In the last decades, the rise in the real estate sector has become the main factor of urbanization in the ‘developing world’ (Lees et al., 2015). In the global South experience, massive urban redevelopment and regeneration projects can exceed the neighbourhood scale, creating big spaces of gentrification and gentrification-led displacement (see Shin and Kim, 2015; Ribeiro, 2013; Goldman, 2011). In this post, I look at urban regeneration projects that result in gentrification, through the lens of ‘stigma’, specifically the Tarlabasi Renewal Project. I use stigma in the same way as Goffman (1963) and Wacquant (2007) as ‘discrediting differentness’ by a person of another one through face-to-face and daily interactions. To use this understanding for examining a neighbourhood I use the concept of ‘territorial stigmatization’ (see Wacquant, 2007; 2008; 2010) as a way for the state – as a symbol of power – to make its own representations and spread them through the general public. I pay particular attention to the power of the state in the Turkish context in the last 15 years or so. The current ruling party, which has been in power since 2002, has become more and more authoritarian with many scholars expressing concerns (Tugal; 2016a). It is not easy for those marginal groups (who are invariably non-Turkish) impacted by territorial stigmatization in Istanbul to resist given the increasing censorship of opposing voices.
Urban regeneration as a term is used for the Turkish term of ‘kentsel dönüşüm’ which is – as pointed out by Cavusoglu and Strutz (2014: 135) – a term that is used by the Justice and Development Party (JDP) ‘as a buzzword for a wealth of urban renewal, urban regeneration, urban transformation and urban development projects’. As an urbanist, I use the term urban regeneration and renewal in this context as a threat to the wellbeing of the urban poor and a tool to increase social segregation and displacement in the inner city.
The use of stigma in Tarlabasi emerged as the criminalization of the inhabitants. These inhabitants were often portrayed as ‘invaders’ and this was used to justify the project since, it was claimed, these residents did not have the right to live there in the first place. These kinds of statements ignored the fact that most of the people living in the neighbourhood were Kurdish people who had been forced to migrate to Tarlabasi because of the military conflict in the east of Turkey. One of the promises of the project is to eliminate crime from the area, and since the current residents are presented as the main reason for the high crime rate, their evictions are justified. During my research in Tarlabasi, the government officials and people from construction firms were asked what should be done about the crime rate. The main answer was that after the project was completed and new people started moving in, the crime rate would automatically decrease.
Criminalization continued with the use of news media to manipulate the public opinion. Some of the news headlines included: “Tarlabasi will be a rose garden in three years. Tarlabasi is a poisoned princess and we are healing her. Tarlabasi will be a safe place.” (see 11 May 2012, Sabah; 16 June, 2012, Haberturk; 3 July 2012, Sabah; 17 August 2012, Star; 26 August, 2012, Vatan; 31 December 2012, Yeni Safak). Denigrating Tarlabasi residents as drug dealers, sex workers, thieves, and undesirable conditioned the public reaction to the project. Thus, public opinion has been formed in such a way that the injustices that inhabitants have experienced during the project have been ignored.
One of the founders of the Tarlabasi Association (an association founded to resist the unfair treatment of the inhabitants of Tarlabasi by the inhabitants of Tarlabasi) explained how Tarlabasi was represented in the press perfectly:
……We observed how the whole of the press played the three monkeys [he means the three wise monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil]. We realized all the news about us and Tarlabasi were just lies and did not represent reality at all. Let me tell you an interesting story. In the project area, out of the 269 buildings, 6 of them were derelict and ruined. Star TV, Sabah and ATV [mainstream Turkish media channels] showed those 6 houses for months to show Tarlabasi. They said this was Tarlabasi and they showed those 6 houses……. Press just showed those 6 houses to whole of Istanbul and the whole of the country as if those 6 derelict buildings were Tarlabasi was ever was (Aybek, 2018: 177).
The stigma imposed on the inhabitants of Tarlabasi, which is described above, shows the everyday struggles of gentrification-led displacement, capital-led destruction, and transformation of social space through creating a narrative about a group of people by the state. Criminalizing the inhabitants means the state can evict residents more easily and without public resistance. Once the urban renewal project is implemented and all the current inhabitants are displaced, it becomes possible to present a tension-free gentrified area to the new comers. The kind of segregation brought about by these projects will cause problems in the future, because the local state not only deepened the differences between social classes by displacing all the poor inhabitants, but also created feelings of resentment among working class residents in reaction to exaggerated accusations of criminality and degradation.
I would like to conclude this post with a statement of one of the founders of the Tarlabasi Association summarizing the diversity and richness of the community in Tarlabasi that was not ever published in the mainstream press:
Our houses were 200 metres away from Istiklal Street. We were all over all those shops, stores and restaurants one sees on Istiklal Street. We were the ones picking up trash, cooking the meals, musicians who were playing the instruments and singing the songs and snatching purses. We were the ones doing everything in that area [Istiklal Street, Tarlabasi and most of Beyoglu] and getting by day to day money…… we created a culture of our own. When you see those clotheslines from one house to another, across the street and thinking to yourself “these people are just too much”, what it really represented was: One day I’m drying my clothes and next day my neighbour is [he means solidarity in Tarlabasi]…… We discussed life while drying those clothes and around those clotheslines such as “My husband is out of work”, “I cannot give money to my kids”, “I could not pay the rent his month” (Aybek, 2018: 175).
This post is part of a paper that focuses on the renovation and regeneration projects, as well as the gentrification concept with regard to a set of urban policies that have particularly enriched the holders of capital in the historic neighbourhoods of Istanbul. I analyse this process of gentrification through structure and agency, and the latter examines conflict and how this may play out. There are two levels of structure involved: (i) international (world-wide) and (ii) the Turkish case.
Aysegul Can received her PhD from University of Sheffield, Department of Urban Studies and Planning. She is currently an independent researcher focusing on urban regeneration, gentrification-led displacement and affordable housing.
Aybek, E., (2018). An interview about the Tarlabasi Renewal Project in Tarlabasi. Istanbul: Chamber of Architects
Cavusoglu, E. and Strutz, J., (2014). Producing force and consent: Urban transformation and corporatism in Turkey. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 18(2), 134-148
Goffman E., (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York: Simon and Schuster
Goldman M., (2011). Speculative urbanism and the making of the next world city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35(3): 555–581
Haberturk, (16 June 2012). ‘Tarlabasi will be a rose garden in three and a half years’.
Lees, L., H.B. Shin, and E. Lopes-Morales. (2015). eds. Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement. Bristol: Policy Press
Ribeiro, Q., (2013). Transformacoes na Ordem urbana das Metropoles Brasileiras: 1980/2010. Hipoteses e estrategia teorico – metodologica para estudo comparative. Observatorio das Metropoles
Sabah Newspaper, (11 May 2012). ‘Tarlabasi will be complete in three years’.
Sabah Newspaper, (3 July 2012). ‘Half of Beyoglu will be transformed.’
Shin, H.B. and Kim, S-H. (2015). The developmental state, speculative urbanization and the politics of displacement in gentrifying Seoul. Urban Studies, 53(3): 540-559
Star Newspaper, (17 August 2012). ‘Tarlabasi is a poisoned princess. We are healing her.’
Tugal, C., (2016a). In Turkey, the regime slides from soft to hard totalitarianism, Open Democracy , 17 February 2016
Vatan Newspaper, (26 August, 2012). ‘Tarlabasi will create a domino effect’.
Wacquant L., (2007). Territorial stigmatization in the age of advanced marginality. Thesis Eleven 91 (1) 66–77
Wacquant L., (2008). Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Wacquant L., (2010). Designing urban seclusion in the 21st century. Perspecta: The Yale Architectural Journal 43 165–178
Yeni Safak Newspaper, (31 December 2012). ‘ A safe environment will be created in Tarlabasi.’