The Kuzguncuk Garden : Discovering the past to construct a new way of living urban space

The Kuzguncuk Garden (bostan), situated on the Asiatic side of Bosphorus, is a contested place since twenty years and an interesting example of a permanent redefinition of local strategies and social practices by inhabitants. The Garden is a large area (more than 2 hectares) confiscated by Turkish State in 1977 from a Rum family, as many other places previously owned by minority families. During the 80s it was completely abandoned but used by the neighbourhood for different purposes: children’s play, trash, the traditional slaughter of animals. In 1992 the Municipality decided to rent it to a private with a big building project for the area. Since then a mobilization raised up and starting in a very spontaneous way among residents, also scared about political action, changed in the following years in a very active organization. The residents’ association was able to prevent many different building plans until today. In the first period they conduct very serious research to discover the history of the garden to acquire the legal status of the garden. Firstly formed by local and highly educated residents it became one of the first organization in Istanbul where people coming from different social background worked together to a common urban project. A very important change in their strategies came after the Marmara earthquake in 1999, which developed a strong activism in the city and an important opportunity for the rising civil society to reclaim the city. In 2000, the association changed in a cooperative and prepared a project to convert the garden in a public organic vegetable garden, proposing so a reconsideration of the traditional use in a very modern perspective. The Cooperative decided to adopt a new strategy, proposing to use the garden as a necessary and important open space where the community could gather in case of a future earthquake. It was a very strong point which still today has a big role, as the seismic risk is one of the most used arguments of Istanbul municipality to implement the urban transformation projects. In the first period after the earthquake the Kuzguncuk cooperative was the most politically active of Istanbul’s neighbourhood organizations, one of the most important example of the emerging civil society very concerned with urban issues. In 2010 because of a new building project, a new struggle began and a group of architects realised an alternative project for the area with the idea to open the garden to the city as it remains one of the last public big green area in Istanbul. The mobilisation is now a part of a wider urban mobilization against very aggressive urban transformation project as the one which caused the demolition of the Roma neighbourhood of Sulukule.

BIO | Lea Nocera is Assistant Professor of Turkish Language and Literature at the University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’. She is the author of La Turchia contemporanea. Dalla repubblica kemalista al governo dell’Akp published by Carocci in 2011. Since several years she focuses her research on Social History of Turkey with a special focus on Istanbul urban change. She collaborates with many italian journals and radios on issues concerning Modern Turkey. Her more recent radio programmes include: «Megalopolis. Trasformazioni urbane a Istanbul» broadcasted by Swiss Radio Rete 2/RSI.

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