Politics of resistance in the face of neo-liberal urban policies
The fierce critique of and opposition to urban entrepreneurial activities have been present in Istanbul since the mid-1980s when large-scale investments started to determine the new pattern of urban change. The physical impact of mentioned operations on the historical and natural fabric of the city and their violation of existing planning schemes had, in this period, prompted chain reactions from various pressure groups among which were professional chambers and neighbourhood level ‘beautification associations’. Since the 2000s, however, the increasing spill over of entrepreneurial activities on public spaces, dilapidated neighbourhoods and informal housing areas have broadened the scope of oppositional discourse significantly: Currently, those at stake are not only the historical and natural assets, or the sound functioning of the planning system, but also the rights of urban citizens to the city at many different levels – ranging from the right to access basic services and resources on equal terms to the housing rights of most vulnerable communities. Reaction to such pressures have found clear expressions both in the climbing number of civil initiatives that actively protest the further extension of capital driven forces into the cityscape, and diversification in the forms of protest. What deserves particular attention, however, is the heightened mobilization of urban citizens residing in areas under the direct pressure of state-led urban transformation. On the given grounds, the talk will seek to address the following questions: What does opposition to urban entrepreneurialism mean in contemporary Istanbul? How do urban citizens respond to and deal with issues of urban transformation? How does grassroots mobilization take form in regeneration zones? Is it possible to define weaknesses and strengths through an analysis of recent experiences? What are the current potentials held in the strategies and practices of resistance?
BIO | Özlem Ünsal is a PhD candidate at the City University, London, Department of Sociology. Among her main research interests are neoliberal urban policies, grassroots resistance movements and rights to the city. Her writings on the given topics and similar have appeared in such Turkey based publications as Betonart, Express, Yeni Mimar and Istanbul. As part of her doctoral research, she works closely with and volunteers for Istanbul based civil initiatives and neighbourhood organizations, critical of current urban change. She is about to finalize her thesis on neighbourhood movements, originating from the inner-city poverty and conservation zones of Istanbul.