That noise on the horizon ?

Tarlabaşı is a ramshackle neighborhood in the heart of Istanbul’s European side. It hasn’t always been. Formerly, this cosmopolitan neighborhood -its residents were predominantly Greeks and Armenians – was one of Istanbul’s nicest ones. A dramatic series of events from 1942 to 1974 resulted in almost all of these residents fleeing or being forced to leave. And Tarlabaşı began its uninterrupted slide into pauperization.

The greatest offense of its current residents – Kurdish families from the Southeast, prostitutes, transgender women, Roma, Syrian refugees – is that they are too poor, too unsightly for a neighborhood off Taksim Square and sought after by the public authorities allied with real-estate developers attracted by hefty profits.

Tarlabaşı, where over time “had taken refuge those who had been chewed up and spit out [by life] and who struggled to keep on their feet”, as writes the novelist Ahmet Ümit, is being drastically remodeled by “Tarlabaşı 360”. This highly-controversial urban renewal project is an eloquent illustration of the gentrification process. How it radically modifies the urban fabric and the human fabric of a city. Pack its unsavory and disenfranchised residents off to the fringes of Istanbul. Build the “New Tarlabaşı” for the affluent and the tourists. No social housing in “Tarlabaşı 360”.

The first phase (an area of 20,000 sq.m.) has turned this section of Tarlabaşı into a ghost town. Since 2012, buildings in ruin, haloed in their poignant, bygone glory, fill the construction site. These ruins are haunted by prostitutes and small-time drug dealers to conceal their activities and by the most destitute Syrian refugees desperate for any kind of shelter. The site is surrounded by a high, corrugated metal fence sprayed with numerous graffiti. These cries from the hearts of residents contrast sharply with the advertising slogans vaunting the “New Tarlabaşı”.

At night in Tarlabaşı, young shadows glide along the fencing or in the deeper shadows of decrepit buildings. On Tarlabaşı Boulevard, awash in gaudy colors, the transgender female prostitutes are at their assigned spots, surrounded by the cacophony of traffic and masculine stares.

“That noise on the horizon?” is not finished. There’s a desire to continue documenting the transformations to the neighborhood and to people’s lives. I’ve become attached to this difficult neighborhood and to these “people who struggle to remain on their feet”. Yet awareness that my work will not keep all the Şilan, Masum, Emre, Şeref, Özge, İrfan, Engin, Gül from falling victims to gentrification is disheartening. Wanting to cast light on those that Modernity leaves by the wayside is a means of protest perhaps as ineffectual as graffiti.

Frances Dal Chele