Changing Poverty in Istanbul

Changing poverty in Istanbul: Scenes from the center and periphery

June 27 & 28, 2009
Organizers: Alev Erkilet, Çağlar Aykaç, Didem Danış

meeting point: Saturday, 9.30 am in front of the Londra Hotel

Poverty has different manifestations in urban spaces. In Turkish context, massive rural-to-urban migration led to the emergence of certain locations as spots of poverty. This study-trip aims to illustrate “sites of poverty” with a focus on two settlement areas: an inner city slum that hosts “bachelor rooms” of immigrant men (Süleymaniye in Eminönü) and a recently built social housing project in the periphery of the city (Bezirganbahçe in Küçükçekmece). We will look at the changes of these places (transformation of the physical space and experiences of poverty) under the new urban regeneration projects and try to understand two main mechanisms that local authorities adopt in dealing poverty: “expulsion” from the old habitat and “domestication” in the new sites. (See map and the photos below)

Süleymaniye, which is located in the Historical Peninsula, was a very important place which housed statesman, bureaucrats and intellectuals’ residences (konak) during the Ottoman period. The decline of the Empire and the urban transformation processes of the 1950s, gave way to a decay in this area. Upper and middle classes left the neighborhood and new migrants took their place. Especially in the last few decades Eastern Anatolian migrants came to Süleymaniye and rented the old houses with very low prices. Particularly Küçükpazar (the lower end of the area) became a prominent place for “bachelor rooms” thanks to its geographical centrality which facilitates the access of rooms’ inhabitants to available jobs in the informal sector. Bachelor rooms were an Ottoman institution and as such, they have been part of the intangible cultural heritage. From the spatial perspective, it is a place where, man who left their family in countryside because of poverty and came to Istanbul for working, share with others. After working for years, they gather money to buy houses in other parts of Istanbul, and thus they bring their families and began a new life. So the bachelor rooms have been a stepping stone for many. Poverty of singles and Eastern Anatolian migrants has been provisional and as such different from the “new poverty” which is nearly impossible to overcome. This poverty at the center was/is still temporary and transitory. All the big scale urban transformation projects based on decentralization and evacuation threaten this fragile balance and trigger crime, violence and urban conflicts.

Bezirganbahçe is a new collective housing project co-realized by TOKİ, İBB and the district municipality of Küçükçekmece. It is a typical example of transformation of poverty in the city. The urban poor who once inhabited the gecekondu in the urban periphery, has now been obliged to resettle in these public housing estates under the schemas of urban regeneration projects. The prevailing discourse of local authorities on the “rise of life standards in these modern residences” has often been invalid for the poorest ex-inhabitants of gecekondus, who are unable to cover the expenses of this “modernity”. Bezirganbahçe is a large public housing estate that consists of 55 blocks (2640 residences), a school, a health center, a children park, a commercial center and a sport facility. The residences are built in 3 sections: the 1st section includes 19 blocks whose 13 is allocated to old gecekondu residents who are evacuated from Ayazma and Tepeüstü regions under urban regeneration projects. When the “regeneration project” was launched, the old gecekondus were considered to be worth of 10.000 TL and gecekondu inhabitants, have been moved to the new apartment blocks with a debt of 50.000 TL (which they are supposed to pay in 15 years). Having experienced displacement two times (in the 1990s from their villages and 3 years ago from their gecekondus), people from Ayazma and Tepeüstü are the poorest and the most stigmatized in the new residences. The increasing value of the land in Ayazma (due to the Olympic village and İkitelli industrial zone nearby) had been a motivation for the local authorities to evacuate the area a few years ago. The stigmatization and exclusion of Ayazma dwellers, mostly of Kurdish background with a very low socio-economic and education background, were also related to the central and local authorities’ discourses. Some 7.800 inhabitants of Ayazma were described in the brochures of the municipality as “the others who live in very primitive life standards and occupied a land that will be very prestigious in the future”. Their resettlement in Bezirganbahçe housing area is also conceived as a “modernization and civilization project”, aiming the domestication of “these wild, mountain people, who have no idea about urban ways of life”.
Bezirganbahçe has also been a scene for a social tension between the old inhabitants of the district (whose majority consists of internal migrants from Black Sea region and Thrace arriving in the 1960s) and the Kurdish residents of the new housing area. Although, the urban regeneration projects are legitimized by fear of crime, violence and conflicts, these obligatory resettlements seem to give way, like in Bezirganbahçe, to newer sources of violence among the inhabitants. Whether the allocation of 6 blocks in the estate as police residences, is part of a deliberate strategy to better control and keep under surveillance the urban poor or not is to be discussed during the trip.

June 27, Saturday:
– Meeting at the Londra Hotel, at 9.00 am and arrival in Süleymaniye by walk.
– Meeting with Nevzat Er (ex-mayor of Eminönü).
– Visit to bachelor rooms and discussion with the inhabitants.
– Lunch at a restaurant in the area.
– Visit to another bachelor room.
– Visit to two headmen (muhtar) in the district.

June 28, Sunday:
– Departure to Bezirganbahçe (Küçükçekmece) by Metrobüs.
– Meeting with the director of the primary school in the district.
– Meeting with the private administration office that runs the public housing project.
– Lunch at the commercial center located at the heart of the housing area.
– Meeting with the lawyers of the old Ayazma inhabitants (ex-gecekondu dwellers from Ayazma are charged by the metropolitan municipality to pay “land occupation fees” for the years that they “invaded” the public land. A group of voluntary lawyers are providing legal counseling to ward off the fine.)
– Meeting with a local leader in the community and the headman (muhtar) of the neighborhood.

Some relevant bibliography in English:
 Ayfer Bartu Candan & Biray Kolluoğlu (2008) “Emerging spaces of neoliberalism: A gated town and a public housing project in Istanbul” New Perspectives on Turkey, No.39, pp.5-46
 Bediz Yılmaz (2008) “Entrapped in Multidimensional Exclusion: Perpetuation of Poverty among Conflict-Induced Migrants in an Istanbul Neighborhood”, New Perspectives on Turkey, Sayı 38, Bahar, 205-234.
 Melih Pinarcioglu & Oguz Isik (2008) “Not Only Helpless but also Hopeless: Changing Dynamics of Urban Poverty in Turkey, the Case of Sultanbeyli, Istanbul” European Planning Studies, V. 16 (10), pp.1353 – 1370
 Ayse Buğra & Caglar Keyder (2003) New Poverty and the Changing Welfare Regime of Turkey, UNDP, Ankara.
 Ayşe Buğra (1998) “The Immoral Economy of Housing in Turkey” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, V.22 (2), pp. 303 – 307

Image 1 – Bachelor rooms in Süleymaniye.
Photo: Altan Bal (2003)

Image 2- Ayazma gecekondu area, before the urban regeneration project. Photo: Kerem Uzel (2006)

Image 3 – Bezirganbahçe housing estate, in which Ayazma inhabitants moved in 2 years ago. Photo: Şahan Nuhoğlu

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