Thursday, January 31, 2013

Strolling Around Tarlabaşı

As I was saying in the last post, the Istanbul neighborhood Tarlabaşı has been receiving a lot of media attention because it's where Sarai Sierra, the New York woman who disappeared last week while traveling solo in Istanbul, stayed. A lot of American and British outlets have been reporting that she stayed in a hostel, but it seems like she rented a basement room in an apartment on Kömürcü Zeynel Street. I don't know specifically where that is in Tarlabaşı, so I can't say how run-down it actually is, but the general area has been described as "sketchy" by USA Today and others, and is generally considered to be crime-ridden by Turks. I noticed in the Turkish media's interview with the guy who rented her the room that the house across the street was just a shell, but interestingly, in the Airbnb reviews for places on the same street, no one mentions the quality (or lack of) of the neighborhood.

But at this point in time, Tarlabaşı is basically half-destroyed, all part of a scheme to seize the area from its poor inhabitants and make some rich people even richer. As urban scholar Yasar Adanali said in a New York Times article from July 2012, "This transformation plan doesn’t pay any attention to these social realities [that poor people live in Tarlabaşı for close access to jobs]. Why not create social programs to help these people? Instead, they just take Tarlabasi as a problem zone, a cancer area that you need to erase from the map and rebuild for a completely new clientele."

There's so much of this type of thing  happening in Turkey that it makes me ill. And yet, I feel conflicted about Tarlabaşı itself -- frankly, it's one of the last places in the city I'd want to live. We went there for a street art festival, and I felt a little nervous walking around, even though it was in the middle of the day. The area smells like piss, and within a minute of being there, we saw a prostitute and her client stumbling out of one of the abandoned buildings, only the first of a number of prostitutes we saw in an hour there. The area also has drug problems. So Tarlabaşı can't stay this way, something there has to change -- parts of Tarlabaşı currently look like 1945 Dresden -- but at the same time, you can't erase a neighborhood just because you don't like the types of people who live in it.

Tarlabaşı graffiti: In English, it reads, "We are not family."
Anyway, enough lecture...let's look at some photos. The street festival we went to had invited some 40 artists to add color to the run-down buildings with graffiti, but in general, Tarlabaşı already has a lot of street art, much of it commentary on what has happened to the neighborhood.

Street art festival
In Tarlabaşı

German street artist Pomes One with his newly painted swallow

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  1. Very interesting and sad on many levels. I hope your friends still come and visit you. Istanbul seems like amazing place. Great blog!

  2. I have become very fascinated with Tarlabsi since learning about it due to the very the very sad and mysterious story of Sarai Sierra's murder. Such an interesting history and once a thriving area, you can still see the beauty in the place and the beauty in the current residents faces too, especially the children's. I saw some pictures of the tower block developments on the outskirts of Istanbul that they want to move people to (if they can afford it, which seems doubtful), and that looks like it would be horrible and very isolating and could in turn end up being an even worse ghetto. Keep blogging, your posts and photos are very interesting.

    1. There's a really interesting documentary called Ekumenopolis that came out last year that delves into Istanbul's future -- and one of the points is about how crime will likely go up as they break up neighborhoods. It's on DVD now, if you can get your hands on a copy.

      (There's an article about the film here:


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