Bianet: Taksim Gezi Park emerges as city’s new alternative hub

As Taksim Gezi Park, the last remaining green spot in Istanbul’s busy downtown, faced threats by urban renewal projects, locals have taken action to turn the park into city’s new alternative culture hub.


Predominantly male-populated regulars in Taksim Gezi Park – the last remaining green spot in Istanbul’s busy downtown – were unable to hide their astonishment, as a group of colorfully-dressed young individuals, mostly women, with dreadlocks and tattoos laid down their mats and started a flash-mob yoga session on Sunday afternoon.

“This is the first time Earth Day is observed in Turkey” Sinem Er, a yoga instructor who guided the activity. “But more importantly, we are here for Taksim Gezi Park. We could have done our practice at home, but we chose to do it outside to bring the change within here.”

Sunday’s yoga and meditation flash-mob session constituted only one of the recent efforts to save Taksim Gezi Park – which held 98,000 meter-squares of green spot and 606 trees only yards away from its suffocating concrete surroundings. An Istanbul’s High Preservation Council approved on February 28 a project which will transform the park into a massive complex of shopping mall and culture center.

The efforts of Taksim Dayanismasi, an urban advocacy group, yielded no results when they collected at least 50,000 signatures against the project and submitted to a city culture preservation council in December.

“Authorities behave as if a huge chunk of the society has no dreams and aspirations about their surroundings” Nogay Kesim, an activist at Taksim Gezi Parkı Koruma ve Güzelleştirme Derneği, an association dedicated to the preservation and embellishment of the park, told Acik Radyo.

“We wanted to show the authorities that we existed as well. We ‘stood up’ once and refuse to ‘sit down’.”

On April 13, the association organized a one-day festival that brought together thousands of Istanbul-dwellers around concerts and artistic performances.

The festival, whose slogan urged people to “stand up” against the urban renewal at the park, has surprised many young Istanbuliots of what they have ignored for so long in the  heart of Istanbul.

“I have realized something after the Saturday [April 13] festival. Even though I supported the struggle, I had never spent time the park myself,” Mehmet Özdal, a young writer, told Bianet.

“Isn’t this what the authorities are saying anyways? We should make this park as a part of our lives. This is the only way we can save it.”

He also compared Istanbul with other big cities across Europe where parks have a fundamental position in urban planning.

“On the contrary in Istanbul,” he continued, “there is no public space to breath out. The city’s getting super expensive. This park is exactly what the lower and middle class needs here, right in downtown.”

The association is currently preparing an alternative festival on April 23, Turkey’s national kids parade holiday. Hundreds of children are expected to make (possibly) their first interactions with the park – including decorating the tree trunks with environment-friendly clothing and dancing around with music performed by body percussionists.

“People are fed up with being trapped in concrete buildings,” Aslı Türkmen, another Sunday event attendant, said. “The streets [and the park] inspires people. Who would be harmed if Taksim Gezi Park turned into a hub where people would watch theater performances, do their yoga practice, skateboard around or just relax on the grass for a while?” (BM/AS)

Barış Mumyakmaz
22 April 2013