A new dream for Taksim

What should a nice city square look like? As a person living in Istanbul, what would I want the heart of the city to look like? I asked these questions to myself. I figured that I would want it to be magnificent, somehow. But, more than anything else, I would want and demand that this public place becomes one with many people spending time on it throughout the day, a place that makes us come together, a spot that has a place in our lives.

There is a democratic aspect to holding a public vote when it comes to urban development. In the end, the residents of course will not make the decision, but an opportunity is offered for an open discussion on what to do. Local governments are opting for public votes on several features of our daily lives, such as the color and style of bus stops and ferry boats, town square designs, and the colors of buildings. For more complicated issues, ones where there is a conflict of interest, decisions made by the “elected” executives and representatives are implemented. We are asked to vote only on the topics that don’t harm anyone and that wouldn’t cause huge fights. We are content, at least, that our opinion has been asked directly on a subject. The options we are voting on are actually the projects that have been commissioned and approved by the rulers of the city. Thus, just as important as the vote itself, or even more important, is the fact that the projects are open to debate and that those interested in the issue can discuss the design, daily life and the future of the city. Developing opinions about the city we reside in and directing criticisms about these topics are essentials in a democratic urban life. However, we have been given extremely limited access in this regard.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) is currently putting the design for three iconic squares in the city, those in Taksim, Bakırköy and Salacak, to a public vote with the slogan “Istanbul is yours, the decision is yours.” A competition was held for the Taksim Square project and now finalists are being put to a public vote. Of course, those who live in the city and those who make use of these parts of the city are the most interested. If they have time, they will review the projects and cast their votes for their choice and according to their taste.

I, for instance, do not know Bakırköy at all, and I don’t remember the last time I was in Salacak. For this reason, I only reviewed Taksim projects. Of course, Taksim is different from the other two. It is a meaningful spot for all the citizens of the city and even for all the citizens of Turkey.

The memory of Taksim Square is the memory of Turkey’s republic. The Taksim Republic Monument, Gezi Park and the Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM), which will become an opera hall, were all urban designs in Taksim that met the needs, lifestyle and ideology of a modern, Western city. Taksim became the heart of that modern city. It has hosted political rallies and celebrations for May Day — most of which unfortunately ended in fighting, pain and blood. It has hosted concerts; it became a gateway to culture, art and entertainment. In this meeting place of the masses, each government wanted to leave its mark, and they did. Some left a “bayonet” monument, some a modern statue, some a huge mosque.

Some time ago, the square was completely dug up. Traffic was moved underground. A dark bus stop was built under the huge concrete platform. For a long time, Taksim Square has had no taste. The city’s long-time dwellers try to walk past it quickly. Sometimes, they even change their route so they do not pass through it. Taksim Square is now a bizarre place where tourists and refugees sit on the sidewalks and pass the time while vendors wait for customers. Some parts of it have been transformed into an open marketplace with temporary stands. Now, the social democrat municipality wants to revitalize the area and transform it into a beautiful square.

I have reviewed the projects presented to us. If you are not accustomed to reviewing architectural projects, it is not easy to fully understand what will be done despite all the presentations and explanations. At first glance, all of the three proposed projects may look alike, as though their only difference is that they have placed the green areas in different locations. On a second look, we can see that Number 15 offers us a long bridge and an observation deck, project number 19 has a sinkhole and new venues underground and Number 16 moves traffic back above ground.

What should a nice city square look like? As a person living in Istanbul, what would I want the heart of the city to look like? I asked these questions to myself. I figured that I would want it to be magnificent, somehow. I would want it to be a place surrounded by beautiful buildings, where there are beautiful sculptures and monumental art works, where crowds can gather and hold rallies, where they can attend concerts, where they can entertain. But, more than anything else, I would want and demand that this public place becomes one with many people spending time on it throughout the day, a place that makes us come together, a spot that has a place in our lives.

In fact, all three of the projects have taken these things into consideration. Apparently, the metropolitan municipality managed by Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu is aiming to transform Taksim Square into one of the cheerful public areas seen in the coastal cities. Two of the three finalist projects add new symbols to the square. The long bridge designed by Number 15 and the sinkhole that is a part of Number 19 are permanent new structures. However, I liked Number 16 most — first because that dark and miserable underground bus stop is removed and the traffic is returned to the ground. It converts the underground tunnel into a museum, one that suits the rich political past of Taksim, a museum of memory. The idea of an avenue with trees leading to Tarlabaşı is also pleasant. But, most importantly, among all the projects, the one that emphasizes the idea of public space, the project that is most suitable for entertainment, dining, and spending time in the park and the square is Number 16. Therefore, my vote went to Number 16.

Whichever project wins the vote, we hope that Taksim again becomes a beautiful and attractive center. But of course, it is a mystery whether the project will be built or not. Whether Mayor İmamoğlu’s administration will be able to overcome the obstructions by the ruling Justice and Development Party (Ak Party), that is another issue…

To vote, go to: https://istanbulsenin.org/