De-spatialized Space as Neoliberal Utopia: Gentrified İstiklal Street and Commercialized Urban Spaces
Yaşar Adnan Adanalı 




Today İstanbul ranks seventh among world cities in the number of foreign visitors and international meetings it hosts and fifth in the number of dollar millionaires living within its premises.[2] It is possible to list many other striking statistics about İstanbul. What these numbers indicate is that İstanbul is moving at a fast pace towards becoming a global city and it finds its place in the world city map as a global magnet of capital and people. "Global city" is a project made possible via the reproduction of the city in the framework of processes of capitalist accumulation and mechanisms of neoliberal production and consumption. This project consists of spatial, economic and social processes as well as those that are by content and application political. 


Although İstanbul's current transformation has been presented as a non-Western miracle of development in the face of the destructive effects of economic crises, it is actually possible to think of this transformation as a "skillful" application of well-known global(urban)ization strategies by an alliance formed between the state, the capital and local governments: (a) The segmentation of the city into detached islands through the construction of profitmaking fragments of the global urbanization catalogue, such as shopping malls, gated communities, mass housing settlements (TOKİ: Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Housing Development Administration of Turkey), residences, plazas, airports, techno parks, golf courts, cruise harbors; (b) rendering lower and middle classes "powerless" in the face of this transformation by means of forced evictions and legal pressure in order to secure the land necessary for the construction of these urban fragments; such that social and class-based segregation is conducted alongside spatial segregation; (c) the production of urban corridors and transportation infrastructures that will facilitate the flow of capital, goods and humans between these fragments of the urban catalogue. Consequently, while prioritizing the city of fluxes composed of corridors to the city of integrated urban spaces, İstanbul's global(urban)ization project constructs wealthy spaces  on the sites of poor spaces. Lower class neighborhoods inhabited by the city's poorest, which at time same time carry the highest potential in terms of the rising value of urban land, are refashioned by local municipality-private sector partnerships and allotted to new İstanbulites with highest cultural and economic capital (such as local and foreign executives working in sectors that are in great demand in the post-industrialist era like finance, design and informatics, as well as professionals of the institutionalized field of arts and culture).


The aforementioned strategies can be explained with reference to gentrification processes inherent to neoliberal urban transformation. While these processes construct new wealthy spaces and forge new socio-spatial relationships, they are abstracted from the concrete space where the transformation is taking place; they are (de-spatialised). If we take a bottom-up-look at gentrification rather than adopting the bird's eye view of capital, we will see that the transformed spaces are renewed without respect to their cultural and ecological contexts or the existing spatial habits and relationships belonging to their inhabitants. Consequently, instead of a "rational" planning process that functions via the accumulation of consecutive stages, in line with the conjunctures of the neoliberal economy, İstanbul's global(urban)ization project treats the city space as an abstract, empty plate (a tabula rasa) and plans, designs, and reconstructs the city and its constitutive elements from scratch on a daily basis. Whether through "soft" transitions whereby spaces are acquired parcel by parcel by real estate developers in accordance with the imposing rules of the market mechanism, or through renovation/transformation projects imposed by state-capital partnerships that do not hold back from using police force, the inhabitants, the real owners of the transformed spaces, are displaced against their will. Throughout İstanbul, forced eviction does not only become the means of gentrification but an end in-itself. [3] The colorful images of the global city emerge along with conflicts and tensions. This article discusses how the local government-capital alliance imposes its vision of gentrification via commercialized and disciplined city spaces, and the rising urban opposition confronting this process in relation to one of the most important streets of İstanbul, a city on its way to becoming a global city.


Forced Eviction Map (2009) Forced Eviction Map (2009)[4]


İstiklal Street


İstiklal Street and sites mentioned in the article

İstiklal Street and sites mentioned in the article


Through the construction of a couple of churches and embassies, İstiklal Street, which was only a pathway amidst a "desolate, wide and green" area until the mid 19th century, developed rapidly into Ottoman Empire's non-Muslim center of life. "Grand Rue de Pera," which had been on the rise since the 1850s, represented the most "Western" face of the Empire in terms of architecture, demography, and lifestyle. Paul Imbert records that in the year 1869 there were 277 Muslim, 91 Armenian Gregorian, 28 Armenian Catholic, 85 Greek, 65 Latin Catholic, 29 Jewish, 40 Bulgarian and 7 Protestant students going to Galatasaray High School, which stands right in the middle of İstiklal Street.[5] With the arrival of Belarusians who escaped the Soviet Revolution in the aftermath of the First World War, the street experienced its heyday during the first 30 years of the republican era. İstiklal Street symbolized the "European" face of the young Republic that aimed to "modernize" through Westernization. The street became filled with patisseries, cafés, theaters, movie theaters, and hotels.[6] The anti-minority politics that intensified in the aftermath of the Second World War, the September 6-7 (1955) İstanbul Pogrom and the rising ethnic tension between the Turks and the Greeks in Cyprus hastily brought an end to cosmopolitan İstiklal and its non-Muslim population. The abandoned houses in the area welcomed the newly arriving poor, who were coming into the city as a result of intensified internal migration.[7] In time, following its social transformation, the built environment was perceived as an area of "decay" and became associated with poverty, crime, drugs and prostitution, and was referred to as a "den" by those in power. The street, which was pedestrianized and applied "make-up" in the late 1980s, was rediscovered and the gentrification of Asmalı Mescit and Cihangir, two neighborhoods located at two opposite ends of the street, began and was aided indirectly by the artists who settled here. New cafés, restaurants, bars and boutiques rapidly opened. The rising street life was restored its hybrid and "original" character with the high immigrant population and urban poverty surrounding it. This was also the period when political activism on the street was high on the rise. For instance, on a Saturday in mid 1990s in Galatasaray Square, a group of mostly Kurdish mothers, whose children had "disappeared" (actually became victims of unresolved murders) during the civil war, started their silent protest resembling that of the Mothers of the Plaza Mayo in Argentina. They have been meeting for the "disappeared" every Saturday ever since on the same square. Many leftist groups also meet in buildings around the street while their sympathizers sell their newspapers on the street.


This is a space that is full of ambiguity and variety, can host different social and economic relations, intertwines the formal and the informal, is hard to contain and discipline, and therefore it can be identified as a relatively "democratic" space. This originality is interweaved with its cosmopolitan history described briefly above. It has come to be known as "an urban space that has not been barely a mirror reflecting foreign cultures or a melting pot erasing diverse cultures, but instead one that lets different cultures flourish independently while creating an original synthesis above them all." What caught the attention of 19th century travelers, what "left them amazed was, among all other things, this mixing of different elements, the plurality (of languages, races, attires), the cosmopolitanism, namely, the co-existence of what is considered civilized and barbarian, the old and the modern."[8] While 21st century travelers are fascinated with the same sense of originality, İstiklal Street is rapidly entering a new era as a result of İstanbul's global(urban)ization process and the "reclamation" of the street by capital. How long the street will be able to protect its historic originality becomes questionable.


Today, over two million people walk up and down İstiklal Street, which is about two kilometers long, every day. This massive human flow is accompanied by a massive capital flow and its transformative effects. Along with its side streets and the neighborhoods surrounding them, it has become a showcase where the gentrification process in Istanbul can be observed and intensely experienced. Led by market economy actors, the gentrification process that takes place on the basis of singular enterprises, parcels or buildings is deeply felt as it starts transforming the spaces of daily life.


Real Estate purchases and sales, the seeking of profit, foreign investors


The real estate investments of big local and foreign capital play an important role in shaping the transformation of İstiklal Street. Sales and purchases conducted by investors expand in volume every day as properties are hurriedly handed out. For instance, MANGO, which already has a store on the street bought a building, previously owned by İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality and managed by İstanbul Cultural and Artistic Products Corporation under the name İstanbul Bookstore, for 54 million Turkish Liras.[9] A few months earlier, the Dutch firm VastNed, which makes major investments on European main streets, paid 29.5 million Euros and bought the Yapı Kredi building standing next to Galatasaray Square located in the exact middle of the street. Aside from this, the same firm has also taken over a series of buildings on the street for 90 million Euros. UK-based Eastern European Property Fund Limited (EEPFL), founded in order to "profit from the real estate opportunities" arising in Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria, also bought a total of 9 buildings, large and small.[10] Kazak Capital Partners, on the other hand, had made an entrance in Beyoğlu by buying Komando Han, one of the most significant buildings in Galata.[11]


Former İstanbul Bookstore Demirören İstiklal Shopping Mall

On the left, former İstanbul Bookstore which was sold to MANGO. On the right, the recently opened Demirören İstiklal Shopping Mall


 'Cool Istanbul', Cover of Newsweek


In tandem with the thrilling pace of real estate investments made by local and foreign capital, institutionalized art centers sponsored by major banks (Garanti, Akbank, Yapı Kredi) and corporations (Sabancı, Koç, Borusan), as well as prestigious stores owned by big brands (Lacoste, Nike, Converse, Mango) are opening on the street. İstiklal Street comes to fore as an attractive investment site for shopping malls for the first time in its history.[12] These examples demonstrate how the space itself is perceived by capital as playing a central role in accumulation processes, and how urban transformation and cultural policies are intertwined. The real estate activity and the spatial transformation observed on the street and its surroundings can be considered within the framework of İstanbul's image as the "coolest" European city and certain discourses related to "brand cities" that developed after 2000 and have supported this image such as the status of 2010 European Capital of Culture. Below you can see the sale sign for an old building in the center of Tophane. Tophane, a neighborhood right below İstiklal Street, has gone though a transformation itself that parallels the history of the street, turning "gradually from a cosmopolitan center of İstanbul into a poorer neighborhood associated with violence and drugs, and later with conservatism triggered by internal migration." [13] And now Tophane is being gentrified with the pressure of capital. The real estate firm which posted the sale sign is looking for both local (satılık) and foreign (for sale) clients. The emphasis on "The Private Collection of İstanbul 2010 Capital of Culture" placed on the top is the most striking element of the sign. The fact that a building that has no official connection to the Capital of Culture status is presented as if it is an art piece that real estate "collectors" should not miss, demonstrates how the strategies of market actors are in sync with İstanbul's brandization on a macro scale.[14]


Tophane for Sale (2010)

Tophane for Sale (2010)


The temporary privatization of public space and the advertising sector imitating the street


While private spaces on the street are increasingly found on investment and profit-seeking international investors' portfolios, the street itself, along with its public spaces (squares, streets, building fronts etc.) is temporarily privatized for marketing national and international brands. Bound neither by time nor by space, capital assigns this temporariness a continuous and permanent character. Kilometers long illuminated decorations that carry advertisement boards, which appeared first as New Year's decorations never to be removed again throughout the year; the gigantic product dummies, which advertise various brands and occupy corners of Taksim, Galatasaray and Tünel Squares; the projections on building surfaces that first appeared as guerilla-art to be domesticated soon by the advertising sector are all on their way into becoming the unchanging decorations of the street. The advertisement installations that are placed right next to city sculptures in public spaces obliterate the distinctions between the public and the private, art and advertisement, the spectator and the consumer, thus commercializing not only the functions of space but also the space itself.


Fruttare Fruttare Lipton
H&M Ad Turkcell

Product dummies of diverse brands remain on the street throughout the year


The advertising sector implements its strategy of "advertising as if it is not an advertisement" in urban spaces by imitating the major actors of the street, such as street vendors or political activists. In 2011, the multinational firm Vodafone was one of the most successful firms applying this strategy. One day a group of people wearing red walked down the street with placards, chanting slogans and holding up their fists. These people who, at first sight, looked like a group holding a political demonstration, were actually none other than Vodafone's advertising agents. Later, on another day, all the simit [bagel] vendors on the street turned into mobile advertising stands. For yet another campaign, many young people wearing American football uniforms blocked the dense traffic of the street for a Vodafone advertisement. These firms and their consumer products do not only occupy visual and written media but also make room for themselves in urban life on a daily basis, hence leaving no room for breathing in public spaces. This suffocating development can be described as an "urban problem" both in relation to urban design and aesthetics, and to the enclosure, homogenization, privatization and commercialization of public spaces.



İstiklal Street's simit vendors turned into Vodafone advertisements


The municipality as an actor that facilitates gentrification


Galip Dede and Yüksek Kaldırım Streets Are Being Renovated and Beautified We Renovated Our Streets, Now is Time for Our Buildings We are on Duty for a Graceful, High-Quality, Orderly City Life

From left to right:

"Galip Dede and Yüksek Kaldırım Streets Are Being Renovated and Beautified"

"We Renovated Our Streets, Now is Time for Our Buildings"

"We are on Duty for a Graceful, High-Quality, Orderly City Life"


Facilitating the operation of the capital-oriented urbanization vision through planning, handing out construction licenses and taking security precautions, Beyoğlu Municipality comes to fore as one of the most important actors of the transformation of İstiklal Street and its environs through gentrification. The Municipality which openly displays its "graceful, high-quality, orderly" urban vision in the above billboard going back and forth between a car advertisement and municipal propaganda, perceives İstiklal Street and its surrounding environment, which "is full of ambiguity and variety, can host different social and economic relations, intertwines the formal and the informal, and is hard to contain and discipline" as an urban space that necessitates radical intervention. On one hand the Municipality renews the streets and sidewalks made up of asphalt and concrete using "stone," which is a nostalgic element in the imagination of historic İstanbul, or with less costly imitation-stone concrete, and applies make-up on building fronts by doing coat-work, and thus is engaged in an act of "beautifying" the built environment.[15] On the other hand, using the municipal police, it takes precautions to contain and discipline what is perceived as the colorful, and perhaps a little "unruly" elements of the life on the street, via issuing severe restrictions regarding street musicians and activists, sidewalk cafés, and tables and chairs placed the streets.[16] Such that there is an attempt to squeeze these elements that are relegated to the outside of a controllable, decent and disciplined Beyoğlu Project, into specific spaces and narrow borders by the enactment of coerced and forceful policies. The fact that the police (and the municipal police), who represent the "cold, boring and austere" face of the state drive around to maintain public security in the latest technology "cool," cute and prestigious Mini Cooper automobiles suiting the image of the global city and its beautified streets, and advertise them and take photographs with tourists, instead of driving locally produced cars with which they are associated country-wide, gives us clues to the characteristics of the new "order" of the street. While the Municipality carries out spatial interventions to facilitate the flow of foreign and local capital, it also aims to domesticate İstiklal and its social and economic environment. 


A conceptual tool: Cloned cities / streets


While the street that has come to function as a disciplined consumption center hastily loses its diversity and originality, the number of chain stores owned by multinational firms and big national brands rapidly increase. Stores that could be found in any shopping mall in İstanbul are now present on the street and are increasing in number. Along with the process of the shopping mall-ization of the street itself, shopping malls, which can be described as contradictory to the "spirit" of this space have opened, and there are plans for more. While these new consumer spaces lead to the closing down or changing of hands of the street's long standing enterprises one by one, İstiklal Street is becoming similar to any main street that could be found in any other city of the world.[17] The homogenization of spaces cannot be considered without reference to the social relations formed on these spaces.  For instance, while the numbers of political activists who shout slogans and sell newspapers on the street are in decline, the number of the fund-raising staff of institutionalized international non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace, World Wildlife Foundation, and Amnesty International, who could frequently be encountered in any other consumer city on the world, are on the rise.


The UK based New Economics Foundation uses the term "clone town" to refer to the reflection of the processes of gentrification on main streets. Every year they keep accounts of this cloning process by observing and reporting on UK's cities and main streets.[18] Why is the homogenization of city centers a problem? Does the "spread of cloned cities and the horrific homogenization of main streets create any concerns other than aesthetic ones?" The report entitled Reclaiming Main Streets answers this question as follows: "We think so. Yes, distinctiveness and a sense of place matter to people. Without character in our urban centres, living history and visible proof that we can in some way shape and influence our living environment we become alienated in the very places that we should feel at home."


Of course they also explain how the problem goes even beyond this. They aim to offer a different vision for main streets: a vision that develops distinct experiences for main streets, which would not only depend on the existence of consumers but would support a better life for all. "If we are to meet a range of challenges that we face, from climate change to the economic crisis, we need to bring our high streets back to life. Where loss of genetic diversity threatens the survival of species and makes natural ecosystems vulnerable to collapse, clone towns imperil local livelihoods, communities and our culture by decreasing the resilience of high streets to economic downturns and diminishing consumer choice." It is possible to think about the problem of cloned cities and main streets on a national scale, beyond the particular example of İstiklal Street. The shopping malls that occupy all corners of the country and big chain stores, cafés, retail stores, cosmetic stores, supermarkets and technomarkets rapidly spreading on main streets, and drugstores awaiting new legislation to do so, give us an idea about the horrific potential of "clonization" and the transformation that is the future of main streets and cities.


İstanbul Shopping Fest as a Cloning Event


İstanbul Shopping Fest (ISF), organized by a partnership between public and private enterprises, took place for the first time in Spring 2011 and went on for 40 days. It was held under the roof of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the office of the Mayor of Metropolitan City of İstanbul, was supported by İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality and Turkish Exporters Assembly, and was coordinated by Council of Shopping Centers - Turkey, the Turkish Council of Shopping Centers and Retailers, and the United Brands Association of Turkey. The event aimed to "transform İstanbul into the shopping, culture and entertainment center of the world."


During İstanbul Shopping Fest İstiklal Street was besieged by brands

During İstanbul Shopping Fest İstiklal Street was besieged by brands


This consumption event where shopping malls and big brands were promoted also took place on some of the major main streets in İstanbul such as Abdi İpekçi, Bağdat and İstiklal Streets. While marketing İstiklal Street with the slogan "Turkey's most eclectic street" it was as if the event tried to conceal the above-explained process of urban transformation and shopping mall-ization in general, and in particular the loss of the actual "eclectic" character of the street and its transformation into another main street in any global city as a result of such consumption events, as well as the fact that this happens not only through a process of capital-led gentrification but is also directed by public policies.


The transfer of public energies and resources to events such as İstanbul Shopping Fest, to problematic urban developments such as Demirören Shopping Mall, and to big capital in general, highlights the capital-oriented ideological content of urban transformation that is explained in the beginning of this article, and reminds us of the building blocks of neoliberal ideology. On one hand, what is taking place is a process of market fetishism that makes references to concepts such as privatization, flexible labor markets, non-producing state, small bureaucracy, good governance; while, on the other hand, economic policies facilitate capital accumulation for the sake of big capital directly through the use of state and public resources. Just as it happens when banks are rescued in financial crises; Anatolian rivers and waters are sold to firms for the building of hydroelectric power stations; public land is transferred to the private sector via the Housing Development Administration of Turkey[19]; public land is expropriated and privatized through urban transformation laws and policies; and consequently when all state resources are mobilized for the sake of big capital.


Alkazar Emek Rüya

Alkazar, Emek and Rüya, three veteran movie theaters within 50 meters of Demirören Shopping Mall, now closed


But where are public resources and energies when it comes to the rapid closing down of many unique and independent places that make up the "eclectic" character of İstiklal Street because of the gentrification process in general, and the developments such as Demirören Shopping Mall in particular? Here are three closed veteran movie theaters Alkazar, Emek and Rüya, within a 50-meters radius around Demirören Shopping Mall. The director of Atlas, another veteran movie theater on İstiklal that struggles for survival, answers the question "is everything alright here?" in such a way that clearly explains the process: "Not really, because matters are complicated. We know the reason; it is the shopping malls. People prefer shopping malls nowadays. Movie theaters like ours, which are old and relatively small when compared to the ones in shopping malls, do not attract as many customers as they did in the past."[20]


Civil disobedience and reclaiming public space


"Public space has lost its ‘Public' nature. Private companies own the buildings, the windows, the walls, the bus stops, the phone booths. Communities are bombarded by advertising messages every day. Communities need a balance. Take back some of this space for beauty, art, humor, thoughtfulness, inquisitiveness, questioning, color, texture, interaction and fun."[21]



Public space has lost its 'Public' nature. (Photo: MaSAT)

Public space has lost its "Public" nature. (Photo: MaSAT)


This action, which is taken in opposition to the privatization of public spaces in Madrid, is a hopeful example of urban opposition, because it reclaims the "public nature" of public spaces in our day when all parcels of public land are "occupied" through the process of gentrification and through "consumption madness" events such as the ISF. MaSAT (Madrid Street Advertising Takeover) brought together a total of 106 artists and activists. "The third in a series of civil disobedience projects intent on changing our expectations of public behaviour in our shared environments" targeted bus stops in four different locations in Madrid. The act was planned to include only written works so that 106 individuals coming from different backgrounds, such as sociology, education, law and art, could express themselves equally on the streets. In contrast to capital's strategies homogenizing the urban space, they aimed to explore "the possibilities available when we open up our public environment in a truly public way."


Recently, an important act of civil disobedience inspired by a similar discourse took place on İstiklal Street. The targets were: the new shopping mall owned by Demirören Group of Companies, the historic Cercle D'Orient building hosting Emek Movie Theater which has been closed for the past two years and is now awaiting its own transformation into a shopping mall once the court case is finalized. While these two buildings symbolizing İstiklal Street's past (Emek Movie Theater) and future (Demirören Shopping Mall) clearly illustrate the transformation that is taking place on the street, the action which demanded the reopening of Emek Movie Theater and the destruction of the shopping mall, represents in one sense, the present, in other words, the critical threshold that we are passing through today and the maturing urban opposition.


Demirören İstiklal, which opened its doors in April 2011, received criticism based on a variety of perspectives and coming from diverse segments of the society. Because it was built right in the center of an urban protected area, it should not have received a license from the municipality and should not have been able to meet the regulations of the Council for the Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage and the present legislature on protection. "Some how" the obstacles were overcome. During the construction period, other registered parcels in this building block were either destroyed or engulfed by the shopping mall. The threat it constitutes for many historic buildings around it and the irreversible damage it has caused them have been frequently expressed. There were others who opposed this shopping mall project for the increased intensity it would cause in the already heavy pedestrian traffic on the street. People wrote and spoke about the fact that the movie theaters, stores and the Virgin Megastore under the mall's roof would negatively effect the bookstores, unique stores and movie theaters on the street, namely those elements that give the street its character and are already closing down one by one. For instance, Ağa Restaurant, one of the most beautiful restaurants in Beyoğlu, was closed down after years of struggle. Similarly, as soon as the shopping mall opened, one of the independent bookstores on the street, İstiklal Bookstore, just 50 meters from the mall, was replaced by a chain bookstore. On top of all this, once the construction curtain was removed to reveal the building's gigantic facade, what waited was a surprise: the building was almost 10 meters taller than registered so that it would make unfair profit. Hence we can evaluate this building, which invites us to think about these distortions and conflicts and many issues related planning, design and project preparation can be characterized a "crime against the city."[22]


On the other hand, the neighboring Cercle D'Orient building (and Emek Movie Theater within), which is actually owned by the Social Security Institution, thus is public property, receives no support from the local municipality, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism or the Renovation Board. On the contrary, these public actors intend to privatize the building block, forcefully evict the enterprises within and to build a shopping mall covered with a "historic looking" facade. Almost all the enterprises, including Emek Movie Theater, have rolled their shutters down.



The patisserie İnci resists forced eviction


The patisserie İnci, which has been serving its customers since 1944, is within the block that awaits demolition and carries on its legal struggle with forced eviction. Musa Ateş, in charge of the patisserie, answers the question whether this long standing enterprise will be closed, as follows: "The patisserie İnci is not closing, it is being closed down... A remodeling is on the agenda for the past 10 months. It is still going on. We are the only ones who opposed it. They appealed to court and now the trial is proceeding... If this place is closed I will not re-open İnci anywhere else. Why should I, while we need to preserve this cultural heritage, some people are destroying it. They do not care for human rights or divine rights. These rights are destroyed. Now is the time to put an end to such mistakes."[23]


Acting on these feelings and to prevent such mistakes, many city activists gathered together on April 17, 2011 in response to Isyanbul[24] Culture and Art Variety's call "We are taking Emek Movie Theater back." Hundreds of organized activists marched towards Yeşilçam Street where the theater is located, chanting the slogan "Emek is Ours, İstanbul is Ours." Through their act of civil disobedience they were reclaiming "public space": "Emek Movie Theater and Cercle D'Orient Building unjustly and unlawfully ceded to capital belong to the Social Security Institution, in other words, to the public, to us. Hence, without doubt, any usage right on this space belongs to the public and is thus collective. What we deem essential and legitimate are not the interests of the Mayor of Beyoğlu, the Minister of Culture and Tourism, the members of the Renovation Board, or firms such as Kamer Construction, but the well-being and the decisions of the public. We believe in the necessity of claiming public commons against commercialization of artistic and cultural production and against the privatization of public spaces. That is why, we openly declare that we are reclaiming Emek Movie Theater, in opposition to the arbitrary lawlessness of those in power!"[25]


Protestors Eylemciler

Protestors at a film screening on the street between Emek Movie Theater and Demirören Shopping Mall


The group left Taksim Square marching down on İstiklal Street towards Emek Movie Theater and occupied Demirören Shopping Mall, where they chanted the slogan "Exit Emek Movie Theater, demolish Demirören Shopping Mall" and held a long sit-in. Months before this action, in order to protest the construction of Demirören Shopping Mall, which was rising as a masterpiece of the chain reaction becoming a global city - urban transformation - gentrification - cloned cities, people were making a call to boycott these consumption temples of the neoliberal city. At the point we arrived today, we can anticipate that beyond and besides this particular boycott, the struggle to reclaim such spaces and the city in general will grow to be more effective and become more extensive, and the relationship city dwellers form with spaces in the city will be transformed radically. Moreover, we can expect that this transformation will not only take place on the level of expressing opinions and participating in decision-making processes, and those who are excluded from decision-making process will problematize politics itself on much more general terms. The fact that the search for a just city acquires meaning with respect to spatial democracy seems to become clearer every day.


Exactly at this point, if we leave the radius of the street to focus on the city in general, in İstanbul, an important period for societal actors started after the year 2000 when the construction of the neoliberal city was accelerated by urban transformation projects. The urban poor who live in shanty towns without legal security; residents of the city center whose living spaces have been seized through legal means or market mechanisms; small enterprises who have lost their work spaces to big capital; urban and cultural heritage areas destroyed for the sake of tourism projects; urban projects based on social segregation; the dominance of insecurity and outsourcing in the labor market; the hasty commercialization of city services; and the loss of public spaces through processes of privatization, all prepare the ground for a large-scale urban opposition and also render its development imperative.



Translated from Turkish by Gülru Göker


[1] Photo credits belong to the author unless otherwise indicated.

The author is grateful to Yunus Doğan Telliel for his invaluable contributions and feedback.

[2] MasterCard Worldwide (2011), MasterCard Index of Global Destination Cities: Cross-Border Travel and Expenditures 2Q 2011. MasterCard Worldwide Insights.

[3] The transformations have traumatizing consequences: being forced to leave the place one lives in, the deepening poverty of the already poor, the feelings of desperation, the destruction of their houses, the rapid and unfollowable changes that take place in daily realities and shatter conventional value judgments. Especially those people who have been completely excluded from decision-making mechanisms, who cannot express their opinions, and can only become witnesses to their own "destruction," experience intense (structural) violence. For areas at risk of forced eviction throughout Istanbul see the Forced Eviction Map.

[4] Mapping Forced Evictions in İstanbul Workshop participants, organized by Yaşar Adanalı, Can Altay and Philipp Misselwitz, information graphics by Studio Matthias Görlich.

[5] Kaptan, Özdemir (1989) Beyoğlu. İletişim. Page 125.

[6] Fahri, Asım (2010) İstanbul'un 100 Cadde ve Sokağı. Kültür A.Ş

[7] The poverty-stricken Catholic community of the Keldanis, whose cultural heritage is increasingly on the verge of disappearance, whose cultural heritage was increasingly on the verge of disappearance, were forced to immigrate to İstanbul in mid 1980s. Özdemir Kaptan explains their choice to seek refuge in Tarlabaşı neighborhood in Beyoğlu as follows: "The reason why a small and weak community such as the Keldanis finds refuge in Beyoğlu is nothing other than Beyoğlu's mysterious and time immemorial tolerance to people who would be considered foreigners in other parts of the city." (Ibid, 123.)

[8] Ibid. 124.




[12] Among recent investments perhaps two neighboring buildings have caused the most controversy:  the street's first shopping mall, Demirören İstiklal, and the historic Cercle D'Orient building which has the Emek Movie Theater under its roof, and is currently awaiting reconstruction in order to become the street's second shopping mall.

[13] Günal, Asena (2010) "Burası Tophane!"


[15] Another example to the beautification work going on İstiklal Street is the "Beautiful Beyoğlu Project." As part of this project, which was initiated in early 2000s when Kadir Topbaş was elected the Director of İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality, a series of aesthetic interventions were planned. The most striking one was the replacement of all store plates on the street with homogenized gold print on walnut wood plates.

[16] For a deeper discussion of Beyoğlu Municipality's table and chair restrictions see:

[17] It has to be noted that upon the September 6-7 (1955) İstanbul Pogrom most non-Muslim artisans had to leave their workplaces and were forced to hand them over to others.

[18] Click here for the latest reports.

[19] Under the control of the current government, Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ), which was founded in principle in order to meet the housing needs of the poor citizens, has been radically altered in structure and in function, to turn into a central government institution which has absolute authority over public land. Through partnerships with the private sector, it facilitates the building of real estate projects targeting low, middle and high income groups, on treasury property or urban renovation areas it sees fit and acting like a private company it sells residences to citizens through "mortgage loans."

[20] Beydergi, April - May 2011.

[21] Madrid Street Advertisement Takeover -

[22] Professor Haluk Gerçek from İstanbul Technical University defines "crimes against the city" as follows: "The city is usually compared to a living organism. In order to raise its standard of living, you need to first heal its sick, fragile constitution and unclog its arteries. However, even before that, you need to stop ‘mad projects' that destroy the city's future in an irreversible manner. These are not visionary projects that will heal the present unhealthy constitution of the city or that will ‘boost' it, but are decisions that should be evaluated as ‘crimes against the city.'" ( / 22.05.2011)

[23] Beydergi, April - May 2011

[24] There is a word play here. In Turkish, the word "isyan" means "rebellion." So when the letter "t" in the word "Istanbul" is changed with the letter "y", it turns into Rebellion-bul. (Translator's note.)