“Cultural Politics of Urban Green Spaces: The Production and Reorganization of Istanbul’s Parks and Gardens.”
Destructive planning decisions that span decades have made urban green spaces in Istanbul scarce and endangered. In 2013, the Gezi Park resistance and the subsequent mass mobilizations called into question contemporary schemes of urban redevelopment in Istanbul. Activists demanded that the government take action to conserve Istanbul’s natural resources and cultural heritage and provide better access to urban green spaces. As the demands of right to the city and environmental movements grew popular, the production of green spaces became a central feature of planning visions among state officials, planning and architecture professionals, and members of civil society. In this dissertation, I examine how competing social actors and institutions, specifically the state, planning and architecture professionals, real estate developers, civil society, social movements, and gardeners, invest in, produce, and govern Istanbul’s green landscapes. I primarily draw on ethnographic methods, such as participatory observation in Istanbul’s parks, groves, historic market gardens, and contemporary gardens, and interviews with activists, gardeners, and architecture and planning professionals. In addition, I examine primary and secondary sources on landscape and redevelopment history of Istanbul, as well as policy documents, marketing and publicity materials, and real-estate advertisements.
State actors envision revitalization of public green spaces through earlier narratives of modernization and progress, and newer narratives of competition with other global cities. As such, urban greening has become a major component of Istanbul’s global city identity. Furthermore, the government enrolls urban greening in processes of urban redevelopment as political capital to secure power and legitimacy domestically. New social movements foster a deeper connection to the city and the food they eat, maximize local knowledges, and oppose the profit-based management of urban spaces. In examining the socio-ecological struggles embedded in Istanbul’s historic market-gardens, contemporary community gardens, and hobby gardens, I analyze how people imagine Istanbul’s future through these productive landscapes. I argue that social movements reassemble urban public green spaces as territories of solidarity, which are landscapes where people come together to cultivate or defend with the aim to transform them into urbans commons. Lastly, I interrogate how real estate developers commodify nature in design, planning, and marketing strategies of gated communities to drive their investment potential. Commodification of nature in real-estate development facilitates the privatization and enclosure of public spaces and natural resources, and accelerates development in the hinterland and forested areas, thereby transforming these areas into illusionary landscapes. Overall, in this dissertation, I argue that the production of urban green spaces is at once a process to create political legitimacy, spatial control, and opportunities for capital accumulation, and a terrain for envisioning a more sustainable and democratic future for Istanbul. New social movements passionately struggle with state actors to protect ecological habitats and transform urban spaces into green commons, where people can realize their collective visions for another world.