PAUL BENJAMIN – Fikirtepe anxious over uncertainty of neighborhood redevelopments

Fikirtepe anxious over uncertainty of neighborhood redevelopmentsResidents of the lower-income Fikirtepe neighborhood are wondering if the new, ultramodern homes they have been promised by construction companies will ever be built. Homeowners in the neighborhood have been selling their flats like hotcakes to a number of construction companies that are planning on building luxury high-rises in the area. In exchange, the owners of the mostly modest, aging apartments will — or at least, are supposed to — receive valuable flats in the chic buildings.Adnan, an affable 50-year-old who has lived in the area his entire life, is among the more than 90 percent of 237 deed-holders in one tract of the neighborhood who have signed an agreement with construction firm TaI YapI allowing their homes to be demolished in exchange for temporary rent assistance and a yet-to-be built apartment in the new development. And while Adnan’s home was torn down nearly a year ago, demolitions cannot be completed because 16 homeowners have still not yet signed away the rights to their properties, and new construction cannot be started.“The doctor said I have stress-induced eczema,” said Adnan, rolling up his sleeve to reveal an armful of cracked, red lesions as he spoke with Today’s Zaman. His frustration and anxiety stems from the lack of certainty that has plagued the redevelopment projects, resulting from alterations in the zoning plan, temporary halts and residents’ refusals to sign.Fikirtepe, located in the KadIky district on the Asian side of Istanbul, is a working-class neighborhood with a high percentage of informally built houses, multi-floor buildings and shabby but charming single-story homes with gardens on sleepy, tree-lined streets. The area has a bad reputation among Istanbulites as a dangerous, crime-ridden quarter, but these perceptions are unjustified, according to several long-time residents. “When we would go to other parts of KadIky, we didn’t say we were from Fikirtepe,” said one neighborhood barber who has lived there since 1978. He added that while there once were violent exchanges between left- and right-wing groups, such conflicts ended in the ’80s and the area is safe, although he claimed that “glue-sniffers” had begun to take shelter in vacant, partially demolished buildings.The negative perceptions of Fikirtepe likely stem from its rickety housing stock and high percentage of poor residents, which also made the area desirable for developers who seek to benefit from the aantageous location near the center of KadIky. In 2010, Istanbul Mayor Kadir TopbaI announced that Fikirtepe would be the site of a major urban transformation initiative. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality released zoning plans the following year, covering an area greater than 1 million square meters. Thirty different construction companies began drafting individual projects and making offers to residents shortly thereafter.However, in May of 2013, after demolitions had been ongoing for more than two years, they were suddenly halted by the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, which declared the project zone to be an area at risk for natural disasters. By August, the zoning plan was revised and subsequently approved by the ministry.On the website for a project being undertaken by NuhoIlu InIaat, digital images of glimmering, futuristic buildings with massive windows featuring views of the Marmara Sea are being marketed toward “individuals who fall in A+ and A socioeconomic groups.”“There will be no one left [in the neighborhood] from amongst the original owners,” Adnan said, pointing out that the consensus among his peers was that most Fikirtepe residents who had signed agreements did not plan on living in their luxurious new condos. They instead are planning to sell and move elsewhere. He claimed that prices for 45-square-meter studio apartments in the future developments start at nearly TL 400,000.“This area has seen a great deal of sociological trauma,” said the muhtar (local headman) of one of the quarters within the boundaries of the greater Fikirtepe area. The muhtar said that 5,000 apartments have been demolished to date. Many of those who owned flats in the area signed them away to construction companies and moved to different neighborhoods on the Asian side of Istanbul, but they later returned and rented flats in and around the Fikirtepe area so that their children could attend the same schools, he said.“The problem with these projects is that they lacked a legal infrastructure from the beginning. We learned about them as they developed,” the muhtar said. He noted that out of the 30 companies pursuing projects in the area, only one, Anka YapI, had actually been able to begin new construction.A variety of current urban projects in Istanbul, ranging from municipality-led neighborhood gentrification, public transit extensions, a massive third airport and a third Bosporus bridge have been extensively criticized for the hasty manner in which they have been proposed and approved and the disregard for environmental and social concerns on the part of the authorities. The Fikirtepe demolitions exhibit such hastiness, insofar as the demolitions of many tracts, such as the one where Adnan used to live, began before agreements were reached with every owner.Adnan, whom Today’s Zaman met in the muhtar’s office, clutched in his hands a notice from the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning that he intended to distribute to the 16 deed-holders who had not yet signed away the rights to their property. The notice says that they will be forced to vacate their property within 30 days.He received six months of rent and utility assistance after his building was demolished, and he believes that TaI YapI should extend the subsidies in light of the project delays. But he is worried that his deal with the company may go sour and that he won’t get his new flat if he applies too much legal pressure.Showing Today’s Zaman his partially demolished former home, lying in ruins on a Fikirtepe hillside, Adnan also took Today’s Zaman to a nearby project area overseen by VartaI Insaat. Behind a fence of corrugated metal, the area had been completely leveled except for a lone building sitting atop a hill in the midst of a cleared-out tract. The owner was refusing to sell in an attempt to extract the most aantageous deal with VartaI, according to Adnan, who said that the company was currently paying the rent of 500 former residents of the tract since it was unable to move forward with new construction.“This was where we used to play when I was child. There used to be fig and plum trees around here,” Adnan, a Fikirtepe resident for more than a half-century, said with a smile, pointing to an area nearby his former home alongside a stretch of half-torn-down buildings. No one was in sight except for a man with a cart rummaging for recyclables amidst the wreckage.

SOURCE: Todays Zaman