It is not too late to restart the renewal process for Sulukule!
Sulukule is the most ancient Roma neighbourhood in the world. It has been host to the Roma community for centuries. As a consequence of the implementation of urban renewal policies, the Fatih district municipality have started evicting hundreds of people out of their homes.
Accordingly, the tenants are relocated to Taşoluk, 40 km away from the city, where they will not be able to stay for long, first because, it is impossible for them to afford the debts and secondly, there, they can not lead there a life style in accordance with their traditions and culture…
As for the property owners, they have either sold their homes at a very low price because of the fear of expropriation or are provided with new housing by buying homes from the area but again with high loans.
As the consequence of this “gentrification” project, not only Roma people are dispersed throughout the city and their culture is lost but also poverty is transferred to the other regions of Istanbul without developing any real solutions in the neighbourhood. Right to shelter is also ignored as the new housing offered has high costs for the Roman people to meet.
Since 2005, Sulukule has been one of the local agendas discussed the most in Turkey and all over the world. For long, local, national and international institutions and public have been waiting for a solution based on a happy medium between both sides.
Some reflections are as follows:
- UNESCO World Heritage Committee, in its meeting at Quebec-Canada in July, gave Turkey a length of time till February 2009 to sort out the problem. The Committee ranked Sulukule among the initial issues in the things to do list concerning the historical areas of Istanbul. In the report, it was emphasised that Sulukule is subject to a “gentrification” project and Roma community is faced with a forced eviction. A solution should be developed balancing conservation issues with social needs and identity of the local community.
- UN-Habitat AGFE met on the 1st of September 2008 and the first article in their agenda was Sulukule, together with Ayazma, which is another project area in Istanbul. AGFE decided to send a mission to Istanbul in the following days.
- UN Human Rights Commission re-contacted the government of the Republic of Turkey concerning Sulukule.
- USA-OSCE Helsinki Commission wrote the second official letter to the government of the Republic of Turkey concerning Sulukule in the summer 2008.
- EU 2007 Turkey Progress Report asked Turkish government to correct the problems in the Sulukule Renewal Plan.
- Istanbul Governorship Human Rights Commission presented an extensive report to the Prime Ministry concerning the violations at Sulukule.
- Local and international NGOs and civil initiatives continue their reactions via various activities.
AN ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION IS POSSIBLE FOR SULUKULE
Recently, a group of volunteers has developed an alternative plan for Sulukule.
This interdisciplinary team including around 30 professionals and academicians, calling themselves STOP (Turkish abbreviation for “No Frontiers Autonomous Planners”) has been working on “Sulukule Local Development Plan” and presented their project to the public and the Fatih Municipality on the last week of September.
STOP considered all analyses and proposals of the municipality together with the civil and academic local and international studies. These studies brought about an alternative with a different approach that conserves the historical pattern while keeping the local community in the neighbourhood without making them victims, providing social and economic development and targeting a better building stock. By doing these, STOP argues that Sulukule may be regenerated together with its existing community.
STOP declares the advantages of this plan as follows:
The plan is based on a more rational financial model and is cheaper to realise. Betterment approach avoids demolishing the buildings that are usable and diminishes the cost of both demolishing and building. Cheaper housing units are proposed that are still increasing the life quality for the local community. Hotel and cultural-commercial centre proposals of the existing projects are removed and more sustainable and local community friendly income mechanisms and new jobs are generated. Historical and cultural characteristics of the neighbourhood are exploited in the context of cultural tourism.
Advantages for historical spatial and cultural physical pattern:
STOP conserves the historical and cultural physical pattern of the neighbourhood. More green areas and public spaces are created. Historical and archaeological values including the walls are conserved in accordance with the restrictions of the 1/5000 conservation plan of the region.
Advantages for social & economic development:
STOP’s approach to social and economic development is based on the local community and its solidarity tendency that have developed within this renewal plan process. Accordingly, the neighbourhood is integrated with the rest of the city; education, health and other social problems are sorted out via civil centres; economic regeneration is provided via creating new jobs that are relevant to the community’s own social and cultural capabilities including cultural tourism, floriculture, phateonship, textile contract manufacturing and shoemaking and most importantly living costs are reduced.
Fatih Municipality took a positive stand by listening to the alternative project and determined an experts meeting soon. However, it has not promised to stop the demolitions which are still a threat for the neighbourhood and also for the efforts of reconciliation.
Considering that Sulukule is going to be one of the first places to be visited for February 2009 evaluation of UNESCO and also for Istanbul 2010, Fatih Municipality, Istanbul Municipality and TOKI (Mass Housing Administration) should make their choices between:
- An example, with the decadent perspective of the 60’s and 70’s which totally demolishes the physical structure and constructs a brand-new one while protecting nothing
- A local development plan mastered by modern planning and protectionist conception, a plan which places the person in the center, a participatory plan thus capable of solving the problems of the locality.
We, Who, put our signatures below recommend a participatory process, including the municipality, universities, TOKI, professional chambers, NGOs, civil initiatives and local representatives to develop the alternative plan by STOP as the revision of the existing plan. We invite all authorities including the President of the Republic of Turkey, the Prime Ministry, TOKI, appointed and elected mayors of Istanbul, Fatih Municipality and conservation committees to be more sensitive to the Sulukule issue and establish a common platform to continue this alternative plan process with a reconcilable and equal approach.