PAUL BENJAMIN – Istanbul’s beloved BeIiktaI in danger of losing its charm

Istanbul’s beloved BeIiktaI in danger of losing its charmThe central neighborhoods of Istanbuland#39s BeIiktaI district are prized for their unpretentious character, where students, tradesmen, soccer hooligans and white-collar professionals brush shoulders while shuffling through the narrow, packed streets, stopping to snack on cheap fish sandwiches or sip tea over a game of backgammon.But as property values and rental prices continue to swell like a balloon throughout the cityand#39s coveted central districts, BeIiktaI and its honest, energetic spirit may soon be stifled.

BeIiktaI is already flanked by pricy, upmarket areas to the north such as DikilitaI and NiIantaII — one of Istanbuland#39s most luxurious quarters, where Gucci and Prada stores line the streets. Now, a new luxury hotel on the Bosporus and planned city projects to the south of central BeIiktaI have created concerns for local activists.

The dead center of BeIiktaI — known popularly among locals as arII (marketplace), which shares a name with the infamous, anti-establishment support group of the BeIiktaI football club — is a neighborhood of streets named after Iairler (poets) and Iehitler (martyrs). It retains a soulful, down-to-earth atmosphere that has been slightly betrayed by an inundation of high-priced coffee shops and restaurants.

Major urban projects could result in a more radical transformation.It was announced toward the end of last year that the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB) and the BeIiktaI Municipality intend to devise a pedestrianization project for BeIiktaI Square, redirecting significant traffic from Barbaros Boulevard underground.

A related project aims to pedestrianize the nearby Ilhamurdere Street, demolishing buildings to make way for a square with an underground parking lot.Though BeIiktaI Mayor Murat Hazinedar claimed at the end of last year that the majority of area residents are in favor of the plans, the projects have ruffled more than a few feathers, resulting in the formation of the BeIiktaI City Solidarity group.

andldquoBeIiktaI is one of the districts that are trying to preserve neighborhood culture and the original identity of Istanbuland#39s city center,andrdquo the group said in a statement released last month. andldquoIn recent years, this countryand#39s urban areas, nature, water resources and living spaces have been threatened by projects that seek to pillage and plunder, and this time such a project is being prepared for BeIiktaI.

The IBB and Hazinedarand#39s collectively planned urban transformation project, andlsquoRising BeIiktaI,and#39 will result in the neighborhood no longer being a livable place for its residents,andrdquo it continued.Meanwhile, the group has posted a flurry of flyers throughout arII, reading andldquoDonand#39t touch my neighborhood,andrdquo andldquoDonand#39t touch my parkandrdquo and andldquoDonand#39t touch my shopkeepers.

andrdquoResidents and small-business owners alike have already started to complain about rising rents, said AbbasaIa neighborhood head Yuksel SaIat, speaking to Todayand#39s Zaman over the phone.andldquoIand#39ve noticed a very sharp rise in the prices, especially over the last year,andrdquo said 28-year-old lecturer Ezgi YalIn, a four-year area resident.

andldquoIt was not a cheap area to live before, but recently many cafes and restaurants have popped up. The profile of the neighbors has also changed.

I see more bourgeois people around. They seem like they are engaged in artistic occupations and they pay tons of money for organic coffee and sourdough artisan bread,andrdquo YalIn told Todayand#39s Zaman.

BeIiktaIand#39s center is packed with unsuspecting gems. Wrapped around its iconic fish market are pockets of restaurant-lined hidden alleys that come alive on weekend evenings.

On the right-hand side of the market is the well-concealed Panagia Orthodox Church, built in 1833. Immediately across from thIs is a grizzled yet noble building sprouting weeds from its cracks, with an inscription of the year in which it was built, 1903, above the doorway.

The Buyuk BeIiktaI arIIsI and SinanpaIa II Merkezi are what could be considered proto-malls, at least for Istanbul. Built after the evolution of the mall but before that concept was replicated dozens of times throughout Istanbul, these places have an unmistakably andlsquo80s feel and feature an eclectic selection of small shops.

SinanpaIa II Merkezi even features a bowling alley in the basement and a Filipino grocery store.Just past the most prominent of the areaand#39s several eagle statues is a famous dner stand that is known for its long lines stretching around the block.

Many claim it is the best in the city. Directly across used to be Pando Iestakof breakfast shop, a tiny cafandeacute specializing in kaymak, a slightly sweet cream made from buffaloand#39s milk.

Following in the footsteps of his father, who opened the place in 1985, the 92-year-old Iestakof had ran the BeIiktaI institution for decades before the owner of the 19th-century building evicted him last year on the grounds that the aging building needed restoration.As urban transformation projects in Istanbul are frequently conducted on a sweeping scale, with broad and drastic infrastructural changes, BeIiktaI City Solidarity has a right to be concerned about the consequences of the projects planned in the neighborhood they have vowed to defend.

At present, a more gradual cycle of gentrification has already created a noticeable shift in the types of establishments in the center of BeIiktaI and has certainly impacted rental prices.andldquoI feel like this change has affected the area both negatively and positively.

The separation between people has become very clear Itand#39s good to have diversity of places and people, but in BeIiktaI it seems like this diversity stems from class differences,andrdquo said YalIn.As urban transformation projects that include massive parking lots frequently end up serving the interests of wealthy developers and andldquoidealandrdquo future residents, the andldquoRising BeIiktaIandrdquo project could mean nothing more than rising property values along with the rising height of luxury apartments, towering over the humble, beloved Istanbul neighborhood.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman