Will Istanbul coastal project remove the world heritage tag?

The Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning approved a decision to fill the coastline project in Istanbul's Yenikapı district with land and transform it into a meeting square. Critics, however, believe a nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site is likely to be the first victim of that scheme and that the project has to do with the politics of public space. Urban planner Tayfun Kahraman said the ministry's approval contravened the existing body of laws, while architect Korhan Gümüş claimed that Istanbul would be removed off UNESCO's World Heritage List as a result of the decision.

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Plan Approved

Istanbul coastal projectThe ministry approved the plan based on Coastal Law No: 3621 which stipulates that the maritime zone in question falls outside of the conservation area. The Cultural Assets Conservation Regional Council No:1 had already warned that the construction of such a square in Yenikapı would spoil the silhouette and the topography of Istanbul's historical peninsula and that it would adversely affect archaeological sites in the region.

Next to the area where the square is set to be built stand 8,500 year old urban and archaeological heritage sites included in UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The scheme involves filling a sea zone measuring about 578,000 meter squares with land, stretching from the Yenikapı İDO Ferry Port to the Samatya Training and Research Hospital. The square is set to be large enough to host around 800,000 people, with two car parks also in the works nearby. The construction of an "Advanced Biological Purification Facility" underneath the square and mass transportation links to the area is also included in the plan.

"A controlled demonstration area away from the city centre"

"The conservation areas sit right next to the waters where the project will be initiated, and they will be affected when they fill the sea. Due to a legal loophole, however, the sea in question here is not part of the conservation zone, and this is what the ministry based its decision upon. The Conservation Council, however, had indicated that the silhouette and topography of the historical peninsula would be spoiled. The ministry ignored this," said Tayfun Kahraman, the head of the Istanbul branch of the Chamber of Urban Planners. Kahraman said they were going to object to the decision.

"The zoning plans drawn up in 2011 and 2012 did not include this project to fill the sea. Is there a need for such a project that will draw so many people right before the historical Marmara walls in an area like the historical peninsula? What is the rationale behind this?" he questioned.

Meanwhile, architect Korhan Gümüş also expressed his conviction that Istanbul would now definitely be removed off UNESCO's Heritage List due to this project.

"They are going to tear down the Taksim Square [in central Istanbul] and build a closed meeting area away from the [urban] centre and under supervision. Severing the connection between the meeting area and the city was what they had always wanted to do up till now. [Demonstration] meetings take place in squares that open up to the city's streets. Everyone makes it to the area by walking there. According to this project, however, everyone will arrive in the meeting area via mass transportation and hold their demonstration in a well-controlled area. No one will see it or hear about it," Gümüş said.

"Yenikapı is in the process of turning into a transportation centre with the on-going Marmaray project. The historical peninsula, however, should be free of vehicular traffic. Turgut Cansever had once referred to the construction of a subway in the peninsula as 'murder.' In other words, one cannot build a transportation centre there which would draw dense crowds of people into the peninsula. They are completely ravaging this historical region," he added.

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