Controversial zoning plan for Istanbul's islands sparks debate on cultural preservation

Controversial zoning plan for Istanbul's islands sparks debate on cultural preservation
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Islanders express concern over potential population surge and cultural deterioration.

by Osman Cakli

The July 28 decision by the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization, and Climate Change to halt the zoning plan for the Marmara Sea and Islands Special Environmental Protection Area has sparked a contentious debate over the preservation of cultural authenticity. In interviews, local islanders have expressed their concerns about the possibility of rapid population growth due to the zoning plan and its potential impact on the unique cultural identity of the islands, often referred to as the "last Istanbul. With the objection period for the suspended plan set to end on August 28, islanders are preparing to voice their dissent.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB) was stripped of its authority to draw up zoning plans for the islands following a presidential decision that downgraded them to nature reserves. However, the recently unveiled zoning plan for Buyukada (Pringkipo), Heybeliada (Halki), Burgazada (Antigoni), Kınalıada (Proti), and Sedef islands has been met with skepticism by the islanders. They claim that the proposed construction allowed by the plan could disrupt the cultural fabric of the islands. The plan allows more than one single-storey building in daily tourist zones, designed to be removable and built according to ecological urban design principles.

The islanders point out that the plan does not include a sewage treatment plant or a new health facility but provisions for 16 new and existing parks, several social and cultural facilities, service areas, infrastructure zones, sports areas, and an expanded cemetery area. Despite information meetings that initially indicated no need for these facilities, islanders concerned about the plan's implications are preparing to oppose it formally.

Tolga Aktas of the civil initiative Arka Guverte notes that the plan could lead to a rapid increase in population, possibly doubling the current population of around 16,000. He criticizes the focus on tourism and construction expansion, suggesting that the islands will be transformed into more consumable destinations like Yassıada (Plati). Aktaa emphasizes that this transformation threatens the unique cultural identity that makes the islands a preferred location for intellectuals, retirees, and diverse communities, earning them the nickname "the last Istanbul.

Buyukada-based artist and activist Necdet Kutlucan points out that the Adalar Municipality, the IBB, and the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization, and Climate Change approved the zoning plan. However, he claims this consensus doesn't reflect the islanders' concerns. Kutlucan is part of a growing group that believes the zoning plan could double the islands' population and is preparing to file an official objection.