Consecutive construction projects launched in İstanbul that all steal space from the city's green areas have sent waves of anxiety, fear and disappointment among many who think Turkey's most populous city will end up being an uninhabitable place in near future.
The fact that public opposition or criticism is not taken into consideration during the implementation of these projects also concerns many because they are able to do nothing in the wake of the destruction.
There are currently several giant construction projects slated for İstanbul. One is a third airport between the Black Sea regions of Yeniköy and Akpınar. A record 22.1 billion euro ($29 billion) deal was made for the project early this month.
According to Candan Karlıtekin, a former executive board director of Turkish Airlines (THY), construction of a new airport is unnecessary and a waste of money for İstanbul and it would create extensive damage to the city's natural environment.
He suggested that by adding two parallel runways to the current Atatürk and Sabiha Gökçen airports in İstanbul at a cost of $2 billion each, İstanbul can easily welcome more than 120 million passengers annually.
“So, a new airport is unnecessary; it is a waste of nation's resources. The busiest airports in the most crowded cities in the world do not even reach an annual 100 million passenger capacity,” Karlıtekin told Today's Zaman.
Minister of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications Binali Yıldırım said the airport will be so large as to be visible from space, noting that it will be able to handle a capacity of 90 million passengers annually upon opening in 2017 and would gradually “gear up” to a world record-setting 150 million passenger capacity.
“Let me say it clearly, expanding İstanbul further and making its population increase more and expanding residential areas to the city's north is completely a mistake with regard to strategy, politics, the economy, demography, ecology and effects on the climate and the environment. İstanbul's north has never been used for settlement by people in any period in history. Taking these fundamental criticisms into consideration, it is unnecessary even to talk about a third airport,” Karlıtekin said in further remarks.
The second giant building project concerns the construction of a third bridge over the Bosporus. The proposed 1,275-meter-long suspension bridge over the Bosporus is planned to connect Garipçe on the European side with the Poyrazköy neighborhood in Beykoz on the Asian side. The foundation of the bridge was laid on Wednesday and the project is expected to be completed in 2015. Authorities said it will be the largest and longest suspension bridge in the world.
Ironically, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who served as the mayor of İstanbul between 1994 and 1998, described earlier plans by then-Prime Minister Tansu Çiller to construct a third bridge over the Bosporus as a “murder.”
“A third bridge is a murder for İstanbul. It is nothing but massacring the remaining green areas in the city's north by zoning the area for construction. I hope the government will change without this murder being committed,” Erdoğan said back in 1995.
Yet another mega project, which is popularly known as the “crazy project,” as Prime Minister Erdoğan has named it, concerns the creation of a “new Bosporus” in İstanbul.
According to the project plans, a 30-mile canal will be built on the western fringes of the city. The government, which revealed its plans for the project in 2011, says it aims to minimize the effects of tanker collisions and flooding with the new canal yet critics say the project will cause serious damage to the environment.
Tayfun Kahraman, head of the İstanbul Chamber of City Planners -- part of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) -- said the location of the all the mega projects is the north of İstanbul, which is home to natural resources like the forests and water basins of the city.
He explained that all these projects run contrary to the 1/100,000 scale İstanbul Provincial Environmental Plan which was adopted in 2006 and bans constructions in the northern part of the city.
“Opening the city's only remaining green areas -- the north -- to construction will mean nothing more than the bankruptcy of the city. The population boom to be caused by the new construction projects and destruction of the natural resources will make İstanbul an uninhabitable place,” Kahraman told Today's Zaman.
The construction of the two existing bridges across the Bosporus -- the Boğaziçi and Fatih Sultan Mehmet -- both seen as bridges between different cultures, also created debate among the public. Officials claimed the bridges represented the development of İstanbul and celebrated them, whereas some viewed them as unnecessary and detrimental to the environment. The Boğaziçi Bridge, which has become the symbol of the city, was opened in 1973 and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge was completed in 1988.
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Turkey Conservation Director Sedat Kalem, who talked about the effects of the mega construction projects on the biological diversity and flora of İstanbul, said the route of the third bridge, the third airport and their connection roads is in an area which houses seven of Turkey most important 122 plant sites, according to a study conducted by experts.
“These places are the home to special plants, some of which face the threat of extinction. The flora of İstanbul is more diverse than the flora of the Netherlands or the UK. All these projects threaten the ecology in İstanbul's north. The exchange among plants and animals will be interrupted,” he said.
Kalem said WWF is not against projects that support Turkey's development, but these projects should be sustainable in the long run and they should not deprive people of natural resources.
“Perhaps within a time period of 15 to 20 years, İstanbul's north will be like today's Etiler or Levent and residents of the city will not have the opportunity to get some fresh air or relax by going to the woods in the north because they will have been destroyed,” he warned.