The Disaster Before The Disaster: Building Resilience in Istanbul

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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”.[4] 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?


Year Law # Agenda



Article 73

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.


Table 1: Leading up to Law 6306. Source:,,

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.[5] 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.[6]

1Figure 1: JICA Risk Zones 1,2 and 3 in Istanbul. Source of data:;; Google Earth

2Figure 2: Municipality’s Earthquake Risk Zones.
Source of data: ; 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 Table 2: Disaster risk in Istanbul’s districts according to JICA and the Municipality
Source;; 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



4 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 [7] 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. [8]
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. [9]
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.[10]

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%. [11] The district is one of the biggest redevelopment sites in Turkey, where 40% of the district will be rebuilt. [12]
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.[13]
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.[14]
8Figure 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.[15]

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.[16] 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[17], will increase the density from 10 to 80% in some pockets of Fikirtepe.[18] 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.[19]

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. [20] 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”.[21] 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

This article was originally written for Beyond Istanbul by Hilal Bozkurt and Sneha Malani


[1] Kestler-D’Amours, J. (2014, April 19). Turkey braces for next major earthquake. Al Jazeera, Retrieed from

[2] Dünden bugüne İstanbul nüfusu. (2010, October 11). Retrieved from

[3] Weston, P. (2017, May 17). Massive earthquake could hit Istanbul at any moment with just seconds warning, say scientists. Daily Mail, Retrieved from

[4] Hinze, A. M. (2016, January 12). Sold Overnight: Istanbul’s Gecekondu Housing and the Challenge of Ownership. Retrieved from

[5] Tamamlanmiş Çalişmalar IBB Afet Ve Acil Durum Plani. Retrieved from

[6] Özmen, M. B. (2015, March 6). Riskli alanlar gerçekten riskli mi? Retrieved from

[7] Sarıyer kentsel dönüşüm ve 3. köprüyle atakta! Retrieved from

[8] İstanbul’da konut fiyatları en çok artan ilçeler hangileri? (2014, November 18). Retrieved from

[9] Topbaş, meğer Derbent’i kimlere emanet etmiş! (2013, December 22). Retrieved from

[10] Yılmaz, E. T. (2014, January 13). Sarıyer Ranta Karşı Ayakta. Retrieved from

[11] İstanbul’da konut fiyatları en çok Gaziosmanpaşa’da arttı. (2017, June 14). Retrieved from

[12] Gaziosmanpaşa Kentsel Dönüşümde Atağa Kalkıyor. (2016, May 31). Retrieved from

[13] Gökçe, D. (2015, December 19). Danıştay, Gaziosmanpaşa’nın 4 mahallesi için alınan riskli alan kararının yürütmesini durdurdu. Hürriyet, Retrieved from

[14] Gaziosmanpaşa?da İlk Kentsel Dönüşüm Projesinin Temeli Atıldı. (2016, October 4). Retrieved from

[15] Logie, S.; Morvan, Y. (2014, December 4). (Un)-building the Metropolis: Istanbul at the Age of “Urban Transformation”. Retrieved from

[16] Major Urban Transformation Project Begins in Fikirtepe/Istanbul. (2017, February 5). Retrieved from

[17] Çaylak, H. (2013, August 29). Fikirtepe’de yeni emsal 4 oldu! Milliyet, Retrieved from

[18] Logie, S.; Morvan, Y. (2014, December 4). (Un)-building the Metropolis: Istanbul at the Age of “Urban Transformation”. Retrieved from

[19] Bayhan, B. (2014, January 8). Bağdat Caddesi’nde Dönüşümün Arka Yüzü. Retrieved from

[20] Istanbul`un deprem toplanma alanlari imara açildi. (2015, August 17). Retrieved from
[21] Galama, Y. (2014, February 10). Blanking Istanbul: The Earthquake Stress Paradox. The Protocity. Retrieved from



As the name suggests

In “An Etymology of Slum Names”, Göran Dahlberg explores the terminology used for informal settlements around the world. Most are prefixed with “poor, dirty and filthy” and only a couple of exceptions hold a positive connotation. For example, Sri Lanka’s informal settlements have two contrasting names– “watta” meaning garden and “palpath” meaning shanty settlements. Cambodia calls them “Samnong Anatepetai” which is anarchic settlements and one of the words in Malaysia is “Hak Milik” — rights owned by the people. In some cases the terms — explicit or metaphoric, describe cramped, dark and hopeless places, like Nigeria’s “ta’n l’ese” which means whose leg is that? or South Africa’s “UmKhuku” meaning chicken coop. A few of the terms from Dahlberg’s research are illustrated below.

Informal illustrations

Terms for informal settlements. Source: Göran Dahlberg, “An Etymology of Slum Names”. Illustrations: Author


In the context of International Cooperation, Alan Gilbert in the “The Return of the Slum: Does Language Matter” (2007) strongly contests the usage of the word slum. In addition to the homogeneity the word lends to informal settlements across the world, Gilbert unravels how the term contributes to stigma against informal settlements, which in turn influences the discourse and action taken by authorities, NGOs, donors and media. In many cases, slum rehabilitation takes place top-down, and considers demolition or even relocation as an obligatory passage point. While terminology is only a part of the whole, it holds immense power in producing stereotypes and outcasts that may consequently contribute to the elimination of urban pluralities. A step further, Gilbert advocates for replacing international development campaign slogans like “slum-free” by terms such as “in search of a better shelter”, which suggest progression, incremental changes and recognize urban housing complexities.


HIDING AND SEEKING – Playing in India’s dense cities

Street Cricket. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Early childhood development is strongly influenced by the child’s environment. [1] India has 472 million children (0–18 years), constituting 19% of the world’s children (2011), and out of this, around 130 million children dwell in urban areas.[2] This number must have grown considerably today, six years after the last census. The “Convention on the Rights of the Child” (CRC) states the right to sport and play as one of the fundamental rights of every child.[3] Even so, less than 10% of India’s children have access to playgrounds and usually take their games to streets and other potentially risky areas.[4] While the mainstream development discourse views children as a “homogenous group”, it is critical to take into consideration the varying degrees of vulnerability originating from lack of housing, access to education, child labor, natural calamities and more. Since there is no official separate data recording the issues faced by vulnerable children, their injustice is played down in the larger statistics and hence made invisible to authorities.[5] Moreover, owing to the range of children’s issues in India, provision of the one of the most basic rights of “playing” is easily sidelined, and its capacity to facilitate a child’s development is undermined.[6]

Figure 2: Playing as one of the fundamental rights of children. Source:

Divide and Play
I grew up in Gurunanak Nagar, a residential neighborhood near the historic center of Pune. My neighborhood was composed of three streets with bungalows and apartments in a linear grid. On stepping back a few thousand kilometers from home and rethinking my urban environment, I recognize how development decisions can favor some groups of children while compromising access to others.

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 10.55.26 AM
Enter aFigure 3: Kashewadi (North) and Gurunanak Nagar (South). Source: Google Maps 

The density of the informal settlement Kashewadi to the north and Gurunanak Nagar to the south can be seen in Figure 1. The children from the two areas competed in claiming the streets of Gurunanak Nagar as their playground. Except that there wasn’t any real competition. My neighborhood more often than not disrupted the street cricket matches of the boys from Kashewadi, by shooing them away to go play in their own streets, or rather their slum alleys (which have an average width of 1.5 humans). The alternative was a small plot of land in our street which lay vacant. That was the one place different socio-economic groups of kids could play.

A few years ago, a political party took up the work of upgrading this “undeveloped” wilderness, to a landscaped park with a massive badminton court, forming a new source of revenue for the park’s maintenance. This development gave the park a gate, high peripheral fencing and even a watchman. But, the kids from Kashewadi were no longer welcome. It turned into an exclusive enclave for the ‘formal’ home dwellers. Even the street space for playing is further cramped with more and more room occupied by car parking and an increased thoroughfare.

A child’s socio-economic class and even gender primarily determine the urban environment he/she has access to. I’ve only seen the “boys” from Kashewadi play on the streets. There is almost no opportunity for girls from the informal settlement to play in the streets for reasons that linked to culture and security. More enquiry is needed on where they play and what opportunities they have to engage with their urban environment in comparison to boys.

Figure 4: The upgraded and gated park in Gurunanak Nagar. Source: Sonia Malani

Pune’s Urban Fabric
Consider access to open space on a city scale. Below (figure 2) we see the tremendous contrast in the urban fabric of gated communities versus informal settlements. Options to play in an open space within a dense informal settlement are very limited and can possibly narrow down to occupying a street till you’re asked to scoot! On the flip side, it is common to provide parks, playgrounds and in some cases even golf courses as added amenities to gated community projects. Granted this does provide the much-needed room for children belonging to a large section of middle and higher-income households, it does so in the “private” realm. As a consequence, you do not usually see these groups in most of the public parks. Further, due to increased privatization of open spaces, the municipality has failed to consider the dearth of public open spaces as a pressing issue. A growing trend to fill the gap of open spaces for the middle and higher income groups is ironically enclosed in gaming arcades of shopping malls

pune maps
Figure 5: View of Pune’s neighborhoods. From the top i) Sindh Society of gated bungalows, ii) Kashewadi slum iii) Density on either side of East Street. Source: Google maps

Development Plans swallowing open spaces
With the growing value of land, open space in Pune has shrunk from 9.8% (1987–2007) to 6.9% (2007–2027).[7] A study conducted by Center for Development Studies and Activities (CDSA) in 2015 has scrutinized the city’s Development Plan (DP) in detail and pointed out a number of discrepancies in the municipality’s land use plans. The study observes that the new DP is based on a tampered and incorrect “Existing Land Use”. [8] There are cases across the city, where the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and other interested predators have attempted to usurp land for privatization, while citizen groups have struggled to retain the open spaces for civic amenities in their neighborhoods.[9]

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 9 sq. m. of open space per person in urban areas. [10] Indian metropolises average way below this figure such as Mumbai (1.1 sq. m.)[11] and Bangalore (1.9 sq. m.).[12] This gives an estimate on the lungs of the city from an environmental perspective. But in our car-dominated, sprawling yet dense cities, the per capita open space index does not reveal the distribution and accessibility to open spaces. In addition to the basic provision of open spaces in the city, planning decisions are crucial in asking the questions of “whose access”. For example: Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa, bagged the first prize in the national competition of India’s “Smart City Mission”. One of the elements contributing to its big win is its focus to turn into a “Child-Friendly” Smart City.[13] Those are great intentions, but ironically Bhubaneswar Smart City has also made it to the news for its plans of mass evictions in slums. Approximately 50.000 slum dwellers will be evicted, [14] many of which are children! A gentle reminder to the municipality that child-friendly goes beyond changing swing heights and painting cartoons on zebra crossings.

Initiatives for and by children
Despite the lack of planning regulations to serve children’s needs, there are a number of independent organizations from across urban India engaging with children’s issues to reclaim their rights, including the right to play. Project KHEL (Kids Holistic Education and Life skills) based in the city of Lucknow is one such initiative. KHEL introduces lessons, for example: based on gender, hygiene and non-violence to vulnerable groups of children, through games and sports in public parks, vacant plots, public school grounds and other accessible urban pockets.[15] “Humara Bachpan” (translates to “our childhood”) is another campaign active in 23 cities, engaging 35.000 children in urban affairs through child clubs, and carrying out children-led neighborhood planning and advocacy initiatives.[16] These are steps in creating participatory models that include children. Such efforts along with many others, do not suggest an obliteration of the state’s responsibility, but instead underline the amplified possibilities if the local municipalities collaborated with such initiatives through the provision and preservation of open spaces and a child-friendly planning direction.

The government has recently included green spaces in their agenda through the AMRUT scheme (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation), wherein 500 cities will undergo transformation through the provision of various services including the development and management of parks–with a special focus on children’s needs.[17] Even though the mention of green spaces on such a scale is a positive step, its application and ownership by communities will be greatly impacted by their inclusion within the process of transformation, contrary to the current top-down regime.



CRC — Convention on the Rights of the Child
DP — Development Plan
CDSA — Center for Development Studies and Activities
PMC — Pune Municipal Corporation
KHEL — Kids Holistic Education and Life Skills
PPP — Public Private Partnership
AMRUT — Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation



[1] Chatterjee, P. (2017, April 21). Seeing Indian Cities through the eyes of children. Citiscope. Retrieved from

[2] NIUA. (2016). Status of Children in Urban India. Retrieved from

[3] Conventions of the Rights of the Child. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[4] Leveraging Sport for Development. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[5] NIUA. (2016). Status of Children in Urban India. Retrieved from

[6] Bhosle, K.D., & Adane, V.S. (2014). Future of children’s play in cities in India. Journal of Planning and Architecture, Photon (106), 130–138. Retrieved from

[7] Paranjape, A. (2013, April 13). Development Plan for Pune 2007–2027 — A 6 Point Agenda for Modifications. Retrieved from

[8] CDSA. (2015). Comparative Analysis of Development Plans. Retrieved from

[9] Citizens fight to keep hawks away from open spaces. (2017, February 7).

The Times Of India, Retrieved from

[10] World Health Organization. (2010). Urban planning, environment and health. Retrieved from

[11] McLaren, C. (2013, March 28). 10 Things Every Urbanist Should Know about Mumbai. Retrieved from

[12] Bharadwaj, K.V.A. (2015, June17). Per capita open space shrinks from 8 sq m in 1983 to 1.9 sq m today. The Hindu, Retrieved from

[13] Bernard van Leer Foundation. (n.d.). India’s first smart and child friendly city. Retrieved from

[14] Goldberg, E. (2016, September 28). Slum Dwellers Face Eviction As India Builds New Smart Cities. Huffington Post, Retrieved from

[15] Salian, P. (2017, May 3). The Transformative Power of Play in urban India. Retrieved from

[16] Humara bachpan Campaign (2016). Retrieved from

[17] The Mission (n.d.). Retrieved from

Accessing Istanbul

I moved to Istanbul two weeks ago and will spend the summer engaging with issues of spatial justice in the city through an internship with ‘Beyond Istanbul’. Here is the first piece I wrote on disability laws and accessibility in the city of Istanbul.

Disability in Istanbul: Towards an Integrated Society

“Persons with disabilities have to be taken into account as subjects of development, not just an object of development.” [1] Towards an Inclusive and Accessible Future for All, UNDP report, 2013

Figure 1: “Engelsiz yasam esit yurttaşlık” (Unhindered life, equal citizenship!)

The following research discusses disability in Istanbul as the subject of development through a rights-based approach versus an object of development through a charity-based approach, against the backdrop of Turkey’s legal framework for disability. This has been done by a critical reading of academic literature and reports on the subject. The research aims to emphasize on the need for a comprehensive local disability movement in Istanbul, which not only takes into account physical accessibility issues, but also the more deep-rooted issues on perception of disability.

According to the last disability census conducted in 2002, 13% of the Turkish population is disabled, constituting around 8.5 million citizens.[2] Within Turkish politics, disability has been positioned as a politically neutral subject, and has thus usually been incorporated in political campaigns mainly through channels of charity.[3] Even so, the Turkish Government has taken some policy initiatives as represented broadly in the timeline below.

20 June_Timeline.jpg

Figure 2: Timeline of legal framework for disability in Turkey
Source: Author’s elaboration of data

Although the late 90s saw the formation of units to tackle the challenges faced by the disabled, the major shift took place in 2005 with the introduction of Law no. 5378 aka the “Turkish Disability Act”, which prescribes a comprehensive rights-based approach for the disabled.[4] In addition Turkey signed the UN CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) in 2007, encouraging equal access to human rights and freedom for the disabled. Further, the CRPD was reflected in the Disability Act through amendments made in 2014, in order to prohibit disability-based discrimination.[5]

While recognizing these measures as positive steps towards the ultimate goal of securing rights and effective integration of disabled citizens, unfortunately these policies mainly levitate at a discursive level. For example, if we consider the accessibility challenges faced in the hilly topography of Istanbul, we see from the timeline that under the Disability Act, a period of seven years (2005-2012) was granted to the municipalities to make the city’s infrastructure accessible for the disabled citizens. Due to its incompletion, this period was further extended till 2015.[6] Now we are towards the end of a second extension that has been granted up to 2018, while by a majority, the city still continues to be inaccessible. [7] In addition, the implementation of the law, according to researcher Dikmen Bezmez, has been ‘ad hoc’ with no legal ramifications in case of its violation.

One of the main reasons for the disparity in the policy and the implementation in Istanbul can be traced to the gaps in the functioning of the top-down and bottom-up institutions. Their power-relations and approaches are represented in Figure 2. Through the influence of institutions like the UN and EU, the Turkish Parliament saw a shift and adopted a rights-based approach towards disability through the law passed in 2005, wherein the questions of citizenship, freedom and rights are at the forefront. In the case of Istanbul, although the Metropolitan Municipality prescribes the right-based doctrine handed down by the Parliament, the bottleneck in the enforcement extrudes across the district municipalities, who tend to implement a more charity-based approach. The district municipalities justify this by expressing their position, which is more closely linked to the community, posing challenges in compromising the demands and convenience of the ‘non-disabled’ citizens in the attempt to meet the rights of the disabled. Thus it becomes easier to provide wheelchairs than infrastructural changes.[8] This in fact raises additional questions on the perception and awareness of the citizens themselves, towards the rights and needs of disabled citizens.

DIAGRAM.jpgFigure 3: Top-down and bottom-up gaps in Istanbul’s disability access
Source: Author’s elaboration from Bezmez, 2013

“Unless our public spaces are accessible, neither education nor employment is possible. If a person with a disability cannot even step out of his or her home, cannot get into a bus or a train, how will he or she be able to go to college or university? Will the college or university be accessible? If persons with disabilities obtain educational qualifications will their future workplace be accessible?” [9]
Towards an Inclusive and Accessible Future for All, UNDP report, 2013

The above interview quoted from a UNDP accessibility report, lays stress on securing spatial justice through accessibility as a first step towards the progress of disabled citizens. However, from what we have seen earlier (figure 2), due to the possibility of clashing interests between the disabled and non-disabled citizens, the latter have posed a hurdle in the implementation of accessibility, and additionally this can be attributed to a lack of awareness and sensitization in citizen-groups.[10] The non-visibility of disabled citizens in public spaces has contributed to this lack of awareness and due to this there is little support from non-disabled citizens in making their neighborhoods accessible. Thus on examining the accessibility and perception of disability, we can conclude that it frames a chicken or egg causality dilemma.
diagram 2.jpgFigure 4: Linkages between accessibility and perception of disability
Source: Author’s elaboration

In order to secure spatial justice for the disabled, Turkey needs to incorporate an integrated disability-movement [11], which alongside the physical upgrading, engages with the perception towards disability for the non-disabled citizens. Although anti-discriminatory laws have been put into place through the CRPD, they need to be imbibed in society not only through the vocabulary ‘prohibition’ of discrimination but also through the comprehension of what a right-based approach entails.


[1] United Nations. (2013). Towards an Inclusive and Accessible Future for All. Retrieved from

[2] State Institute of Statistics. (2002). Turkey Disability Survey, 5. Retrieved from

[3] Bezmez, D. (2013). Urban Citizenship, the Right to the City and Politics of Disability in Istanbul. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1). 93-114. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01190.x

[4] Aquilar, C.D. (n.d.). Contribution to the Questionnaire from OHCHR Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved from

[5] Bezmez, D. (2013). Urban Citizenship, the Right to the City and Politics of Disability in Istanbul. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1). 93-114. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01190.x

[6] ibid

[7] Evsen, M. (2015). Disability Rights in Turkey: Time for Change. Turkish Policy Quarterly, 13(4). Retrieved from

[8] Bezmez, D. (2013). Urban Citizenship, the Right to the City and Politics of Disability in Istanbul. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1). 93-114. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01190.x

[9] United Nations. (2013). Towards an Inclusive and Accessible Future for All. Retrieved from

[10] Sidi-Sarfati, M. (2014). How to Enable the Disabled in Turkey. Retrieved from

[11] Bezmez, D. (2013). Urban Citizenship, the Right to the City and Politics of Disability in Istanbul. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1). 93-114. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01190.x