Green Stewards of Istanbul: Environmentalism, Public Parks and Urban Governance

Friday, July 14, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 132 (University of Glasgow)
Basak Durgun , Cultural Studies, George Mason University
This paper discusses the competing discourses on public parks and green spaces in Istanbul. Amidst the mass scale neighborhood redevelopment projects and the ongoing construction of “mega” infrastructure projects in Istanbul, the discourses on urban green spaces have proliferated. While the environmental and urban civil society activists express grave concerns about the degradation of Istanbul’s green landscape and ecological integrity, the local and state governments express their commitment to the environment and to their constituents with declarations of the number of trees they have planted and the area measurements of parks they have built. Although the urban parks and green spaces are widely accepted as scarce in Istanbul, I argue that these landscapes are reproduced, on the one hand, as landmarks of modernity and globality and key figures of political power and legitimacy, and on the other as fundamental features of new social movements and vision for democracy. In this paper, I build on ethnographic fieldwork and textual analysis of press releases by the state, public speeches of state figures and new development advertisements in order to contribute a critical examination of the growing global attention to “urban greening” as a key component of environmental sustainability. Istanbul’s socio-ecological status as a node for cultural, economic and political concentration and exchange for Europe and the Middle East, and as a significant migration point for bird species between Europe and Africa constitute the examination of its urban green resources crucial for the debates on governing sustainability in Europe and beyond.