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Neslihan Demirtaş Milz (*)

Rapidly Transforming Cities, Spatial Layers and ‘Neighborhood’

Cities are transforming rapidly. In addition to many urban transformation projects carried out, the city is already an alive and dynamic space where transformation is inevitable. Especially the neoliberal economic policies that have been effective for the past 30 years and the role of cities, which have become more important in the changing global economic dynamics, have brought about many transformations. While the cities went through spatial and functional changes, the regions of cities also expanded and entered a relationship of dynamic competition and integration with other city-regions.


Throughout this process, while some urban spaces gained value in accordance with the urban development prioritized by the global capital and transformed rapidly, others either remained the same or transformed more slowly and spontaneously, independent of the acceleration of urban transformation. As documented by the photographs produced within the scope of 'Mahalle@İzmir', temporally heterogeneous socio-spatial layers assemble within the same space.


The reconsidered importance and economic value of city centers especially transformed the structure of several traditional neighborhoods, making their socio-economic structure and space more layered. On the other hand, the housing, industrial and service sectors that expanded towards the borders of the city both eliminated the dividing line between rural and urban and altered the relationship of the city and nature irreversibly. Throughout this whole process, urban and rural, manmade (second nature) and nature have intertwined as shown by Aslıhan Güçlü’s photographs of Çiğli and Koray Akkanat’s photographs of Gaziemir.


So, what has happened to the neighborhood during this transformation? If we define the neighborhood sociologically as a space and community where there is familiarity, friendship, solidarity, common interests and a shared fate, how possible is it for the ‘neighborhood’ to exist in this process?


During this process, urban, neglected, disrupted, low-income neighborhoods welcomed large numbers of immigrants from both urban and rural areas. Immigrants preferred these neighborhoods due to the favorable housing prices and rents in parallel with their deteriorating living conditions. Living conditions and the increasing presence of ‘foreigners’ resulted in rapid disintegration of social relations in these neighborhoods that have become multilayered immigrant areas. While the ‘native’ neighborhood residents who know each other well maintained their neighborly habits in their own micro-spaces, social relations have come to contain distrust, insecurity and fragility.


On the other hand, those who had to leave the squatters that they lived in due to urban transformation projects, settled in either urban low-income areas or vertical TOKİ residences on the periphery of the city. Vertical spaces couldn’t enable them to maintain their social relations and practices dependent on horizontal architecture and space. They carried chairs to TOKİ car park and spent time there together; or they called each other from their balconies and chat. People created their own micro-spaces as documented by Sinan Kılıç’s photographs of Yeşilyurt. ‘Neighborhood’ lost its power again in this process… 


Some old poor neighborhoods became gentrified due to their historical structures. People belonging to upper and upper middle classes gradually found their way into these neighborhoods by renovating these houses. So, what happened to the ‘native’ neighborhood residents? Due to the increasing rent and housing prices they had to leave their neighborhood out of necessity. In other words, the neighborhoods were passed into other hands: either quickly or slowly…


What is it like to be a resident in lower middle- and middle-class spaces, for example old neighborhoods such as Karataş? They are mostly transformed by migration from the city but it's a relatively slower transformation compared to the transformation of other places. When the transformation is slow, the continuity of social relations is in question. While the old neighbors maintain their relationships, they are prejudiced against the newcomers, possibly ‘foreigners’.


What is the situation like in the ever-increasing number of gated communities in suburban areas created by upper class members who wanted and could afford to get away from the chaos of the city and be in nature? Can we call them neighborhoods? Can we classify them as neighborhoods even though most of them are shaped in line with horizontal architecture? Research has shown that upper class members like to live amongst people belonging in the same socio-economic group as them. Both social affinity and sense of security attracts them to luxury housing and gated communities.


So, what kind of a state of urbanity does this social segregation lead to? A state of urbanity where public spaces are segregated and disconnected on a vast scale, in parallel with socio-economic differences in residential areas… Therefore, it’s essential to have urban public spaces such as Kemeraltı, Kıbrıs Şehitleri, Konak Square and Karşıyaka Market where people belonging in different social classes can still coexist. But they too seem to be under serious threat with the ever-increasing number of luxurious shopping malls as a result of neoliberal policies. 


Coast sides where everyone gathers are also of great importance as documented in Gözde Yenipazarlı’s photographs of Bostanlı, and Esin İlmen and Oluş Beklemez’s photographs of Karantina. They are the spaces that will make the social relations that are weakened by vertical architecture, as strong as possible. In addition, as displayed in Sinan Kılıç’s photographs of Yeşilyurt, people who are suffocated and overwhelmed by urban spaces, these places as re-worked nature can provide some form of emancipation. 


The COVID-19 pandemic that affects us all today imprisons us in our homes and increases the impact of social segregation on the one hand, and on the other, it makes us re-question the relationship between humans and nature. May this pandemic have a positive impact in terms of making people question their relationship with second nature, especially vertical architecture, even though the predictions about the future are pessimistic? For instance, democratic and participatory public spaces in parallel with the right to the city... Or a more sustainable relationship between nature and city… Or a mutualistic relationship between country and city... We’ll see.

(*) Assoc. Prof. Dr., İzmir Kâtip Çelebi University Department of Political Science and Public Administration

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