A stones throw North of Istiklal Street in central Istanbul lies the Tarlabasi neighborhood comprising of over a 1000 relatively small buildings and quaint townhouses. Many years ago these properties were inhabited by Greeks, Armenians, the Jewish community, and a host of other ethnic minorities. Created in the latter half of the 19th Century by the trading classes from these far flung places who dealt in the bazaars by day and in the evening returned to their families in the close knit Tarlabasi community. Major political events led to the emptying out of these neighbourhoods and further events in Turkey, mainly massive inward immigration to Istanbul from the countryside, led to this becoming an area predominantly inhabited by Kurdish\Anatolian\ Roma (gypsy). The Tarlabasi neighborhood went into a long period of decline as the new immigrants did not have the financial means to keep the building stock well maintained. Many were also unaware of the original features in the properties and painted over, knocked down or otherwise degraded the historical integrity.
Up until the last 5-7 years, it appeared that the decay of the neighborhood was irreversible. It became a no-go zone for most Turks. It was the ‘Bronx” of Istanbul.
But then fortune’s wheel started to spin slowly in favour of regeneration. Brave local buyers with some International experience saw run-down neighborhoods abroad that were this close to the centre of a major city were subject to similar cyclical rises and falls and found the prices for this real estate in the city center too good to pass up. Also, due to the classical Greek, French and Italian architecture of the properties in the area, English men, mad dogs, and a few persistent French nationals started to invest in the future of this goth-land.
Tarlabasi has always been an interesting, yet controversy-plagued area. And throughout this so-called gentrification period ( I prefer the term regeneration), it has been no different.
The construction giant, Calik Holding, has joined forces with the Beyoglu Municipality and has purchased over 270 buildings over 8 blocks (Tarlabasi re-generation scheme www.tarlabasiyenileniyor.com/ ). The plan is to give Tarlabasi a massive face lift and raise its profile on par with many of the most chic neighborhoods worldwide. The mayor of Beyoglu, Ahmet Demircan, has called it Turkey’ s Champs De Elysee. Salesmanship and bravado aside, it is a mega-project the likes of which Turkey has never seen.
click on the master plan below for a larger view-
But, alas, as in the past, Tarlabasi has has been a harsh master and has often shone its light on some only to leave others in its shade. Many local residents have opposed the development, although it should be noted that many are also in favour of it, a lot have sold their properties directly to the developer. In an area where rumours spread like cricketeers on a patch of green on a mild punjabi afternoon, the municipality probably could have handled the PR end of matters with more aplomb.
There were lots of questions about where displaced peoples would end up. And some rumours persisted over the total final build area.
In any event, it is hard to imagine a perfect solution to the problems that have dominated this neighborhood for so long. As one local resident, Mustafa, said to me a couple of years ago, ” What should happen? Should nothing be done until the buildings turn to brick dust? Already, they are almost falling down on our heads. If something is not done soon, there will be nothing left to protect.”
In my blog next week, we will leave aside the thorny issues of the past and do our best to soothsay Tarlabasi’s future, however quixotic our enterprise may be.