How Istanbul’s Tatavla neighborhood looked in its early years can be guessed from the translation of its name: stable. But today the rural beginnings of the Istanbul neighborhood and the Greek culture from which its name comes, have largely disappeared. Rapid urban growth and social upheaval took their toll over the 20th century, and today’s unbridled real estate boom in Istanbul — now the world’s fifth largest city — threatens to destroy the remains of Tatavla’s unique heritage.
Recent urban renewal projects are expelling residents from the area and erasing its social and architectural memory.
Urban development in Istanbul happens without citizen involvement, and there is currently no historic preservation policy – a critical omission in the Tatavla district, which has a long and rich multicultural history. Team Istanbul sought to increase citizen access to memory and cultural heritage and promote their participation in urban development on a neighborhood level.
How can citizens preserve heritage in a rapidly changing city?
Team Istanbul focused on recording oral histories and mapping the original Greek and Armenian characteristics of the district using archival data. Student interviewers collected stories from day-to-day life and documented changes in the built environment into a “map of remembrance.” To make their findings publicly accessible, the team created an exhibition and a website bringing together transcriptions of the oral histories, historic photos, maps and newspaper clippings. The database used for architectural documentation is available to researchers.
During a time of upheaval in Istanbul, the project moved forward thanks to organizers’ determination.
Team Istanbul faced numerous challenges to completing their project. Members left the team, data was lost, and terrorist attacks, an attempted coup and political turmoil affected their careers and their lives. Many of the student volunteers fled the city. And yet, the team not only completed their project, but they have extended it – recently collaborating with Actors in Athens to bring the exhibition to the region where the Greek residents of Tatavla were relocated. The project has spoken not just to the experience of this neighborhood but to the migration and belonging stories of so many Europeans for whom urban change sparks questions of heritage, and whose cities are co-shaped and enriched by diverse inhabitants living together.