Atop the Anatolian plate, Turkey is squeezed between the Arabian, African and Eurasian tectonic plates. 20% of the country’s population lives in Istanbul along the North Anatolian fault line. In the last 2000 years, Istanbul and the areas around it have experienced about 120 earthquakes. The city’s last massive earthquake – 7 on the Richter scale, took place in 1894 causing about 1400 fatalities when Istanbul had a population of 874.000. With the current population of 15 million, the next 7-point-something earthquake is expected to have colossal damage to human life, with UN estimates of fatalities between 70-90.000.
In recent times, Istanbul has witnessed expeditious development, especially through mega projects in the form of shopping malls, hotels, luxury housing and more. The legal framework facilitating urban transformation has changed considerably after the destructive Marmara earthquake of 1999, coupled with AKP coming into power in 2002. By observing the changing laws sequentially (Table 1), it is possible to get a glimpse into how disaster has been deployed as the political agenda underlying Istanbul’s “urban transformation”. The most recent Law 6306 accords immense decision-making power to the municipalities and considers their own identification of risk areas surpassing other official assessment, rendering legitimacy to rampant urban transformation. Does this generate new vulnerabilities under the pretext of the reducing the same?
|The municipality, with the decision of the council, could implement urban transformation projects in order to preserve the history and culture of the city and take earthquake precaution
|5998||An amendment to the previous law permitted the municipality to consider any site that is under earthquake risk for urban transformation
|6306||This law allows municipality, TOKI (the Housing Development Administration of Turkey), and the Ministry of Environment and Urbanism carry out renewal projects even outside the risk areas. It basically gives them the right to decide which areas come under disaster risk.
In order to comprehend the vulnerability generated by law 6306, we compare the official risk zones identified by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to the risk zones decided by the municipality. The mapping exercise further leads to the analysis of three neighborhoods under varying degrees of risk — thus connecting the municipality risk zones to gecekondu eviction threats and megaprojects.
JICA risk zones or municipality risk zones?
JICA identified the disaster risk zones for Istanbul as a part of their comprehensive disaster mitigation study conducted in 2002 (figure 1). While the JICA list officially states 4 degrees of risk for Istanbul, the 4th degree risk is in the district of Catalca and is relatively a lot lesser. The fourth degree risk has not been included in the following analysis. In order to carry out urban transformation in accordance with Law 6306, the municipality has made their own list of disaster risk areas (figure 2). There is more than a 70% difference between the Municipality’s risk areas and that of JICA.
Figure 1: JICA Risk Zones 1,2 and 3 in Istanbul. Source of data: https://140journos.com/istanbul-17-agustos-depreminden-ders-cikardi-mi-2adc11621ffb; http://ibb.gov.tr/sites/akom/Documents/bilimsel_teknik.html; Google Earth
Figure 2: Municipality’s Earthquake Risk Zones.
Source of data: http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr ; Google Earth
Further, we categorize the districts as those “overlapping in both JICA and Municipality lists” and those “only in JICA and excluded from Municipality” as seen in table 2. This makes it possible to question why many of JICA’s high-risk areas have been excluded from the Municipality’s disaster mitigation radar. And while urgent attention to the some high-risk areas is being neglected, why have some of the areas in JICA’s lower risk (3rd degree) been given priority by the municipality? A step further, there exist discrepancies in risk recognized even “within” a district. The municipality through the liberties accorded by #6306, have identified only specific-partial pockets of a district having “earthquake risk”. For a few districts, this information is not available. Further on, we zoom into three of these cases to fathom the agenda behind the specificity of risk within the districts.
Table 2: Disaster risk in Istanbul’s districts according to JICA and the Municipality
Source https://140journos.com/istanbul-17-agustos-depreminden-ders-cikardi-mi-2adc11621ffb; http://ibb.gov.tr/sites/akom/Documents/bilimsel_teknik.html; http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr. Authors’ elaboration.
From the above, it can be observed that JICA’s zoning involves a categorization – first, second and third degree risk zones, while the Municipality’s zoning is uncategorized. The lack of identifying the difference in vulnerability brings the districts of the city on the same plane, and can cause a shift in prioritizing development decisions. For example, the Municipality zoning does not differentiate between the vulnerability of Kadikoy and Sariyer, while the JICA zoning has identified Kadikoy as a high-risk area (1st degree) and Sariyer as a relatively low risk area (3rd degree).
6306 in Action: Case Studies
The cases studies are from the three different risk zones (figure 3): Sariyer from risk zone 3, Gaziosmanpaşa from risk zone 2 and Kadıköy from risk zone 1. We selected districts with a distinct degree to vulnerability to highlight how the transformation legitimized by the aim of resilience, does not address the same.
Figure 3: Overviewed cases: Kadıköy, Gaziosmanpaşa and Sariyer
Source: Google Earth
Figure 4: Sariyer and the third bridge. Source: Google Earth
According to the municipality risk map, Sarıyer, as mentioned belonging to the 3rd risk zone in JICA’s map, is marked out for urban transformation projects since 2006. The activity in Sariyer’s real estate market increased in 2012  with the Çayırbaşı Tunnel in particular, and with the construction of the 3rd bridge there was a 30% increase in the prices within the region. 
Figure 5: Ferahevler gecekondu in Sarıyer district.
Source: Hilal Bozkurt, 2017
In Istanbul, Sarıyer is one of the rare areas with immense green space, and is home to both — a large number of gecekondus and luxury sites. The neighbourhoods that are already undergoing/ are planned to undergo urban transformation are Derbent, Ferahevler, Kazim Karabekir Pasha, Fatih Sultan Mehmet, Pınar, PTT Houses, Reşit Paşa, Rumelihisarı and Yenimahalle.
One of the neighbourhoods included in the transformation agenda is Derbent to the south of Sariyer. The first settlement in Derbent started in 1938, and towards the end of the 70s it reached the present population. The fact that most of the neighbourhood does not have security of tenure causes tension and conflicts in the process of transformation. The model of the project, which is supposed to be one of the biggest urban transformation projects in Istanbul, was exhibited to the investors at a real estate fair held in Cannes, France in 2013. The proposal suggests dividing the neighborhood into two distinct parts: regular housing and social housing. Within the site, the ‘social housing’ is planned to be far away from the transportation axis. Amidst legal complications, negotiations and neighbourhood resistance, if the proposed transformation is carried out, it could lead to the loss of the neighbourhood’s social fabric. 
Figure 6: Above: Exisiting Derbent Below: Proposed divided Derbent
Moreover, the project proposes skewed proportions: 330 acres of land are planned for luxury residences for 3000 newcomers, while only 76 acres would be for the 13000 original inhabitants. The neighborhood is concerned that this physical separation would translate into a class separation. In the past, with the industry developing in the nearby Maslak-İstinye line, the employment opportunities in the shipyards and stone quarries formed informal settlements in Sariye’s Derbent. Today, there are on an average 3 employees in each household, working in restaurants, shops, repairing or cleaning. If this project is implemented, it will radically transform the culture of the neighborhood, leaving no space for tradesmen; the informal workers’ livelihoods will be affected. Further, according to geological reports, the ground is mostly solid rock and the majority of the existing buildings are low in height. The planned project in Derbent is made up of 7 storey sites and it is expected to increase the population there.
In this entire process, the residents of the region have carried out many protests against the proposed demolition. The discrepancies between the JICA and Municipality risk maps have supported the case in the Council of State against the urban transformation plans. The first decision of the Council of State supported the neighborhood, stating that there wasn’t enough information and documents to prove that the area faced earthquake risk. This “transformation” debate, involving many neighborhoods such as Derbent is in a state of flux, and the legal struggle of the neighborhood is ongoing.
Gaziosmanpaşa is another district where urban transformation projects have been initiated intensively. The process initiated in this district of 13 neighbourhoods is the first “master planned” urban transformation project to take place in Turkey. According to JICA’s earthquake risk map, Gaziomanpaşa is in the 2nd degree earthquake risk zone. Here, the housing prices have gone up by 35%.  The district is one of the biggest redevelopment sites in Turkey, where 40% of the district will be rebuilt. 
In the midst of these grand plans, some part of the district has not warmed up to this transformation process. For Yıldıztabya, Mevlana District, Pazariçi and Karayolları Neighborhood in Gaziosmanşa, the municipality has marked some pockets as risky and others outside the risk zones. In the cases seen in 4 separate files, the Supreme Administrative Court stopped the execution of the transformation. The Council of State’s Fourteenth Chamber stated that there is an abstract basis for the “risky area” classification of the region and the execution has been stopped for ‘now’ in these neighbourhoods.
Figure 7: Risk within the Gaziosmanpaşa district
While some of the neighbourhoods in Gaziosmanpaşa continue to object the transformation on the grounds of earthquake risk, in some others the construction work has already commenced. One of the neighbourhoods where the transformation has started is the Central Islambey Quarter. The project “We Haliç Gaziosmanpaşa” which includes shopping malls, residence complexes and more, was initiated with the approval of the neighbourhood and launched with a billion dollar investment in 2016. Along with these projects implemented, the real estate values of Gaziosmanpaşa are increasing and this “rising value” is talked about more than the earthquake risk.
Figure 8: View of Gaziosmanpaşa’s urban transformation
The direction of the legal proceedings remains uncertain. While there is no definite explanation on where the transformation should be based on scientific evidence, the risk of transformation in these neighbourhoods directly concerns thousands of its inhabitants.
Kadıköy falls in the 1st risk zone in both – the municipality and the JICA maps. Fikirtepe, in the heart of Kadıköy, was a historical site of green cover in the Ottoman period, which later developed into a gecekondu with the industrialization and migration in the 1950s. The municipality announced large-scale urban transformation of Fikirtepe in 2010.
Figure 9: Fikirtepe 2006/2017. Source: Google Earth
This is boasted to be one of the most extensive urban transformation projects with a budget of $18 billion. More than 20 private companies will enter into a partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization to undertake the transformation through a PPP (Public Private Partnership) model. However, the transformation has been highly debated right since the conception of the process.
Figure 10: High-rises mushrooming in Fikirtepe
Figure 11: Abandoned sections of Fikirtepe.
Through negotiations, some parts of the neighbourhood agreed and signed contracts to in order to live in new, earthquake resistant homes. Meanwhile, due to legal or financial issues, a number of the redevelopment projects have not come through, and the demolition areas witness an increasing amount of criminal activity and drug addiction. Further, these high-rise projects — going to 25-30 storeys, will increase the density from 10 to 80% in some pockets of Fikirtepe. Thus ironically, a high earthquake risk area is undergoing densification on the grounds of reducing earthquake risk.
Another transformation is in the historically, culturally and commercially important “Bağdat Street” in the Caddebostan neighborhood in Kadıköy. The transformation in this area has caused the region to become a construction site, which is expected to continue for the next 15 years. Because of this construction, people have moved from Bağdat Street, and now it has become the most frequent place of relocation in the city, with the relocation of 40% of the business owners and dwellers.
Massive urban transformation projects in the high-risk zone of Kadıköy, could have major detrimental impacts on housing for urban poor, cultural heritage and even on ultimately combatting earthquake risk.
As observed from the above cases, law 6306’s all-granting authority backs the unprecedented pace of urban transformation. Sariyer’s planned urban transformation has more to do with the geo-political agenda of the third bridge than earthquakes, since it lies in a relatively low risk area. Gaziosmanpaşa from the 2nd degree risk area is proposed to face a massive transformation, with speculation on what part is under earthquake risk and what isn’t. Examples from the 1st risk zone of Kadikoy witness the hyper development of the high-income neighborhood of Caddebostan and the current tensions in developing high-rise pockets in the Fikirtepe gecekondu, thus multiplying the density manifold. The common thread weaving these cases from the three risk zones is the evident manipulation of earthquake risk to benefit vested interests of the authorities and developers.
The development direction taken by the authorities has deployed disaster risk as an official mechanism to evict and aims to effectively raze or relocate gecekondu dwellers into cramped high-rises at unaffordable prices, thus making gentrification the new synonym for resilience. Largely, the official disaster discourse in Istanbul has focused more on the gain from law 6306, than the real weak points in the city’s resilience. In terms of evacuation and refuge spaces, the sizable open spaces in the city were about 470 in 2000, out of which 300 were swallowed by development of mainly malls and skyscrapers.  The present status of the remaining 170 is uncertain, and required further research. Besides the physical infrastructure, there is a dire need of citizen activation through awareness programs and evacuation drills at a district and neighborhood scale, especially in the most vulnerable zones.
The overarching economic incentives of the existing top-down authoritative practices may have even had an adverse effect on the prior existing idea of resilience. This disaster capitalism is faced with constant resistance struggles by the neighbourhoods, shifting the anticipation from the tremor of an earthquake to the tremor of manmade demolition. The Proto City blog has describes the transformation process as “The Earthquake Stress Paradox”. What does this mean for “real” disaster preparedness? What are the consequences for neighborhoods where the vulnerability to a disaster in the future feeds another certain vulnerability to eviction with relocation or without fair compensation? If the area genuinely is under disaster risk, the inhabitants must have a say in the redevelopment of their neighborhood. The potential of retrofitting has been largely overlooked by the authorities aggressive demolition strategy.
Ground research on the impact of the current policies is needed in Istanbul’s 39 districts. The Center for Spatial Justice – “Beyond Istanbul’s” on-going comprehensive research and documentation across the city’s gecekondu neighborhoods will provide the solid groundwork to further advocate for people-centric and real disaster resilience strategies.
(To follow the reports on the gecekondu visits, please visit https://medium.com/tag/bizim-mahalle/latest)
This article was originally written for Beyond Istanbul by Hilal Bozkurt and Sneha Malani
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