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Planning, Power, Politics: Urban Redevelopment in Istanbul


This study examines how local power structures have influenced the politics of planning and decision-making in urban redevelopment projects in Istanbul. The theoretical motive for choosing this topic stems from the small number of empirical work that examines the interplay of power and politics in planning practice, relative to the recognized importance of these factors. Examination of the wide array of questions surrounding planning, power, and politics and the challenges of participatory planning in the context of Istanbul proves rewarding in this respect. On the one hand, as in most developing nations, pluralistic planning processes face significant obstacles in Turkey, such as excessively top-down traditions, lack of accountability on the part of the public sector in establishing public-private partnerships, absence of measures to encourage meaningful citizen participation, and tendency of groups who hold legal, political and financial powers to influence public agencies for their own benefit. On the other hand, Istanbul faces the added problems of earthquake threat and mitigation, illegal settlements, excessive population and building densities, and the resulting safety concerns, all of which call for urgent redevelopment measures.

To address the questions related to the above problems and motives, the study conducted in-depth interviews with well-informed stakeholders from different actor groups (i.e. planners, local and central government officials, residents, community advocates, and planning faculty of local universities) who influenced the decision-making in two pioneering redevelopment projects in Istanbul, Ayazma-Tepeustu and Sumer. By using participant observation and triangulation methods, the analysis allowed for comparison within and between different groups of actors as well as comparison of the two projects. Supporting secondary data included archival documents, such as physical and socioeconomic analyses of case areas, project contracts, maps, plans, reports and media accounts.

The study revealed that the involvement and influence of stakeholders in the two case areas were framed by the existing national legislative and political setting and the search for financial profit on the public and private actors’ side, which tended to ignore or weaken local community involvement and marginalized the less powerful actors. Nevertheless, the two cases also showed differences in the means of community organizing and had different outcomes in regards to population displacement. Overall, it is argued that the inclusion of communities and non-public actors in planning and management has the political function of acting against marginalization by giving these groups access to decision-making, by empowering them, and by making interventions more appropriate to local needs, resources and opportunities. Balanced power relations, equality, social justice and democratic forums are important components of participatory redevelopment processes, and can contribute to the betterment of the planning profession.

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