Taksim in Limbo

This is a personal report on the current condition of Taksim square. I visited Taksim recently (early December, 2014) on a rare sunny day.

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Before heading out that morning, from our balcony in Mecidiyeköy I took this photo of a school reconstruction site. Stages in the demolition of the earlier school can be seen in my article from September, Precautions. I chose that title because not many precautions are taken at worksites, and thus for example ten workers died in the high-rise construction on the left when their elevator fell.

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We can hear noise from the school construction site at any time of day. Trucks are loaded with dirt in the middle of the night, perhaps because the roads are clear then, so the dirt can be hauled away. Supposedly work in the morning should not start before 8:30, but often the hammering starts around 8:00. We hope it really is a school they are constructing, and not a block of flats. So far, the foundation does not seem to be elaborate enough for a real high-rise, like the foundation in the next photo here behind our university building in Bomonti.

Taksim

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I walked down to Taksim, much of which is the concrete slab shown here. Actually the slab looks good in the photo; the rain from earlier in the morning allowed the concrete to reflect the sky. In fact when I put the day’s photographs into the computer, the viewing program guessed that the bottom of the photo was really on its right; thus the program offered to turn this photo ninety degrees as shown.

So concrete can have its charm. Nonetheless, it seems to me that a better surface than concrete could be laid down. Setts would be good; but then the authorities might worry that protesters would tear them out, as they did in June, 2013, as shown in the photo below. The bricks have now been replaced by brick-colored concrete.

Asker Ocağı Caddesi, 2013.06.03

Asker Ocağı Caddesi, 2013.06.03

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A year and a half later, here is the erosion of Gezi Park that has been allowed to happen. Yes, careless people might be blamed for walking on the slope and wearing down the grass. But it is up to the landscapers to plan for what people are likely to want to do.

There used to be restaurants and other businesses along this strip. Busses ran between here and the airport, and one could feel the excitement of being in this city. I have no personal objection to absence of those businesses now, but they should not be replaced with a hillside of bare earth or a shopping mall in the style of an old Ottoman barracks.

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Supposedly that barracks or kışla is still in the city’s plans. The mayor did say something about how this was not definite, but maybe there would be a referendum about what to do with Gezi Park. As somebody in opposition said, were there referenda for all of the other shopping malls in the city?

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This view could indeed be spectacular if there a row of buildings on the right to balance those on the left. But we already have such views in the city: on Istiklal for example, or even further up the road from this photo. Almost nowhere else in the city can we see a stand of trees.

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In the old days, there was more open space around Taksim, even when the barracks was in place, as in the 1922 map I took from Wikimedia and paired with a current map from Google. The spaces west and east of the “Taxim Kichlassi” are now completely built over and inaccessible.

The ruling AK Party continue to have on their website a video showing their plans for Taksim Square. They start with an aerial view of the square in winter, when there are no leaves on the trees in Gezi Park. In the computer-generated plan, there is green grass.

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By the way, on the south side of Taksim,I’m afraid the Hagia Triada church is one of the ugliest I can remember seeing, except perhaps for the Sagrada Família in Barcelona. For the horror that it induces, the Cumhuriyet Anıtı is right up there with the Albert Memorial. I have seen the Albert Memorial, and I do think it is ugly; but I might not have remembered this if R. G. Collingwood had not said of it in An Autobiography (1939),

Everything about it was visibly mis-shapen, corrupt, crawling, verminous; for a time I could not bear to look at it, and passed with averted eyes; recovering from this weakness, I forced myself to look, and to face day by day the question: a thing so obviously, so incontrovertibly, so indefensibly bad, why had Scott done it?

Orwell said of Sagrada Família that it was

one of the most hideous buildings in the world. It has four crenellated spires exactly the shape of hock bottles … I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up … though they did hang a red and black banner between its spires.

Nonetheless, I have enjoyed taking the view from those spires. As for the Holy Trinity Church and the Republic Monument, they are a part of Taksim and should be incorporated into any plan of the site.

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From living in Ankara for eleven years, I knew its streets were not well designed for shedding rain. They did not direct water to gutters, but after a heavy downpour the water would flow along them in sheets. However, Ankara had a dry climate, and the city had been a mere village until the twentieth century. I thought Istanbul, with its centuries of being a metropolis, would have learned better how to deal with rain.

It has not. As in Ankara, so in Istanbul, roads are not given crowns to prevent water from pooling in them. In Taksim, a depression in the road now serves as an unofficial birdbath.

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By the most direct route from Taksim to Fındıklı on the Bosphorus, one takes this long narrow road. I wonder what it is like to live there. Traffic must be light; but when a vehicle does pass, the closeness of the buildings may concentrate the sound. The street does look great though, when the sun is at the right angle.

One Trackback

  1. By Istanbul in the Sun « Polytropy on December 12, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    […] « Taksim in Limbo […]

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