The landscape architecture of Taksim Gezi Meydani 'Park' or 'Square'

Taksim Gezi Park Istanbul is a rallying point for Turkish landscape architects

The Turkish government wants to build a shopping mall on Taksim Gezi ‘park’ or ‘square’. The local people are against it. One way or another, I believe the outcome of the Taksim Gezi events will be good for Turkish landscape architecture. To the barricades. If the shopping mall is built, it will become a cause célèbre. As Tertullian remarked ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church’. And if the shopping mall is not built it will be a famous victory – in which landscape architects should aim to share.
Queen Anne asked one of her Ministers what it would cost to stop public access to London’s Hyde park and was told, “It would cost you but three crowns, ma’am: those of England, Scotland and Ireland.” . Public open space should be at the centre of public debate.
The Bosphorus is the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia and also the meeting point of the two cultures which govern modern Turkey: western and eastern. Many Ottoman intellectuals and leaders came from western (European) Turkey. Though born in Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political culture has Anatolian roots. Ataturk, who founded the Turkish republic, was born in Greece and sought to westernise Turkey. So the question, as ever, is: will Turkey look east or will Turkey look west? We can extrapolate the choice to landscape architecture. Looking east, to the Turks’ nomadic past, suggests a lack of significance for permanent open space. Looking west, to the settled lands of Europe, suggests a desire to protect open space.
Though rendered in English as Taksim ‘Square’, the Turkish name is Taksim Meydanı. ‘Meydani’ derives from the Persian word maidan which was used for a multi-purpose civic space. It was not a park (paradaeza in Persian) and it was not usually planted. The uses included markets, parades, festivals, games and camping. This made it a very important place – though the famous maidan in Isfahan has since been laid out as a western park and is not busy. So should Turkish landscape architects look west or east? Both. Topkapi Palace is a good symbol for this: the pattern of its open spaces is that of an encampment, but the encampment has become permanent (as Gülru Necipoğlu, explains in Architecture, ceremonial, and power: The Topkapı Palace in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Cambridge, Mass, 1991).
Well, Istanbul lost its chance to host the 2020 Olympics yesterday for, it is thought, two reasons (1) the brutal treatment of protesters over the proposed development of Taksim Gezi (2) Turkey’s poor record in controlling the use of drugs by its athletes. I give my sympathy to the landscape architects and others involved in Istanbul’s bid and have no hesitation in saying that the landscape architecture of Istanbul is of the very highest quality.
I am pleased to report that London’s park users (photo of the gates of Finsbury Park below) support Istanbul’s park users in calling for the conservation of Taksim Gezi Meydani. We might be able to send protesters if another occupation becomes necessary but we are not considering armed intervention of any kind.
London park users call for Taksim Gezi Meydani to be conserved

London park users call for Taksim Gezi Meydani to be conserved

Top image of Taksim Gezi courtesy Alan Hilditch. Lower image

20 thoughts on “The landscape architecture of Taksim Gezi Meydani 'Park' or 'Square'

  1. Robert Holden

    Dear Tom,
    Taksim Square is really a large traffic junction to the rear of your photo. Gezi Park is a park which fronts onto Taksim Square and is a rather mundane park, but given there are so few in Istanbul it is valuable and so worth defending against development. The other point to make is that in addition to the street protests both the Chamber of Architects and Chamber of Landscape Architects have taken legal action to defeat the shopping mall proposal.
    Yours, Robert

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Thank you for the additional information. It sounds like a cause which would benefit from the support of international landscape organisations (IFLA, EFLA ETC). One of the consequences of globalisation could be that national governments become less important and other types of international organisation become more important. I am thinking of transnational bodies (EU, Arab League etc), trade organisations (ASEAN, NAFTA etc) and professional bodies and trade associations. In East Asia, Chinese influence spread well beyond its medieval borders. In Europe, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church had many international roles. After the renaissance they were nationalised. Now they are being re-internationalised.

  2. Christine

    It would certainly be good for international landscape architecture organisations to play a supportive and advocacy role, but it seems good for Turkey and its budding democracy that the protests are otherwise a local concern.

    In one way it is a very good development that the protests are taking place and that the protesters are confronting water canons rather than (fire) canons. It would also be good to know how the challenge to the shopping mall development proceeds in the court and the outcome of the case.

    All this bodes well for Turkey’s participation in the European Union.

    At present there are moves to change the right to challenge certain planning decisions through the courts in Australia. It may be that Turkey finds itself with a stronger public voice and institutions than Australia?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      It is definitely better for countries to solve their own problems but international opinion can be influential but not much more. The international campaign against whaling is a case in point. It has had little impact in Japan and has encouraged Japanese governments to diminish the credibility of the UN eg by ‘bribing’ small countries to support Japanese policy by giving them harbours etc.

  3. Mustafa Artar

    Hi Tom. Thank you very much for your commends on Taksim Gezi Park. As Robert stated our Chambers are also fighting against this issue. New protests are on the way for open public spaces of the country anywhere. The thing is the involvement of Landscape Architects on such a political issue. Hope we as landscape architects discuss more on protecting last pieces of open spaces even in Istanbul or anywhere in the world. Thank you so much.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      ‘Fight the good fight’ – and good luck to the landscape architects of Turkey! The UK Landscape Institute was politically active between 1940 and 1960 and gained much from the activity. Since then the Institute has been having an after-dinner snooze. We are all hoping it will wake up with lion’s roar.

  4. Christine

    Mustafa is it a question of economics or politics? (ie. is it politics on the side of economics rather than politics on the side of civics?)

    It is certainly a service with importance well beyond Turkey that you are all standing up for the issue public open space.

    A second tier issue is the privatisation of public open space. In a sense this is what is happening in Turkey too with Taksim Gezi Park, as the space will still be accessible to the public but privatised and enclosed within a shopping mall.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Mustafa, I too have a question. Is the current design of Taksim Gezi ‘excellent’, ‘very good’, ‘good’, ‘poor’, or ‘bad’? My reason for asking is that if the design is not ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ then now might be a good time to hold a design competition. Since public open spaces are very important to the health and happiness of city dwellers I think they need to keep on changing until they become ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’.

  5. Mustafa Artar

    Dear Christine and Tom.
    It might have been discussed from a point of an economic issue. Government wants to use anywhere which is attractive for investors. This brings more privatization. Taksim is just only one of those. There are many investment attempts along the Bosporus such as hotels, residential areas. Unfortunately the coasts of Bosporus are protected by law. What is related with the politics is for our government any landscape can be used for any purpose. We know this approach from EIA common understanding. Even a protected landscape of any corner, you can see mining activities, energy investments etc. So this became a policy of ongoing government.
    Tom, design competition had been discussed among Chambers. Of course actual situation might need maintenance but the problem is not the area itself. The project includes some infrastructural issues. Such as roads under Taksim, encouriging car use etc. One last thing is green spaces from Taksim to the sea had always been fragmented. This is one of the last pieces resisting. Thanks for all.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The design of Leicester Square in London has, as discussed, changed many times. It is now good. Observing this has left me with the idea that it is hard to get the design of a public open space right ‘at one go’. If a competition for Taksim is organised please let me know, so that we can help with the publicity. I think there is much to be said for an Ideas Competition. People like having an interesting project to think about and, as with the Tiananmen Square competition, are not too much concerned about prizes or even about the implementation of their ideas. An international competition at the meeting point of Europe and Asia could appeal to many people.

  6. Selçuk Sayan

    Ataturk’s first priority after the foundation of Republic was the fight against feudalism. However after his death, many of the progressive plans were left half done or totally abandoned. In the 1950s Turkey was in the beginning of capitalism way. The conventional ağa’s (Anatolian feudal lords) of that time have changed in time and their successors are more sophisticated. Actually modern ağa’s are at the downtown of every metropolitan area in Turkey and they want to make money. This is related with the political system in the countries and global investments at the metropolitan areas such as Berlin, Istanbul or New York. However no one wants to build a mall at the Tiergarten in Berlin or no power can take a piece of land of Central Park in New York.
    The fact that was started with Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul is apparently far beyond of a piece of green space and Gezi Park was the last drop that overflowed the glass. However still it is the last drop which is a result of the flawed capitalism in Turkey. I hope Gezi Park also means a lot to the establishment of the theory of landscape architecture and green politics in Turkey. The discussion concerning the competition is a nice idea. However the reality is dramatic. Have you informed about the 6th young man died yesterday during the demonstrations related with Gezi Park?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Thank you for the information and comment. My thought about a competition is that it would help to internationalise the issue of open space protection.
      As discussed in the blog post on Banstead Downs the struggle against feudalism continued for a long time in England. In fact one could argue that it still continues. The descendents of the feudal lords remain by far the largest land owners. So if the economy grows, and more land is required, they sell a little land at astronomical prices and get enough money for their families to live on for a few more generations. This is what happens in London’s ‘green belt’. Londoners think of it as public green space but most of it is in private ownership. When permission is given to build on it the value of a hectare of land increases by somewhere between 5000% and 10,000%. Easy money.
      I like Christine’s idea for an ideas competition ‘to reconstruct the memory of the lost (fragmented) spaces of the green spaces from Taksim to the sea.’ In fact this may be a good time to launch a landscape strategy for Istanbul. It could begin with a single ‘green wedge’ and grow into a vast system. Another comparison with London can be made. In the middle of the Second World War (1943-4) a landscape architect (Patrick Abercrombie) produced an Open Space Plan for London. One of its main features was a Regional Part in the Lea Valley. Nothing much happened until a Lea Valley Park Act was passed by parliament in 1966. And even then, nothing much happened until planning began for the 2012 Olympic Games. I travelled through the area again last week. The actualy Olympic Park was a little disappointing but the influence of this development on the rest of the Lea Valley is wonderful. It is becoming a really nice and really intersting place.
      So my conclusion is that cities need VERY LONG TERM LANDSCAPE PLANS and, in most cases, will have to wait a long time for them to be implemented. If there are no ideas ‘on the table’ then there is nothing to implement. I regard Abercrombie as the real planner of the 2012 Olympic Park. His plan was funded by the government but was NEVER adopted as official government policy. The pen is mightier than the sword. Ideas are mightier than the pen and the sword.

  7. Christine

    Mustafa, thank you for your clarification. It may be that by having a landscape ideas design competition as Tom suggeseted a key design criteria may be the ability of the design to maintain as much of the existing open space as possible?

    Perhaps some person will come up with the idea of a virtual shopping mall that people can access from the square via publically available touchscreens and internet portals?

    An ideas competition could also use the theory of Deconstruction to reconstruct the memory of the lost (fragmented) spaces of the green spaces from Taksim to the sea.

    It may be that the government may be willing to consider alternative forms of economic use? Or they may already be committed to particular stakeholder retail groups?

    Are they attempting to solve congestion issues or access issues with the proposal to have roads under Taksim?

  8. Christine

    It is very sad Tom that you are not on the side of the hereditary land owners of England. There is absolutely nothing wrong with legitimately inheriting property and maintaining it within a family. It must also be very difficult to maintain such estates with changed social conditions -which are themselves a good – but a challenge for hereditary family estates. So I am not at all sure that the proceeds from the sale of lands from the estates could be characterised as ‘easy money.’

    I am not sure if the problems in Turkey are equivalent to the hereitary private landownership issue in the UK? Perhaps Mustafa or Selcuk could enlighten me on this? Is Gezi Park private land?

    Yes, cities do need very long term landscape plans.

    If Gezi Park is private land the citizens of Turkey with the fund raising and organising assistance of Turkey’s landscape architects should unite together (a little money from a lot of people) and buy it from the Aga owners. The Turkish government may be will to assist with grants or facilitate the purchase themselves?

    This would be a much better solution than people losing their lives over the development of the park.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Fear not: I am as much avec coulottes as sans coulottes (especially if running). But just as I think ‘something for nothing’ is bad principle for welfare claimants so I think ‘something for nothing’ is a bad principle for the land owning class. I don’t think they should have financial benefits denied to the rest of us. Also, though the point is related, I think that something resembling a tax on betterment is right. Or, since betterment is not easy to calculate, there could be a wealth tax or a property tax.
      When driving round Britain I often think that the hereditary landowners do the best job of managing land.
      There was a terrible case with the city of Birmingham. The Cadbury family owned a large area of farmland south of the city. Since they wanted it to be kept as green belt, and never built upon, they gave it to the City Corporation with the best legal protection the best lawyers could provide. The City Corporation waited a few years and then decided to use it as cheap land for social housing. The Cadbury family took them to court – and lost. I think was very bad faith by the City Corporation – though I do not think the Cadbury family should have been further enriched by getting the 10,000% profit from the conversion of farmland to development land.

  9. Robert Holden

    Dear Christine,
    Gezi Park is the property of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. It is the site of the Grand Artillery Barracks of 1806 which were damaged in the failed counter coup of 1909 and in 1921 were converted into a football stadium (Galatasaray, played there). To the north of the present park there was also the Pangaltı Armenian Cemetery, The stadium was demolished and the cemetery cleared in 1940, in accordance with the plans of the French townplanner Henri Prost. Prost had been commissioned by Kemal Atatürk to plan the development of Istanbul and had proposed a park of 30ha extending from Taksim Square down to the Bosphorus. This was not carried out in full, only the area near Taksim Square became public park, originally known as Inonu Esplanade and now as Gezi Park, and this was opened in 1943. Later parts of Gezi Park became sites for hotel buildings.
    There’s an article on Prost’s Istanbul Plan with an account of the 1940s development of Gezi Park by Bi̇rge Yildirim of Istanbul Technical University

  10. Christine

    Very interesting Robert thankyou!

    I am wondering what is the status of the heritage and town planning movement in Turkey? It would seem that the work of Prost and the involvement of Ataturk in the commissioning are significant facts for the identity of modern Turkey that ought to be taken into account in any proposals for redevelopment.

    Here is another paper on the work of Prost in Istanbul.[ ]

    Apparently the demolition of the Barracks was controversial at the time and remains controversial today. The reasons for this controversy may also be an important part of the contemporary development dialogue and protest?

  11. Robert Holden

    Dear All, Christine and Tom,

    The status of the heritage and town planning movement in Turkey: conservation is a big and growing area of historic monuments, including mosques, churches, military sites (e.g. the C19th forts around Edirne). The mayor of Istanbul,Kadir Topbaş, is a conservation architect so lots of fairly radical building conservation projects underway.

    The Ataturk revolution is associated with the CHP (Republican People’s Party) and the mildly Islamic AKP (Justice and Development Party) is not an enthusiast for the evidence of the Revolution and has been in power since 2002 so places such as Gezi Park is in rather rough shape or for instance the AKM Concert Hall in Taksim Square has lain derelict since 2008 when it closed for refurbishment.

    Current landscape design proposals for Taksim Meydani following last year’s pedestrianisation and major road tunnel construction are on
    The Istanbul Municipality on 5 February 2014 reported that this scheme was to go out to tender in March, and nothing later findable today on the Municipality’s website, see


    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Good news about the new emphasis on heritage. The issue of what is heritage and deserving of conservation is always a problem.
      The images of Taksim Meydani (both architecture and landscape) would make me think ‘where in world is this’ and I’m afraid the answer could be ‘anywhere’ or ‘everywhere’. I might have plumped for Croydon, UK.


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