7,500 American Dollars per m2 is the price you have to pay if you want an office near the most important square of Istanbul. Seems reasonable, right? Until recently though, the area where the office is located was occupied by people in the poorest portion of the population, and the neighborhood’s name was associated with unsatisfactory living conditions. These unfavorable circumstances constituted the foundation for the biggest undertaking of gentrification Istanbul has ever seen: the Tarlabaşı Renewal Project.
In August 2012, I decided to examine the project’s progress for myself, because there are differing views in the media; some say that it is the ideal type of gentrification where the historical outlook is preserved and the people don’t suffer, and some say that this project is all about real estate business where gentrification is used as class cleansing, driving the poor out of the “valuable” areas.
The part of the neighborhood that is seen from the outside, the storefront of the area if you will, looks deserted and trashed. A big part of it is being demolished and is covered by a huge wooden curtain that displays the renderings of the project once it will be completed. I managed to get behind the curtain and bumped into a couple of people who were in charge of construction. I asked questions regarding the historical and architectural heritage of the site as well as what will happen to the people who are currently occupying the buildings. What they told me was the description of a perfect type of gentrification: the architectural details, floor plans and organization of buildings with respect to each other are carefully documented with photos, videos, and drawings in order to reproduce their original state once they are rebuilt. As for the people, agreements are made with all the owners who sold their rights for money, for office space or apartment floors, and they are relocated to somewhere else until the project is done, with the rent being paid by the municipality. I couldn’t get a clear answer about what happened to the people who rented and who are illegally occupying the space. They strongly claim that nobody is mistreated.
It is reasonable to be skeptical and take everything you hear with a grain of salt because comments on these issues are usually very subjective. Even though it is great to hear the people in charge of the project at least have an idea of how gentrification should really be done, however, I am not very hopeful that what they were telling me is going to be the reality, bearing in mind the previous projects and the bodies in charge of the project. First of all, the architectural preservation of the site is extremely important because 278 buildings in this area have a historical heritage status. However, a news article in Radikal, a Turkish daily newspaper, claims that this is not always the case. The reporters who visited the real estate office of the private company that works with the municipality in this project say that the real estate agents told them that mostly the original state of the interiors will not be preserved. Also the prices have skyrocketed. One building is now worth about 7.5 million dollars. The number I got for the buildings that haven’t gone through gentrification yet were around 0.5-1.2 million dollars. This is a similar case of gentrification that took place in Sulukule, a Romani neighborhood in Istanbul, and it is indicative of the probability that the poor are being driven out of the area.
The most interesting part is the following: the private company that works with the municipality, the company that will literally rebuild one of the neighborhoods with the greatest income potential along with a unique typology, GAP Insaat, is run by the son-in-law of the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It might be a coincidence, of course, but it might also not be.
Already with a great increase in real estate prices and connections to the greatest political figure in Turkey, what do you believe will be the outcome of this project for the city and for the people who currently occupy the area, especially the poor?
Credits: Data linked to sources. Both images by author.