Interview with Dr. Tuna Kuyucu: What Has Urban Regeneration Really Generated?

Interview with Dr. Tuna Kuyucu: What Has Urban Regeneration Really Generated?

As Center for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), we have conducted an interview with Assistant Professor  Tuna Kuyucu and talked about urban regeneration projects in Turkey and especially in Istanbul, rapidly enacted development plan laws and bag bills, earthquake expectations, Gezi Protest, slums in the city and other topics relevant to urban planning. Our interview focused on which individuals and interest groups received unearned income and are benefiting from urban regeneration projects. Because it is seen that different income groups are being effected by building projects, from luxury residences in Ayazma to Toplu Konut İdaresi Başkanlığı (Provision of Social Housing in Turkey) (TOKI) projects. However, it is doubtful to what degree civil society organizations and primary owners are involved in the process. Particularly, ambiguous legal texts are under cover helping to enable lots of building projects to be put in practice.

Main study area of Assistant Professor Tuna Kuyucu includes urban sociology, sociology of law, economic sociology and methodology in social sciences. He received his PhD from University of Washington, writing a thesis named “Poverty, Property and Power: Making Markets in Istanbul’s Informal Low-Income Settlements” and he still lectures mostly on urban sociology in Boğaziçi University. He has extensively written on this topic. Some of his academic studies include: “Similar Processes, Divergent Outcomes: A Comparative Analysis of Three Urban Redevelopment Projects in Turkey” (2015), “Law, Property and Ambiguity: The Uses and Abuses of Legal Ambiguity in Remaking Istanbul’s Informal Settlements” (2014); “As a transfer means for property, TOKI and Urban Regeneration Projects (Bir Mülkiyet Transferi Aracı Olarak TOKİ ve Kentsel Dönüşüm Projeleri)” (2010); together with Özlem Ünsal “Urban Regeneration as State-Led Property Transfer: An Analysis of Two Cases of Urban Renewal in Istanbul” (2010); together with Özlem Ünsal “Challenging the Neoliberal Urban Regime: Regeneration and Resistance in Başıbüyük and Tarlabaşı” (2010).

Synopsis of the Interview

“I don’t like the term urban regeneration. Instead, I’d like to call it ‘urban renewal’ or ‘urban revitalization’.”

“When you look at the regulations derived from laws, you could notice gaps and ambiguities which are paving the way to carrying out projects randomly at any place in any form”

“Period between 2002 and 2008 is a time slot which is famous for the expansion of the world economy in scope and excessive foreign investment in Turkey. In particular, short-term capital inflows could be observed while finance market kept growing and amount of credit usage rates were dramatically increasing along with the high intensity of consumer loans, installment credits, credit card debits, car credits and housing credits were commonly used by every segment of society.”

“When you look at the content of the urban regeneration laws, you realize that all the bureaucratic, administrative, legal obstacles which were preventing this type of urban regeneration projects to be constructed have been removed and have become ineffective one by one with Municipality Law enacted in 2005 and article No.5366, which enables building projects in historical places again enacted in 2005, and TOKI laws and so on.”

“Istanbul is a city with serious problems. There are infrastructure problems, upper structure problems, social injustice, economic injustice; people are unable to access to the infrastructure or sources or services.”

“All in all, we see that all the obstacles which might bring the urban regeneration projects, big scale infrastructure and superstructure projects (airports, bridges) to an end were removed. All bureaucratic, administrative, legal obstacles are being removed. .”

“Building the palace within Atatürk Orman Çiftliği (Atatürk Forest Farm) has been the greatest example of this attitude. The Council of State has ruled against the construction, but they did it anyway.”

“With the Disaster Law, the aim was to turn large areas into urban generation regeneration areas and to prevent any societal groups or adversaries which are potentially against those projects. Legal arrangements which swept away property rights have been made.  Thereafter, constitutional court overruled the arrangement. 

“Of course tenants are suffering. Because, firstly, if a building is to be demolished, they would force the tenants to leave. Second, because of this process rents are incredibly increasing.”

“Article No.6306 is now enacted to increase the benefit of individuals and households who are already wealthy and benefited from the rentier economy. I think a big opportunity is being missed.”

“Even in a neighborhood like Ayazma, where Kurdish political movement is very powerful and where  the police force has a limited appeal, , people were  convinced quite easily and the neighborhood has been demolished.”

“People who are already facing inequality in slums have become even more disadvantaged with the project. Losers have been purged and forced to leave while winners multiplied their gains.”

“Most of the people who attended the Gezi Protests did not attend the protests or the platforms to defend the rights of slums or neighborhoods which are subject to urban regeneration.

“The already limited authority of the local administrations has been diminished. Now, local administrations have no role in urban regeneration projects regeneration other than ironing out the problems faced during the implementation stage. 

“Considering the Third Bridge and the third airport together, there are already simulations and plans about that area, which would potentially create more wealth.

“Big scale projects like the Third Bridge, Third Airport, and Canal Istanbul are added to agenda after 2010-11. Why? Because political power is seeing and saw that the Turkish economy is and will be in an economic slowdown and the foreign investments in the country significantly decrease or will do so.”

“Alternative centers should be created. Economic inequality should be somehow solved. In order to do that, big scale public investments are needed but the political establishment does not have such a perspective.

“First of all, ambiguities create a room to maneuver arbitrarily for the project executives.    Secondly, they obscure individuals’ mobility. Lastly, again related to mobility, they make legal struggles more difficult.”

Full Text of the Interview

Firstly, on behalf of Research Turkey, let me thank you for accepting our interview request.

My pleasure.

Let us begin with the following question: When we look at different neighborhoods in Istanbul, especially the neighborhoods such as Tarlabaşı, Sulukule, Ayazma, we see an urbanization trend which is based on high profits rather than a “social urbanization”, as David Harvey indicates. How do you see this difference in general?

I think that David Harvey’s framework is not wrong. But of course, arguments are simplified when your abstraction degree is high. . I think this situation is much more complex. Personally, I agree that David Harvey and his followers significantly contributed to urban sociology and urban studies. However, I also think that it conceals some local specificities and complexities so they are useful to some point but after that point, it may be useless. Anyway, this part is just my academic concern…

That is what I think about urban regeneration projects in Turkey; what have been said at the abstract level is more or less true the realization of these projects (the ways in which they are undertaken, the laws enacted recently, the content of these laws etc.) is taken into consideration. Urban regeneration debates have already started in 2003-2004. It just emerged out of nowhere. I don’t like the term urban regeneration; instead, I would like to call it ‘urban renewal’ or ‘urban revitalization’. It came out in 2004 when Turkey was recovering from the 2001 financial crisis and AK Party (AKP, Justice and Development Party) had the single authority and enacted ‘immediate action plan’. As you may know, after 2002 elections following AK Party won the elections they put the immediate action plan including 10 articles in practice to eliminate the crisis. The article 10 is about housing. They put a strategy aiming at economic recovery and growth based on very rapid housing creation, fast construction and real estate businesses. It is the same time period when TOKI increased its power and authority with various legal interferences. Accordingly, the structure of TOKI has been changed. While it was an entity which was solely responsible for giving credits, it has become an active actor with endless authority due to its direct connection with the Prime Ministry. TOKI became entitled with the implementation of constructions, activating profit-seeking projects, forming alliances with real estate investment companies and contractors in private sector. Thus, it became the leading entity in urban regeneration projects. All these legal arrangements has been ratified in form of omnibus laws or statutory decrees, that is to say that they have been ratified by the authority of the Executive.  So, TOKI itself has a top-down structure which is capable of working in an authoritarian way due to its privileged position solely reporting to prime ministry without being audited by the Parliament or Court of Accounts.

Considering the laws enabling the urban regeneration, we see that there are also series of laws ratified after the period of 2004 and 2005. Although they seem to have aimed to boost and improve risky areas or areas which are not economically profitable,  laws and regulations derived from these laws have been designed in such an ambiguous manner that they pave the way to urban regeneration projects in anywhere in any form as desired. It can be seen that all these legal arrangements, administrative arrangements and new institutions, may serve to generate unearned income. Secondly, the same time period, 2003-2004, is a period when we witness expansion in world economy and excessive foreign investment (especially short-term capital inflows) growth of finance market, rapid increase in credit rates,   and the easy access to consumer loans, installment credits, credit card debits, car credits and housing credits by every segment of society. This is the period which may be called financialization, which is the most vital component of neo-liberalism. There is a huge capital inflow to countries, such as Turkey, which were previously deemed as developing countries and have become the ‘emerging markets’ and this capital inflow has manifested itself in the construction sector. For example, contractor companies could borrow credits with very low interest rates due to the depreciation of the dollar, appreciation of the Turkish lira and   huge foreign capital inflow into the country. There is a huge transfer of funds to the construction companies and real estate investment companies. Moreover, these real estate investment companies increased their capitals once they are traded at the Stock Exchange.  Shortly, the financial resources involved in the construction business increased in an excessive amount.

Let’s put these all together. Together with the financialization, massive construction endeavors  have been initiated  by the ruling party,  which came to power after economic crisis by parliamentary majority and full control of executive power that allowed them to ratify laws easily by odd methods (such as omnibus  laws) without further discussions or debates in the assembly. At the same time, new institutions were created and existing ones were extremely empowered. Furthermore, an important task has been given to the construction sector with the claim to tackle with the economic crisis, to reinvigorate the economy and to sustain growth rates at high levels. Under these conditions, urban regeneration projects were put on the agenda. When everything is lumped up together, it sounds like it is a perfect story; all parts fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. To be honest, it seems like a perfect story for me too. All the bureaucratic, administrative, legal obstacles which obscured this type of urban regeneration projects have been removed and have been made obsolete one by one with TOKI laws, Municipality Law enacted in 2005, Article 5366 which enabled projects in historical places in 2005, and so on. Whoever the implementation agent had been, TOKI, public-private investment associations or private sector companies (such as Gap Construction Company in case of Tarlabaşı), the motto was: ‘go forth and prosper!’. Eventually, it became apparent that it was not easy to achieve all these projects and plans, so most of these projects could not be implemented. A limited number of projects were finished, some of them started the construction phase to no avail and most of them could not even get started. After all, David Harvey is right about what with the real intention attached to these projects. The location of these projects is another matter.  After all Istanbul is a city with several problems. There are infrastructure problems, superstructure problems, social injustice, economic injustice; people do not get easy access to infrastructure, to resources and services. And of course, this list is not exhaustive. Most importantly, there is a risk of the potential earthquake in Istanbul. Unfortunately, we know that there will be many casualties and economic losses due to earthquake in the future.

“When you look at the regulations derived from laws, you could notice gaps and ambiguities which are paving the way to carrying out projects randomly at any place in any form”

This would be my next question. Do you think that there is a correlation between the increase in number of urban regeneration projects and the 1999 earthquake in Turkey? 

Of course it has an impact to some degree since it took place around Istanbul with many casualties. There is no doubt there will be another earthquake in Istanbul and we are aware of it. We know that housing stock of Istanbul is highly insufficient. However, we also know that all of these urban regeneration projects are not necessarily operationalized in the areas which will be damaged most. For instance there is a Derbent Project in Sarıyer district. Derbent is a slum on the hills of Sarıyer which has a solid ground and the housing stock is in a relatively good position. Likewise, Ayazma is another example. Unlike Derbent, Ayazma’s housing stock is of a relatively poor quality because it is a poorer neighborhood constructed more recently but these arguments do not necessarily direct us to urban regeneration projects. We have the land surveys at hand; seismological maps and soil maps could be checked at Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality website. I scrutinized them all.  Two maps compared, it can be easily seen that the areas where the urban regeneration projects have already started or are planned to start are not of high risk neighborhoods which will suffer most from the potential earthquake.  The only match occurs at Zeytinburnu. The project at the Sümer neighborhood in Zeytinburnu has already started but only partially finished; they could not complete the project. It is clear that urban regeneration projects do not aim to prepare the city for the earthquake. This also emerged while we had a discussion with Oğuz Işık, a distinguished scholar who teaches city planning at Geography Department at ODTÜ (Middle East Technical University-METU). He showed me a mapping design which I already had on my mind and I really liked it. This mapping indicates the areas between low income and high income neighborhoods on one hand and areas subject to urban regeneration; there is a close overlap between the two. He argued that urban regeneration projects are realized in these very areas as ‘buffer zones’ where high level income groups would be willing to live in but could not due to their lifestyle patterns and financial and cultural trends they follow.    On top of this discussion, I will add one more point.  After the government had some problems in enacting urban regeneration legislations and faced other difficulties in 2010, which is the same period when AK Party gained more power in parliamentary after the 2010 constitutional referendum,  they began to ratify new laws and create new institutions in order to eliminate the these difficulties regarding  urban regeneration projects. This is what I mean:  Firstly, the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization has been created headed by Erdoğan Bayraktar, the former chair of TOKI (who resigned from AK Party after corruption debates), which was responsible to enact construction plans and to alter the already existing planning decisions. The Ministry now had the right to transpass the municipalities. Secondly, the right to decide the location of the urban regeneration projects was granted to the metropolitan municipalities we are all aware of the fact that most of the metropolitan municipalities are controlled by AK Party. Thirdly, the Disaster Law was ratified in 2012. It granted a high degree of jurisdiction on city planning to the central government and the Council of Ministers. By doing so, the institutions responsible for deciding on the venue and content of the urban regeneration became the Council of Ministers rather than municipalities.   Lastly, the number of metropolitan municipalities increased and their authority has expanded with the 2012 Law of Metropolitan Municipalities. Consequently, it is obvious that there has been a centralization process. All in all, we see that all the obstacles which might obscure the urban regeneration projects, big scale infrastructure and upper structure projects (airports, bridges) were removed. All bureaucratic, administrative and legal obstacles are removed.  The following is what I mean by obstacles. For instance, the enactment of Article 5366 makes urban regeneration possible in historical venues. . Before this article, preservation boards would not allow these projects in historical areas easily. Previously, the investors were not willing to invest in these projects because Preservation Boards used to ask for thousands of approvals and compliance with thousands of regulations as prerequisite, i.e. if the building in question is historical, it needs to remain intact. If any kind of restoration is carried out with the building, the original pattern should be followed, and so on. Shortly, there were many transaction costs before Article 5366 and thus Preservation Boards were bypassed through this law.

“All in all, we see that all the obstacles which might bring the urban regeneration projects, big scale infrastructure and superstructure projects (airports, bridges) to an end were removed. All bureaucratic, administrative, legal obstacles are being removed. ”

Who are those Boards reporting to now? Do they report to the Ministry of Culture? 

Later, they changed the structure of these Boards with an Omnibus Law.  They divided the Preservation Boards into two: Natural Heritage Preservation Boards and Cultural Heritage Preservation Boards. After this division, the latter has started to report to some ministries while Natural Heritage Preservation Board reporting to the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization and some ridiculous incidents happened there too. Take the example of transformation of Mecidiyeköy Liqueur Company to a high-rise condominium by Torunlar Construction Company. This factory is the first registered company founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk during the Republican era.  State wanted to demolish this factory but Preservation Boards did not give permission for the demolition on the grounds that the factory was a registered one.  Then, the state divided these preservation boards into two and said that the authority to decide in that specific area was granted to the Natural Heritage Preservation Board since it was a forested area. Not surprisingly, the Board canceled the preservation order, in the meantime they demolished the factory and started to build up a skyscraper. .

Existing obstacles have been eliminated and alternative ways have been created to skip and bypass the remaining ones. Since 2010 and 2011, we are now under such an authoritarian rule that you do not even need any legal backing. This is exactly what the 17/25 December corruption scandal showed us. They can do whatever they want without being audited by any institution or person. Building the palace in Atatürk Orman Çiftliği (Atatürk Forest Farm) has been the greatest example of this attitude. The Council of State has decided that it was illegal many times, but they did it anyway. What did he, I mean the president, say after this: “If you dare, come and demolish the palace”…Anyway, this is the story of urban regeneration.

“Building the palace within Atatürk Orman Çiftliği (Atatürk Forest Farm) has been the greatest example of this attitude. The Council of State has ruled against the construction, but they did it anyway.”

Yes, again under the name of urban regeneration, you have pointed out some residential areas that affluent groups would want to live in but fail to do so. However, apart from that, there are also 10-15 year-old buildings in some decent districts which are also subject to urban regeneration…

Yes, around Bağdat Street…

Exactly, yes, I was going to say that. I have seen more of those around Bostancı. I have seen that most of the flat owners and inhabitants jointly reached a demolition verdict for the old buildings.   

Yes, for instance, three buildings next to my apartment. I live in Bostancı. Three buildings right next to mine are being demolished at the moment.

In a city where illegal and unplanned buildings are so common, I guess to a large extent, legal…

None of them are illegal. If they were, contractors would not get involved. Would they take that kind of risk? They would not.

Yes, can we explain this merely as an effort to build develop earthquake-resistant structures?

Of course we cannot. Definitely, I am not trying to say that it is not significant.  All in all, we do not know how safe the buildings are which were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s on Bağdat Street or in Bostancı. . Because the technology used back then was inadequate. The concrete technology was… well, quite weak… I mean it would be good to somehow renew those buildings. Having said that, there are other places in this city where a renewal is more essential. However, I think the following was the case there: When the government passed the Disaster Law, I think its number was 6306… In the original version of the Disaster Law, the government had something like this in mind: Vast areas were going to be declared as urban regeneration areas, leaving no room for any sort of opposition or adversary. Legal regulations that directly crushed property rights were made. Then, these were annulled by the Constitutional Court anyway because even the right to sue was taken from the parties. The government was going to expropriate large amount of land, the buildings there would be demolished quickly and new projects of great scale would be carried out. This was the original plan. Then what happened? I am about to launch a new research project, this is exactly what I would like to explore. I think two things happened afterwards. Firstly, it was seen that this would trigger immense public opposition. I mean, you declare vast areas as urban regeneration areas. Gigantic districts such as Küçükçekmece and Kanarya District are urban regeneration areas. Approximately a hundred thousand people live in Kanarya District, what are you going to do? Are you going to throw everyone out, where are you going to move them to? Secondly, where are the resources going to come from in 2008? In 2009?


“Vast areas were going to be declared as urban regeneration areas, leaving no room for any sort of opposition or adversaries. Legal regulations that directly crushed property rights were made. Then, these were annulled by the Constitutional Court anyway.”

There was a hot money inflow.

During the 2010-2011 period, the Turkish economy grew by almost 8-9 per cent. A financial expansion was experienced with the hot money inflow thanks to the quantitative easing policies of FED. That FED money came to countries like ours. That money ran out; it does not exist anymore As that FED money ran out, the value of one dollar approached to 3, 20. It has devalued since the elections but it will accelerate again. I wonder what we are going to do when the FED will increase the interest rate in December. I think, in the end, when the government saw that the resources are not available, they started using the Disaster Law no.6306 for financing urban projects.  Instead of using this law to resolve lots of infrastructure and superstructure problems of Istanbul, which are very much needed they started to use it as a tool for a method not so different than build-and-sell. I somewhat did some research on Internet on how the Law actually functioned. On the website of the Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation, it is explained step by step. Let’s say that I am a tenant in an apartment and if I make a log to the Ministry and say and say “I do not trust this building, can you come and check it?”, they send a team of experts. All of the tenants of the apartment pay jointly for the expert team.  If the building is found risky as a result…

At the moment samples have already been extracted from lots of buildings…

…You will demolish it since you do not have a choice, or a two-third majority of the tenants is needed.  For instance, the apartment where my mother lives is quite new, 15 years old or so, and does not have any problems… I do not believe that it has any risks at all the tenants of the apartment except for my mother,  – she does not want it to be demolished-, want it to be demolished. Because their building will be renewed and the value of the flats will be threefold all of a sudden. The price of the flats will rise.

Most of them are probably the owners of the flats.

Well, the owner(s) will do something. S/he will probably add two more storeys to the building, because the Development Plan Law has been altered and became more flexible in terms of the increase in square meters of the flats. I mean like an incentive. I do not think this is wrong as such.  The investors should somehow be incentivised so that s/he would get into this, otherwise why a man or a woman would or a company get involved? However, the area that this is taking place is probably the least risky and most well-organised part of İstanbul and a big amount of resources is used to make rich even more richer. This is the first point. You already asked about the second point before. The tenants issue…

Yes, of course.

Of course, tenants are suffering because, firstly, if the building is going to be demolished, tenants will have to evacuate their flats.  Secondly, the rents have increased incredibly because of this whole process. I was born and raised in Bostancı, lived abroad and after living on the European side (of İstanbul) for some time and after my kid was born, I moved back close to my mother. I mean rents have increased by 30-40% in five years. And the above story is the biggest reason for this rise. Lots of buildings are being demolished, the people in those buildings are looking for new flats to rent. By the way the contractors are paying for the rents of families, because they make so much money that they can afford these very high rents. For instance, my mother says that she will ask for a high rent subsidy around 3,500-4,000 Turkish liras, if they get her out of her flat. 3,500-4,000 TL is not an unbelievable, absurd price for a 120 m² flat on Bağdat Street anymore. Five years ago it was an incredibly absurd price.

Of course, tenants are suffering a lot; because, firstly, if the building is going to be demolished, the tenants will have to evacuate their flats.  Secondly, the rents have increased incredibly because of this whole process.

So, this could be demanded from contractors. The rent subsidy.

And contractors compensate them, especially where they expect high returns… Close to Bağdat Street, up to the shore, another building is demolished every minute.  Therefore the existing tenants lose their homes and do not have the opportunity to become a tenant again in the same areas.

Why not? The rent subsidy is received anyway.

I am talking about tenants. At the end of the day, the owner rents another place until the 1-1.5 year demolition period is over. It makes no difference to him/her. For instance, I am a tenant right now. If this building is demolished and the owner says, ‘this building is going to be demolished, man. Bye….’ “I will never be able to find a flat with this price. Rent subsidy only serves for flat owners.  In urban regeneration in Istanbul, the owners make the most of profits. The tenants are not that lucky.  Only in case of Tarlabaşı project, thanks to a massive social resistance and NGO activism, the contractor agreed to pay rents of some tenants for some time. However, 80% of the inhabitants of Tarlabaşı District were tenants. How can you pay all? These are very poor tenants, too. Tenants, are the big losers indeed. Anyway, the answer to that question is, the Law no.6306 works for the interest of the already rich (people and households), who benefit from the rentier economy and I think this is a big missed opportunity. I see it in that way.

The law no.6306 works for the interest of the already rich (people and households), who benefit from the rentier economy and I think this is a big missed opportunity.

When it is the urban regeneration in question, local resistance movements are often discussed, which you also address in your articles. Actually you also mentioned it regarding the Tarlabaşı case.  In your 2010 paper with Özlem Ünsal, you argued that this resistance faced lots of obstacles such as state violence, inexperience, internal division and ‘divide and rule’ tactics of the project implementers.

Yes, it was an old study. Truly said. It is still true.

Although there is a general pessimistic attitude towards social resistance on the grounds that they get ordinary and ultimately localised being not widely popularised. Do you think that there emerged more optimistic approaches to the notion after the Gezi Resistance? 

I am not optimistic at all. The Gezi resistance had no aspects to provide the social struggle with support, resources or mobilisation in the urban regeneration areas.

Can we say, generally, there is hope for civil obedience?

A hope was born and it perished immediately. In fact, as it always happens after movements like these, state violence has increased even more and we are in a very pessimistic period at the moment. Anyway, let us return to our subject. Urban struggles… Urban regeneration areas currently are or in the past were slums. These urban regeneration projects I am talking about are piecemeal projects, they are projects of big scale, i.e. Ayazma, Sulukule, Tarlabaşı… Tarlabaşı is not a slum but a quite poor and deprived area. Tozkoparan, an old slum, was built as a slum prevention area and it is now being remade again. Zeytinburnu, an old slum area, Derbent etc. Let’s not divert the actual topic. In these places, when the project starts, people start reacting due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, they are not fully knowledgeable about the process and there is an incredible lack of communication between the inhabitants and the NGOs and occupational organisations. And the reason for this, in my opinion, is not the social dissidents, it is the state. People rise up against the project in the first place because there is no information available or a participatory process on the field. People are neither brought together nor informed about the project or their rights, nor are they asked for their expectations from the project or their opinions about the project. They formulate the project first and expect people to accept it as it is. This has been the case in every project. However, we see that this dissidence has not triggered a long term struggle. I mean, even in a neighborhood like Ayazma, where Kurdish political movement is very powerful and where the police force has a limited appeal, people were convinced quite easily and the neighborhood has been demolished.  People have been forced to move to places they did not want to. I wrote another article about the reasons why people cannot get mobilised or even if they do so, why it is disintegrated in a short time and a long term struggle cannot be formed. At the end of the day this is something that has the potential to affect many peoples’ lives. Why is it impossible to form a unity among districts? I started thinking over this during my Ph.D. I spent quite a long time amongst the organisers of these resistance movements. . First of all, state violence is very important here. We saw this in Başıbüyük clearly. The police suppressed people using water cannons, but I think there were other important factors than the state violence. Lack of experience is also important here, I mean, the inhabitants of these districts were not experienced in terms of serious social organisations or opposition. Some of them are, so in those places quite a limited resistance emerged anyway. Such as in Gülsuyu and Gülensu… But in many districts there is not such a tradition of social resistance or opposition. There is not an organisation like this. And it is not easy to establish these organisations. Moreover, project executives, be it the state itself or contractors or private sector actors, use a ‘divide and rule’ strategy in those areas. And because of the complex property structure amongst the inhabitants, we see that the strategies work quite well. For example you are going to carry out a project in a slum. Slums have a complex property structure.  The inhabitants usually do not have any property rights, and when they have, they own the land but the building is illegal. There are also people whose houses are legal but storeys have been added illegally.  There are tenants. There are inhabitants with tapu tahsis belgesi[1]. I mean we are talking about such a complex structure. When it comes to getting people’s consent for the project…They can do it without people’s consent as well by the way, but there is a high social cost to this since they would lose votes as it was has been the case in Sarıyer where lots of districts voted for Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party) (CHP) rather than Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) (AKP) when urban regeneration has appeared on the cards. I mean how are you going to do this without losing votes, by beating up people or by hurting them? As far as I understand from these stories, people with such diverse property structures have different expectations from these projects and because of these differences, they dispute.  Such as, “Why are you getting that much? Why are they giving it to you but not to me? I want that much, too.”… The ones with no property rights, i.e. illegal occupants, are ready to accept the project from the start anyway. Because they cannot see a room to struggle for themselves. However someone with a few more rights wants more. Then another one comes and says, “Why can’t I ask for more when you can?”… In the end, the state or the project executives, as they are not obliged to say “Yes, I am giving everyone the quantity of ‘X’ and because there are no pre-defined private property areas, bargain with people one by one, especially with community leaders who have the potential to organise opposition movements, and break the unity and power of the movement. They told me this story in Ayazma lots of times. I was not there. I did not see the bargains personally. But at the end of the day, when you hear a story once, twice, three times, five times from ten different people, you get to believe it.

“Even in a neighborhood like Ayazma, where Kurdish political movement is very powerful and where the police force has a limited appeal, people were convinced quite easily and the neighborhood has been demolished.”

I think it was over by 2008.

Bargains were finished in 2006. The district was demolished immediately. Also, what they did in Ayazma is… For instance, you have 3 shanties and they say “We will give you 3 flats in Bezirganbahçe.”. I would accept it, too, if I were them. What would be the maximum price I can sell those shanties for in Ayazma? Flats in Ayazma were sold to shanty owners for 55.000 Turkish Liras. After one year, their price increased to 110.000 TL. And because project executives had not, in any way, put preventive regulations against speculative returns, these people who got additional flats comfortably sold them and made quite a good profit. Well, can I blame them now? No, I cannot. I would have done the same if I were them. But the state should have put mechanisms to prevent speculative, unjust returns. Because it did not, it was very appealing to people but the poorer shanty owners and occupants with less resources who had one flat and were entitled to one flat only, suffered hugely.

This paved the way to their victimisation.

Exactly. And after moving to Bezirganbahçe, they could not afford the living costs there. Inequality, which already existed in slums, got worse thanks to the project. The ones who could not make profits out of this process could not survive and they had to leave. . The ones who made profits, profited even more. Of course, this is by no means about social policy. On the contrary, an entirely anti-social policy. Let me say another thing. Solidarity platforms and networks among the districts were tried to be formed. But none of them succeeded due to lack of resources and time. These people work very hard. I mean the people who live in these shanties and low income districts work very hard. They do not have the energy to deal with struggles like these.  You mentioned Gezi protests earlier. People who attended Gezi protests never attended the platforms or meetings about defending the rights of shanties or urban regeneration districts. Similarly, the inhabitants of slums and urban regeneration districts did not attend Gezi. There is a big disconnection there and I do not have any hope that Gezi would pave the way to anything close to this. I do not see such a mobilisation. Well, we did not see it anyway, it is over.

Inequality, which already existed in slums got worse thanks to the project. The ones who could not profit were eliminated and they left. The ones who profited, profited even more.

Different social…

Different social demands, different social bases, different social groups which are not in contact with each other. Yet they have to be in contact, because the intentions on Gezi Park and the plans about the third bridge or third airport are similar in terms of quality although they differ in quantity: profit-based urban policies.

Yes, in the more recent comparative article you published with Didem Danış, which addressed the regeneration of Sümerbank factories in three cities…

Yes, Kayseri, Malatya, Denizli… We are writing another one right now focusing on the cases of İzmir, Diyarbakır and Bursa.

Yes, in a country like Turkey where the central government is very powerful, you have examined the roles of local actors by showing different urban regeneration cases. What kind of an impact would the empowerment of local administrations have on urban regeneration?

It would have a positive impact. I mean if only it happened. Of course, decisions regarding the local, must be made locally. I mean in that part of the city where the urban regeneration will be carried out, the right and natural thing to do would be the local planning organisation and local people deciding on the project Democracies work like this, but as I previously mentioned, even the smallest power given to local administration was taken back after 2010 and at the moment local administration has no role whatsoever except regulating the local in line with the needs of the urban regeneration.  In case of any opposition from the local authority, the central government would by-pass the local completely, they have enough tools for this. Let me give you an example from the new article Didem and I are writing at the moment. In İzmir, the local authority wants to carry out a project in the old harbour area and the industrial zone behind Alsancak Harbour. Ultimately, İzmir’s economy is a slowed down economy, if not a declining one and İzmir is trying new methods to somehow reinvigorate its economy. Since 2001, the Metropolitan Municipality of İzmir wants to design an urban regeneration project of a grand scale in the old harbour and industrial zone. They wish to turn that place into a business zone with offices, housing, social facilities, commercial zones, shopping areas… etc. So, it is a massive project. Central government does not let them do it. I mean, they do not simply say “No, you cannot do it.”; but they create thousands of obstacles. They sue them, do not provide resources, etc.

Unless the central government is willing, it is really difficult to carry out any project in Turkey. Here is what it could do: it could build up a new place if it wants; for instance, in İzmir behind the main Port two huge towers have been built. The name of this construction is Folkart. Recently I received an e-mail from Didem, arguing that the firm in charge of the project is closely related to the firm owned by Mr. Ethem Sancak. Placing Folkart Project into that space is actually inconsistent with the broadened and integrated logic of that project. I do not claim that the big tower should not be built up; however according to the Master Plan by the municipality, there is no tower planned where the Folkart Project is situated. The municipality of İzmir stands against such an arrangement. But, the Ministry has intervened in the dispute and sided with Folkart Project. The Ministry, regardless of local and national regulations, attempts to make some adjustments in line with its own arbitrary desire. There are many similar examples across Turkey. For instance Metropolitan Municipality of Diyarbakır, especially after when it was yielded by the Kurdish political movement, wanted to transform Sümerbank Factory into a social project centre in 1999 keeping its benefits in mind, such as free social services given to the poor and deprived people in the region, it was and it still is a reasonable project no one would dispute.  However, the central government obstructed it in different ways; it did not provide the necessary sources, sued the Municipality due to the alleged administrative wrongdoings. However, the project was completed with the financial support of the EU and of other resources abroad. So, it is not impossible but is extremely difficult to complete a project without the consent and approval of the central government in Turkey. In the aforementioned piece of work, Didem and I focused on the urban regeneration stories of the Sümerbank factories in Denizli, Malatya and Kayseri, exploring the questions of whether and to what extent local actors can be effective. Considering these examples, it is important to emphasize that the local projects are likely to be successful only if local actors can cooperate, resolve the conflict of interests among themselves, cope with the internal contradictions and form a joint mechanism. By the way, I am not talking about massive projects when I say local projects here. For instance, in Malatya, local actors came together, cooperated and were able to demolish the old factory and construct a shopping mall and hotel. Thus, it does not need to be a construction serving for the common good. Or, take the example of Denizli. The local actors cannot even co-exist cancelling out their differences; they cannot cooperate. The regeneration of Sümerbank is carried out by a real estate investment trust from İstanbul, an actor outside of Denizli!

“Even the smallest degree of power given to local administration was taken back after 2010 and at the moment local administration has no role whatsoever except regulating the local in line with the needs of the urban regeneration”

Is the project given to that company or not?

The winning bid wins the tender and it is the one company I mentioned. People are not able to do something related to this issue in Denizli. They have no willpower and determination.

Is it unable to get reactions from people in Denizli?

I mean wealthy people here. We can say capital of Denizli rather than people.

But we are talking about people living there.

Yes, exactly. In case of Kayseri, the content of the project cannot be agreed upon until Abdullah Gül, who was an important figure at that time, individually wanted to found AGU (Abdullah Gul University) at that very location and it became real. Kayseri Sümerbank factory was an important, big, registered factory with high level architectural value. At that time, Abdullah Gül was still an important figure whose involvement made the mobilization of the central government easier. It becomes possible once the central government is mobilized. Therefore, although local actors are crucial, the decision-makers are always the central figures.

Currently,Abdullah Gül University Campus has replaced the Sümerbank Factory?

Exactly. And they have made it real by not demolishing the building but by renovating it. It is not a bad initiative. I actually appreciate it. Considering the lack of any potential respect that would be shown for the industrial heritage, I think it is a good and well-designed project because it protected this heritage by renovating it and turning it into a university campus.

Just like Bilgi University Santral Campus?

Yes, something like that. And it is even better because AGÜ is a public university (Abdullah Gül University).Therefore, in my opinion, it is a successful endeavour.  It is a good idea. But it happened only due to the determination of Abdullah Gül and central government. That is to say, it is not easy to fulfil these kind of projects.

As you know, the third bridge and airport projects are currently underway. I am sure that you also know the 2012 documentary, ‘Ecumenopolis’.  In this documentary, experts explain that these projects will trigger new projects and render Istanbul  a city with multiple deadlocks  where we cannot even breathe. Do you think that accomplishment of these projects would bring about some advantages for Istanbul?

Of course, it does. All in all, it will definitely create an economic mobility. The aforementioned third airport is one of the biggest airport in the world if completed. It is certain that it will provide a great amount of resources. In my opinion, it is not the idea of building a third airport in Istanbul is particularly wrong; but the choice of its location is bad. I am not the only person who says this; many architects, urban planners, economic authorities also make the same point. When I need to fly, I do not prefer the Atatürk Airport. It is a massive chaos. The airport has just one runway, the plane cannot depart on time. They have also failed to build a second runway in Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Every flight is delayed for at least two hours. During the summer time, there are very long queues, that is to say, it is not enough for a city like İstanbul, which is the main city of a big country where there is a great degree of inequality between different regions. Yet, all of these problems have to do with regional planning failure(s). Anyway, we do not need to get into details of these failures now. The point is that why did not you build a second runway in the first place during the construction of the Sabiha Gökçen Airport? People have always wanted to have the third airport in Istanbul and most of them agree with its idea, yet they also think that it should be built close to Silivri, south of İstanbul, because there are water reserves and green zones in the northern side of the city.   So, why do not they build in Silivri? There is only one reason: if we think the third bridge and third airport together, the venue of the construction has a great potential for unearned income; there are already simulations and plans in progress to establish a new city. It was firstly declared as a new urban project, then they have changed their minds. Even so, it is obvious that it will eventually turn into what they intended to do in the first place. Surely, it will only bring benefits on a short-term basis.  Ultimately, a gigantic airport, a new bridge, a new something, new cities, new real estate market, you name it, will create short-term recovery and economic boost. We have science and planning for this, I mean, for for thinking and designing in detail what to sacrifice at the beginning and for being able to stay alive. They also exist to prevent our city from turning into a place where we cannot live anymore. But we should also explore why these major projects such as the third bridge, third airport and Canal İstanbul were put on the agenda after 2010-2011? Well, this is the topic of my next project. Why? Because political power sees that Turkey’s economy would show a tendency for a slowdown, and FDI would diminish-it already diminished. Political power also sees that the key role of private sector investments in economy decreased and will continue to decrease. Here is the statistical data about this: after 2010, the growth rate falls from nine per cent to three per cent.  Accordingly, they feel that the public sector has to get involved into big projects, given the decrease in private sector involvement in growth. After 2010, all of these issues started to gain currency.  Interestingly, these three projects were accepted in 2009 whereas they did not exist in Istanbul Master Plan. In fact, it was a big-scale and highly valued plan which was completed in 2006, then it was brought before court. After the trial, the plan was slightly changed. The planners were a group of people including scholars and city- planners. The plan was a major one and I think it was quite good.  It was accepted in 2009. According to the plan, the idea of a third bridge was a bad one while it recommended to build the third bridge near Silivri. In this plan, there was nothing called Canal Istanbul. After one year, all these three projects were brought to the agenda. They have become an important part of the personal election campaign of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan while they were declared as components of the the mega project, super project etc. Consequently, all of the planners of the Master Plan (including hundreds of academicians), who prepared the project for  IMP(İstanbul Metropolitan Planning Company) in 2009, led by Hüseyin Kaptan, have resigned by saying ”we are not a part of this”.

“Why were these major projects such as the third bridge, third airport and Canal İstanbul put on the agenda after 2010-2011? Because political power saw that Turkey’s economy would show a tendency for a slowdown, and FDI would diminish-it already diminished. Political power also sees that the key role of private sector investments in economy”

How has it been violated in this manner, how has it been overcome?

They have revised the plan. They literally changed every segment of the plan only after one year of its submission and it turned into a ridiculous thing at the end.

So, currently does the Istanbul Master Plan exist?

Yes, there is one plan to which the third bridge and third airport plans were added only after one year. It is nothing but nonsense. Istanbul was already a mismanaged and unplanned city. The last city plan dates back to 1983. So, they already managed the city ineffect de facto from 1983 to 2006 without a plan. Furthermore, the 1983 plan did not make sense at all since it predicted that the city population would become five million in the future while the population has already reached at fifteen million. In this case, we all agree that we need a new plan and we are willing to take the necessary action. We work for a comprehensive plan. Yet, after one year, we see that the plan might be gone. It is nonsense. This procedure cannot be occur in a constitutional state. Our state is not a constitutional state as the laws can change in one day as a result of individual decisions; a constitutional state is led by the laws not by individual decisions. Unfortunately, here we are talking about the reversal of the law system, we are talking about a tribal state.

There is nothing more to say.

It is a disaster.

Yes. So we also mentioned the population of İstanbul. According to the official figures, its population is 15 million. However, it is said that this number has approached to 20 million.

It is not that sensational. Surely, it is about 15-16 millions, not 20 million. However, considering the increase in the population with the arrival of the Syrians, we may assume that the Syrians meant the rise of the population of Istanbul by one million. .

You know that they have their own place in Fatih etc.

Of course, they have. All in all, people concentrate in the places where they find something to live.

What should be done to scatter the population around other cities? I know some cliché responses for this.

I cannot say something beyond those clichés. Regional inequalities must be eliminated and large-scale public investments, similar to the projects declared by the CHP during the June election rallies, should be carried out. Alternative centres must be created. Economic inequality must be somehow overcome. Otherwise, there is no way out. It must be resolved through large-scale public investments but the current attitude of the state would be unable to accomplish this. There is no economic tendency which would enable this kind of investments right now. However, at least, inequality might be stabilised for now. It might be achieved not by building the third airport, third bridge and new fields which would trigger the generation of unearned income even more. Contrary to my suggestion, our state is trying to increase the population of Turkey from 15 million to 20 million.

“Alternative centres must be created. Economic inequality must be somehow overcome. Otherwise, there is no way out… It must be solved through large-scale public investments but the current attitude of the state would be unable to accomplish this”

With the construction of the third bridge, another part of Istanbul which constitutes the one third of northern İstanbul

will disappear. It is already gone. You can clearly see it looking out of the window on a plane. They have destroyed millions of trees. They try to legitimize this by saying that ‘we cut 400.000 trees but replaced them somewhere else planting 2 millions of trees.”. This logic does not bring about any solution. This equation is neither arithmetic nor does planting new trees neutralise cutting others.  You are destroying a big ecosystem at some point which cannot be outweighed by planting a couple of trees. If you destroy a forest, it means that you destroy a whole ecosystem killing foxes, bears, snakes, wildcats etc. You cannot replace them even if you want to do so.  Come, dare and replace them! It is highly tragic that wild boars have to swim in Bosporus to go somewhere. I cannot forget this scene, they had to swim around Bebek. If I direct a movie one day, it will be on this.

As the last question, in one of your articles of last year, you argued that without any legal gaps or administrative backing, private property cannot reproduce itself easily, perhaps and hence, the capitalist market cannot function under these circumstances. Could you please elaborate on this point?

Let me think how I came to that conclusion…Well, when I started to think in detail that how urban regeneration projects were carried out in legal ways and the legal basis of these projects, I noticed the arbitrary regulations and ambiguities. It all starts with the determination of project field. They declare an area for urban regeneration. Then I ask, why, what is the criterion? They say that there are no criteria, it is just risky. Then I ask: why is it risky? They say that it is a social risk. But what is social risk? They say that it has lost its economic function. Did you measure it? They say that there is a risk of earthquake. Then I repeat my question: Did you measure it? Is there any criterion? The final answer is no. Accordingly, laws give a room to manoeuvre arbitrarily to the government and project-makers; as a consequence, and thanks to this room, you are able to change the existing property or quasi property structures, i.e. slum areas constructed on public land. There is a close link between capitalism and private property. Urban regeneration projects are actually means for recreating the property structure of the slum areas or old slum areas because they already constitute significant means for generating private property in this country. More clearly, you recreate these areas and sell the buildings after buying illegal buildings, demolish everything and build the new ones. Some of these houses turned into luxury houses, just like the ones Ağaoglu constructed in Ayazma; and they are sold at very high prices. Some of them are allegedly sold below the market price, just like how TOKI (Housing Development Administration of Turkey) did, which sells the private property, not the public property. In my article, I argue that the abovementioned ambiguities occur during the determination and implementation of the projects. I exemplified this argument with some cases including but not limited to the individual bargains, selling three of five apartments to one person. There is also the other side of the coin:  what will happen after the projects?

For instance, they demolished Ayazma in 2006 and have moved the population to another place. From 2006 until 2009, there was no information about the future of Ayazma. What I mean here is that people cannot deal with the situation because they do not know what it will bring about. Imagine that I am a member of a NGO or an Ayazma inhabitant, how am I supposed to sue this displacement without knowing the expected outcome? I do not even know what will happen. In this example, all of a sudden, Ağaoglu started to carry out a project titled, “My World”. So, ambiguities firstly serve to the interests of the project makers by providing randomness to them.   Secondly, they obstruct the mobilization. Thirdly, it makes the legal struggle difficult which is also related to the mobilization. After all these things, the processes of changing ownership structure, increase in private properties and profits are accelerated. Then, I thought whether these processes happen only in the countries similar to ours where legal system does not exist or does not function very well and central government is able to do whatever it desires. . Actually, they do not. Considering the enclosure policy which was very famous in Britain during the 16th or 17th century is similar to our example(s). So, the areas of common property such as forage and grasslands have been transformed into private property lands. Without understanding this process, it is not possible to understand the development of capitalism because this process provides serious resources for generation of private property. It leads to the commercialisation of the agricultural sector in general, the textile industry (cotton) in particular. Consequently, peasants who were not able to stay in the countryside migrated to the cities and formed the cheap labour. Therefore, this story is not unique to the 21th century. As Marx called, it is about the primitive accumulation caused by the capitalism.  When I wrote that article, I thought that the primitive accumulation is a process where the ambiguities and legal gaps are used for the benefit of capitalists and I still think in the same way, it is a good idea.

Ambiguities firstly serve the interests of the project makers by enabling arbitrariness to them.  Secondly, they obstruct the mobilization. Thirdly, it makes legal struggle difficult which is also related to mobilization.”

Thank you so much. It was a nice conversation.

You are welcome.


Please cite this interview as follows:

Research Turkey (March, 2016), “Interview with Dr. Tuna Kuyucu: What Has Urban Regeneration Really Generated?” Vol. V, Issue 3, pp.39-64, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), London, Research Turkey (


[1] A tapu tahsis belgesi guarantees a future de jure property right, either to the property that they occupy or to another dwelling built elsewhere (translator’s note).



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