Power plays, struggles, consequences: Urban redevelopment in Istanbul

Creative Commons License

Akçakaya İ.

55th Annual Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Conference, Texas, United States Of America, 22 - 25 October 2015

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Full Text
  • City: Texas
  • Country: United States Of America
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: Yes


This study examines how local power structures have influenced the politics of planning and decision-making in urban redevelopment projects in Istanbul. The theoretical motive for choosing this topic stems from the small number of thorough examinations of the reality of power structures in planning practice relative to its recognized importance. Arnstein’s 1969 article, A Ladder of Citizen Participation, is undoubtedly one of the most prominent works to deal with participatory approaches to planning history. Since then, although there have been numerous studies, models and methods developed regarding community participation, the planning literature seems to be rather sparse when it comes to the power structures and the interaction of “haves” and “have-nots,” terms which Arnstein notably used to define participation in her work, and how these affect development. In fact, unlike political science and sociology, which have examined societal power relations extensively, the field of planning generally lacks a body of central scholarly work that places the discourse at its core.

Examination of the wide array of questions surrounding planning, power, and politics and the challenges of participatory planning in the context of Istanbul may prove rewarding: on the one hand, as in most developing nations, democracy has not been fully institutionalized in Turkey. Pluralistic and participatory planning processes face significant obstacles there, such as excessively top-down traditions, inflexibility on the part of the public sector in establishing public-private partnerships, absence of measures to encourage meaningful citizen participation, and tendency of elite groups to influence public agencies for their own benefit. On the other hand, since the major consequences of the Marmara earthquakes of 1999, there has been an increasing demand by the public for safer and more resilient settlements in Istanbul that could mitigate the effects of a future major earthquake.

Based on the above problems and motives, the study seeks answers to the following research questions: What have been the strategies and processes of urban redevelopment in Istanbul? What are the power relationships among different actors and how do they influence urban redevelopment schemes? To what extent has the affected community influenced the process of urban redevelopment? To address these questions, I conducted in-depth interviews with 25 well-informed senior stakeholders from different groups who influenced the decision-making of two pioneering redevelopment projects of Istanbul: planners, local and central government officials, residents (homeowners and tenants), local businesses, community advocates, and planning faculty of local universities. Supporting secondary data involve archival documents such as physical and socio-economic analyses of case areas, project contracts, maps, plans, reports and media accounts. A distinguishing contribution of the study is that it uses fieldwork to compare and contrast the power dynamics of two distinctly different case areas; one that did not entail population displacement; and another where all residents were displaced.

Preliminary findings have revealed that the involvement and influence of stakeholders in the two case areas were framed by the existing national legislative and political setting that generally prevails in centralized governmental structures and ignores or weakens local community involvement and less powerful actors. Nevertheless, the two cases also showed differences in the level of community participation and had different outcomes in regards to population displacement. Overall, lessons from this study would be important for planners and policymakers for addressing challenges in local redevelopment projects, and for creating planning processes which incorporate community participation and input.