Rethinking Heritage Conservation and Urban Greening in Istanbul through Food Sovereignty

By Basak Durgun
Submitted to Session P5008 (Neoliberalism in the City, 2017 Annual Meeting
Urban Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In this paper, I approach urban greening, redevelopment and conservation debates in Istanbul from an urban political ecology perspective in order to unpack the multifaceted struggles new urban social movements face in Istanbul. The small-scale, family-run agricultural tradition called bostan (market-gardens) came to the spotlight in 2013 when the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality poured debris over the plots of vegetable gardens inside the land walls of Istanbul to begin the construction of a new park in the neighborhood. Diverse social actors such as urban rights activists, academics, architecture and engineering trade associations, ecology and food movements began mobilizing against the park project to conserve the remaining bostans as functioning agricultural land and as such, a cultural heritage. The legal battle halted the park project. Currently, the destroyed plots remain arid but the remaining gardens outside of the walls continue being cultivated. In 2015, right to the city activists and Istanbul Archeological Association, registered the historic bostan of the Piyalepasa Mosque in the district of Beyoglu as a protected cultural wealth with the Council for the Protection of Cultural Wealth. This legal protection forced the developers of another park project with an underground parking lot to remove this plot from the design. Simultaneously, new community garden projects with diverse intentions developed across the city as civil society oriented interventions in the urban landscape as alternative to state sponsored revitalization. In this paper, based on one year of uninterrupted ethnographic field work, I discuss the struggle to conserve Istanbul’s historic bostans (market gardens) and contemporary community gardening collectives as rich sources of knowledge on the socio-ecological value of food production in the urban context and potentials for building networks of alternative, local economies and nurturing dynamic social relationships. I argue that prof?t based model for urban greening and conservation, which has permeated urban revitalization and redevelopment discourses, has undermined and sometimes completely eliminated the abilities and efforts of civil society and ecologists to create accessible and sustainable urban futures. Nevertheless, local collectives, cooperatives and activists continue to forge territories of solidarity, construct their conceptions of good governance, and confront the profit based management of urban spaces, even in the volatile socio-political conditions of the state of exception instituted following the failed coup d’état attempt in July 2016.