The year 2006 saw the beginning of the first ever comprehensive plan to trace a long term strategic vision of Istanbul region as a whole. This grand vision would be cemented on principles of strategic management of resources, (nature reserves, freshwater catchment), decentralisation of activities to emphasize specialization and ease traffic congestion and a purpose of turning the city into a global service oriented capital, regionally linked to a industrial powerhouse in the Marmara region.

Then plan was thought to put an end to a chronic lack of coordination amongst different areas and agents within a city where up to 60% of the fabric is estimated to have been built in an informal / unofficial manner. This has lead to environmental problems, traffic chaos and social inequalities. The newly created Istanbul Metropolitan Planning Centre (IMP) was commissioned with the daunting task of bringing order to this situation, undertaking environmental studies, a marathonioan consultation process and estate of the art traffic modelling for the whole city.

The end of the three year planning process was marked by a much heated debate about the adequacy of the Third Bosphorous Bridge across the north. This project was heavily opposed by the IMP vision on the basis of the need to preserve the forest belts and water management in the periphery of Istanbul, which otherwise would be affected with new urbanisation brought by the bridge. The final proposals from IMP outlined a city functioning with the two existing bridges only.

Despite all the hype and local political support to the masterplan, the central government in Ankara delivered a lethal blow to the IMP unveiling the projects for the third bridge within months of the publication of the city wide masterplan in 2009. Out of the various options for locating this bridge (some of which were considered buy IMP), the project outlined the most damaging scenario of directing the highway straight into the northern forests. This led to the resignation of IMP director Huseyin Kaptan altogether with the team that supported the project. The bridge project served as a clear message to all of those who challenged the status quo of the development system within the city, controlled by government decisions and local “behind the scenes” deals.

As a consequence, all the logics underpinning the IMP masterplan have been eroded by a constant suspicion of top down operations arbitrarily dictated by construction companies or central government, such as the Kagithane tunnel, a multi million dollar project built over the course of one year without planning permission right at the centre of the city. On the other side of the spectrum, local authorities in rural areas such as Arnavutköy see themselves powerless in the face of developers who want to profit from increase accessibility potentially brought by the bridge to officially protected areas.

The polemics and consequences of the third bridge (if it ever gets to be built) are just one amongst many examples pointing to the problems of traditional planning techniques, which leave the logics and intelligence within the masterplan caught between national and local scales. At a national level, policies of hydraulic management, infrastructural upgrade and industrial development, mainly directed from Ankara, seem, at best, to be imposed on top of regional logics and, at worst, directly ignore them. From the bottom up, development dynamics ranging from the one-to-one family based “built overnight solution” to the gated community development of whole quarters, turn the “behind the scenes” deal making into an everyday phenomenon. To make matters worse, the localised logics of the mid size developers, resonate at a national governmental level through country wide housing institutions in socially dubious eviction projects, receiving strong contestation from the disadvantaged communities which these are meant to serve.

Business as usual reality seems to be appropriating any intelligence built into the IMP masterplan and distorting it beyond recognition. The problems of the masterplan seem to be linked to the own techniques that shaped this intelligence in such a way that, local deal making unchecked buy government could reign so easily. From a methodological perspective, it could be said that the representational techniques and recording mechanisms inherent in traditional masteplanning (fixed outlines, figure ground approach and limited typological understanding) may not be best suited to incorporate these local dynamic as a material for reading and / or tactical manipulation.

In other words, the aspirations and logics behind a potential deal which may take place between a local developer and landowner of a parcel within a protected area are, to put it simply, not incorporated in any document. Contemporary planning techniques, it could be argued for this case, depict an ideal frozen scenario that should be built, not an ideal mechanism or system to build territory. It is this systemic failure that can explain the fact that existing processes of city making do not relate to the idealized outcome depicted in the plans.

The situation opens up a series of questions about the type of documentation and representation techniques which may allow new mechanisms to incorporate physical, social and ecological processes into the spatial equation of the territory. The final goal would be to envisage a new spatial planning practices where the relations and processes which shape the environment are put in the forefront of the agenda and obtain pre-eminence within the larger picture of the documentation generated.

In order to critically address the situation in the terms outlined previously, the work of the Relational Urbanism Course is breaking up the complex interrelationships inherent in the existing plans for Arnavutköy into a series of key questions which can be handled within a single project.

The existing masterplan envisages the long term growth of Istanbul southwards along the Maramra Coast towards East and West, with areas north of Arnavutköy left as forested / limited agricultural use. This is done for ecological purposes as well as water management of Istanbul supply catchments and visual amenity. Land uses for Arnavutköy are therefore quite restrictive in terms of income generation with a substatial proportion of its territory covered by agriculture, forest, low density housing. This is likely to generate tensions and ultimately disobedience of the plan due to the stark contrast of land value when compared to more densely urbanised areas. The outcome of this process is likely to be a disjointed pattern with less overall value and, quite possibly, higher social inequality.
Can we think of parcelling system/landscape rearrangement that allows appreciation of housing stock to compensate lower yields of crop production? What would be the mechanism of this compensation and how would it empower those who nowadays have less? At what scale should it take place so that the landscape amenity is preserved in such a way that also plays in favour of land use value?

Land use and current parcelling situation generally locks development into almost pre arranged systems of typological and social outcomes. On the one hand, smaller plots, closer to the centre of Arnavutköy relate to lower income “built overnight”, “self help” densification process. On the other hand, larger plots in the outskirts are valuable assets for greater developers to build gated communities with a clear segregationist agenda. The result is a messy town centre which alienates middle classes with satellite refuges, where poor are screened out, but nevertheless enjoy the character of rural areas as a source of amenity.
Can parcelling / typological systems be achieved so that the spatial outcome provides quality open space, while making the most of existing nucleus / clusters in the outskirts of Arnavutköy? Can these parcelling systems become a hinge between commuting middle class and existing working class inhabitants in Arnavutköy?

Recently unveiled proposals for building the third bridge, altogether with the current upgrade of the D010 road north of Arnavutköy have created a great contradictions between those who claim validity of the logics behind the masterplan (preservation of nature, limitation of pollution of water basins) and those who, in the name of pragmatism, assume more development is to come. A common topic of these discussions seems to be an urgency to “draw a line on the sand” and generate a clear boundary which would avoid turning the much appreciated agricultural / forest landscape into an everlasting sprawl.
Forest, it has been argued, generates a sense of limit/boundary which seems to work within the Turkish popular imaginary as a way of “controlling” the built environment. The question for the designer would be how to think about an architectural intervention which would magnify this boundary effect, generating a strategy for delimiting the growth while making the most of the stark contrast of density between the built and unbuilt environment How can such a structure accommodate growth while serving as a hinge of negotiation between different owners / stakeholders present in the decision making related to urban growth?

IMP masterplan imposes limitations on land use for areas within water catchment areas, related primarily to the need to control pollutants entering the lakes used as water source. This creates tensions between those in already urban areas and those in agricultural ones, while does not necessarily address the overall source of nutrients and effective ways of controlling them. Moreover, agricultural uses are sometimes controlled as well as these can be a much stronger source of nutrients than urban areas.
Is it possible to forge alliances at the watershed level which manage nutrient content while allocating economic resources in such a way that does not fuel competitive development? Can the definition of watershed systems be the base of a spatial politics which empowers existing inhabitants in the process of negotiation inherent in the transformation of rural environment into semi urban ones?

Central government plans assume a move of industries currently within the fabric of Istanbul into cities around the Marmara Region. These plans assume that, while the population the city will remain the same, around 2,000,000 jobs will have to move out of Istanbul in the near future. In urban terms, this implies a displacement of blue collar workers, altogether with the removal of secondary jobs linked to subcontracting into smaller manufacturers within the urban fabric. Although it is commonly agreed that there needs to be a gradual shift of types of industries and relocation of some of these, there is a growing concern the impact of the policy of turning the city into a service hub may leave too many in the city out of the economic loop. These voices also add up to the sceptics of the “terciarisation per terciarisation's sake”, who think that it may simply not be possible to generate so much service sector employment to substitute manufacturing and that the physical distance between economic sectors may not be a good thing by itself
Is it possible to think about an urban fabric where the economic activities linked to cleaner industries coexist with other activities, avoiding the spatial segregation of beautified centres vs industrial estates? Would this fabric avoid future needs for gentrification / beautification of post industrial areas that were initially conceived as merely functional zones?