the reverberating sense of rebellion there. Leftists, students, artists, and activists rocked Istanbul for several days in June 2013 in mass pro-democracy protests instigated by an initial protest to save Taksim Square’s Gezi Park from demolition.
No way I’m ever going back any time soon now that Erdogan has won.
This recent City Lab article, “Making Room for Nature in Erdogan’s Istanbul,” says the ashes of the crushed 2013 uprising, or more optimistically, the spirit of the uprising, now exists in an anti-development movement that’s taking up the fight against the patronage-driven construction boom, advocating instead for more green spaces in Istanbul.
I support development, and I cringe at the notion that green space and development are supposedly at odds—residential neighborhood traditionalists in Seattle, for example, use tree canopy as a proxy for the anti-development agenda. I’d argue that green space and big cities go hand in hand, and measuring tree canopy actually backs up my pro-nature POV.
But here’s why I’m excited by the anti-development activists in Istanbul.
While the “Junior Gezis”—as Erdogan himself derisively calls the green space movement—are framing their latent pro-democracy movement as an environment versus edifice dialectic, I think something entirely different is going on in Istanbul; for starters, the pro- green space activists are fighting actual authoritarianism.
Mainly: I think their fight for gardens and green space in Istanbul is both a symbolic and legitimate fight against Erdogan’s larger right wing agenda. Erdogan’s grand pursuit of one-party rule has been made explicit through his homogeneous urban agenda. Really, the “Junior Gezis” are arguing for diversity and balance…or mixed use, the watchword of urbanism.
And speaking of ashes, I love this line from the City Lab article; it’s about Roma Botan, a blossoming garden spot near Taksim today where protesters initially fled from riot police in 2013:
“A pizza restaurant in the neighborhood gives us ash from their ovens to enhance soil,” she adds.