Com­mu­nity sup­port in mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods: the case of Tar­labaşı, By Ngalula Beatrice Kabu­taka­pua


Ur­ban­iza­tion and mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods are in­creas­ingly un­der the spotlight. As highly di­verse ar­eas, mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods have to ac­com­mo­date dif­fer­ent cul­tures, some­times com­ing to­gether ran­domly and con­sist­ing al­most ex­clu­sively of lower-in­come fam­i­lies and those with a need for cheaper ac­com­mo­da­tion. This pa­per in­ves­ti­gates the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween the ur­ban de­vel­op­ment of mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods and the so­cial in­ter­ac­tions of mi­grants re­sid­ing in them A mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hood is de­fined as an area(s) in an ur­ban space or city where the ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents are from coun­tries other than the one in which they re­side. 1 Mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods are partly the re­sults of in­ter­na­tional mi­gra­tion, but are also of in­ter­nal mi­gra­tion and refugee flows. Of­ten­times, they are cheaper ar­eas of cities with lower ac­com­mo­da­tion prices and in some cases suf­fer from media mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion and un­der­val­u­a­tion, com­pared to the rest of the city.

It is a com­mon belief that mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods are the re­sults of re­cent mi­gra­tion flows, but their history dates back at least to Ro­man times. When Rome was a small city, An­cus Mar­cius, the leg­endary fourth king of Rome, en­cour­aged the set­tle­ment of res­i­dents from con­quered ar­eas to boost the pop­u­la­tion. These peo­ple were placed on one of the seven hills of the city, the Aven­tine, im­me­di­ately out­side the walls of the in­ner city. These pop­u­la­tions were not nec­es­sar­ily from ar­eas out­side Europe but were of­ten res­i­dents of the wider re­gion that now hosts the city of Rome, Lazio. De­spite the prox­im­ity, the cul­tures, re­li­gions and be­liefs of the new Ro­man res­i­dents were dif­fer­ent from those of the pre­vi­ous cit­i­zens of the cap­i­tal and this led to the con­struc­tion of many ed­i­fices that did not rep­re­sent lo­cal re­li­gions, mak­ing the Aven­tine one of the world’s first mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods. 2

Peo­ple liv­ing in the Aven­tine area were largely ig­nored by the in­ner city of Rome and of­ten lived in poverty, with very few ser­vices ded­i­cated to them. The only rea­son they had been in­vited to the city was to in­crease the num­ber of res­i­dents of the city of Rome, and so they were ig­nored in ur­ban plan­ning and suf­fered from prej­u­di­cial at­ti­tudes.

Dis­ap­point­ingly, many present-day mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods are af­flicted by and as­so­ci­ated with poverty, in­equal­ity and high crime rates. How­ever, field re­search con­ducted be­tween 2010 and 2014 in Europe and the US re­vealed that in some in­stances, mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods have fur­ther com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tics. In Europe, the ar­eas in­ves­ti­gated were Bute­town in Cardiff (UK), Grøn­land in Oslo (Nor­way), San Sal­vario in Turin (Italy) and Tar­labaşı in İs­tan­bul. All of these mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods are in­hab­ited by eth­nic mi­nori­ties and for­eign­ers with lower in­comes; all of them are po­si­tioned very close to the cen­tral and tourist friendly spots of the

city; and all cases have a con­stantly neg­a­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the media and suf­fer from ur­ban iso­la­tion. These neigh­bor­hoods can­not be con­sid­ered ghet­tos be­cause no gov­ern­ment or so­cial in­sti­tu­tion has forced the res­i­dents to live in a spe­cific place; rather, the ur­ban plan­ning of each city has un­in­ten­tion­ally forced peo­ple from dif­fer­ent coun­tries to live in the same area. Ac­cord­ingly, these neigh­bor­hoods are some­times re­ferred to as “eth­nic en­claves,” con­sid­ered an up­graded and pos­i­tive ver­sion of the “ghetto.” Such ar­eas are of­ten thought to be as dan­ger­ous and home to crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, and the ac­tive com­mu­ni­ties in­side them are regularly left out of the ad­min­is­tra­tive con­ver­sa­tion.

Ex­am­ples of how this has neg­a­tively af­fected com­mu­ni­ties can be found both in Europe and the US (where a dis­tinc­tion is made be­tween “ghet­tos,” “eth­nic en­claves” and “seg­re­gated com­mu­ni­ties”). Signs of the im­pact of ur­ban de­vel­op­ment im­posed with­out con­sult­ing the af­fected com­mu­nity can be

Many present-day mul­tic ult ural neigh­bor­hoods are aflicted by and as­so­ciate d with povert y, in­equal­ity and high crime rate s

found in the neigh­bor­hoods of Tar­labaşı in İs­tan­bul, Bute­town in Cardiff and Har­lem in New York. These three neigh­bor­hoods, si­t­u­ated in very dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the world, have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics and are af­fected by dif­fer­ent economies and poli­cies, yet at the same time ex­pe­ri­ence re­mark­ably sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances.

Bute­town has his­tor­i­cally been the mul­ti­cul­tural area of Cardiff, the cap­i­tal of Wales. Since 1800, sailors ar­riv­ing at Cardiff har­bor would stop in Bute­town, of­ten for a brief pe­riod, but some­times for life. The area was one of the poor­est of the city not only in terms of in­come and rent but also for ser­vices. It was the Mar­quess of Bute who first re­de­vel­oped the neigh­bor­hood and trans­formed it into a more func­tional space, lead­ing to a re­duced crime rate. Cur­rently, the neigh­bor­hood is in­hab­ited by first- and sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion mi­grants from all over the world, such as Palestine, China, So­ma­lia, Su­dan and the West Indies. Although cen­turies have passed

since it de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for crime, Bute­town is still con­sid­ered a dan­ger­ous place by res­i­dents of other ar­eas of Cardiff. 3 How­ever, Bute­town has a vi­brant com­mu­nity that or­ga­nizes fes­ti­vals, car­ni­vals and the­atri­cal, which fa­vor in­clu­sion.

Har­lem in New York is his­tor­i­cally an AfricanAmer­i­can area that has suf­fered in terms of ris­ing rent prices, seem­ingly since for­mer US Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton de­cided open the of­fi­cial of­fice of his Clin­ton Foun­da­tion in Har­lem in 2001 -- in only two years, the price of rents near the of­fice dou­bled and many wealth­ier peo­ple moved into the area, at­tracted by gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives and the cen­tral lo­ca­tion of the neigh­bor­hood. Many pre­vi­ous res­i­dents were sub­se­quently forced to move to the Bronx. 4

Tar­labaşı, a mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hood of İs­tan­bul, is just 300 me­ters from İstik­lal Street, the main touris­tic street in İs­tan­bul. It is now of­ten de­scribed as a varoş or “slum,” and has a rep­u­ta­tion as an area with a high crime rate. The history of Tar­labaşı dates back to 1535, when non-Mus­lim diplo­mats set­tled in the area. Since then, the neigh­bor­hood was tra­di­tion­ally the home of non-Mus­lim res­i­dents, es­pe­cially Greeks and Ar­me­ni­ans. They were of­ten crafts­men who served the wealthy diplo­mats in İstik­lal Street, which was called Cadde-i Ke­bir dur­ing the Ot­toman pe­riod. Fol­low­ing the im­po­si­tion of a heavy wealth tax on nonMus­lims in 1942, many crafts­man who lived in Tar­labaşı were forced to go to jail or lost their in­come. It was not un­til the 1950s and 1960s that the area be­came pop­u­lated with poorer Turks and Kur­dish and Roma mi­grant work­ers, and even­tu­ally with mi­grants from for­eign coun­tries. In Tar­labaşı, new mi­grants have of­ten been mi­nor shop­keep­ers.

Tar­labaşı is cur­rently the run-down home of West African mi­grants, Kurds, Syr­i­ans and Turks. In the last 30 years it has been re­de­vel­oped more than once. The latest re­de­vel­op­ment plan was an­nounced in 2006 and ad­ver­tised again dur­ing the 2014 lo­cal elec­tions. Some of the res­i­dents of Tar­labaşı have protested re­cently against the gov­ern­ment’s plan to re­de­velop the neigh­bor­hood. One of the as­so­ci­a­tions op­posed to the re­de­vel­op­ment plan is the Prop­erty Own­ers and So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Ten­ant Aid As­so­ci­a­tion of Tar­labaşı, which re­ceived a let­ter from the United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNESCO) in 2010 shar­ing their con­cern about the re­newal pro­ject for Tar­labaşı: For your in­for­ma­tion, the Tar­labasi dis­trict is not lo­cated within the World her­itage prop­erty of ‘His­tor­i­cal Area of Is­tan­bul’. How­ever, we are well aware of Law 5366 for the Preser­va­tion by Ren­o­va­tion and Uti­liza­tion by Re­vi­tal­iza­tion of De­te­ri­o­rated Im­mov­able His­tor­i­cal and Cul­tural Prop­er­ties”, which has been of con­cern for the World Her­itage Com­mit­tee and there­fore dis­cussed at its 32nd, 33rd, and 34th ses­sions, as well as by the re­cent re­ac­tive mon­i­tor­ing mis­sions to Is­tan­bul, re­quested by this Com­mit­tee. We there­fore share your con­cern on the pos­si­ble ad­verse im­pacts of this law on the con­ver­sa­tion of his­toric her­itage. There­fore, we are trans­fer­ring your let­ter to the rel­e­vant na­tional author­i­ties, in par­tic­u­lar to the Per­ma­nent Del­e­ga­tion of Tur­key of UNESCO, for their con­sid­er­a­tion as well as to the Ad­vi­sory Body of the World Her­itage Com­mit­tee, ICO­MOS In­ter­na­tional, for in­for­ma­tion. 5

The cur­rent re­de­vel­op­ment plan in­cludes the re­lo­ca­tion of the res­i­dents of Tar­labaşı to other ar­eas of this city. Res­i­dents have com­plained that this would re­sult in the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the com­mu­nity and en­able a process of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, sim­i­lar to that which af­fected Har­lem.

Ur­ban re­de­vel­op­ment is of­ten the “so­lu­tion” im­ple­mented to up­grade mul­ti­cul­tural, low-in­come neigh­bor­hoods. How­ever, it is of­ten con­ducted with­out ne­go­ti­a­tions with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties or their rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Turk­ish ar­chi­tect Boğaçhan Dün­dar­alp has said that peo­ple work­ing on the re­de­vel­op­ment plans for Tar­labaşı are “re­spect­ful and sen­si­ble” and that the ar­gu­ment that the plans are de­stroy­ing a com­mu­nity have no grounds, since the com­mu­nity is not orig­i­nally from Tar­labaşı to be­gin with and so no his­tor­i­cal bonds are be­ing de­stroyed.

De­spite not be­ing orig­i­nally from the area, the cur­rent res­i­dents of the neigh­bor­hood have cre­ated a com­mu­nity, con­tacts, friends and as­so­ci­a­tions, in ad­di­tion to busi­nesses. Un­der the re­de­vel­op­ment plan, this way of life will be taken to another site of the city likely to be as di­lap­i­dated as the pre­vi­ous one, so for the

Signs of the im­pact of ur­ban de­vel­op­ment im­posed with­out con­sultin g the afecte d com­mu­nity can be found in the neigh­bor­hoods of Tar­labaşı in İs­tan­bul

res­i­dents, it does not rep­re­sent an im­prove­ment.

Ur­ban re­de­vel­op­ment has a high im­pact on neigh­bor­hoods, their his­to­ries and their res­i­dents, whether ac­knowl­edged or not. In terms of the fi­nan­cial ef­fect, it be­comes more lu­cra­tive for such cen­tral neigh­bor­hoods to be­come home to ex­pen­sive busi­nesses and homes that charge much higher rents. When done with­out the col­lab­o­ra­tion of the res­i­dents, such plans are dam­ag­ing for the com­mu­nity and its re­la­tion­ship with the gov­ern­ment.

Dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods are pos­si­ble. The piv­otal points for a suc­cess­ful im­prove­ment of a neigh­bor­hood can be summed up as in­volv­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the com­mu­nity, the preser­va­tion of the history of the area, so­cial in­clu­sion and a bet­ter media dis­course. Be­low are some ex­am­ples and rec­om­men­da­tions that could ap­ply to Tar­labaşı as well as other sim­i­larly af­fected neigh­bor­hoods.

A Fin­nish NGO started a pro­ject called Qu­tomo in 2012. Qu­tomo is an or­ga­ni­za­tion made up of co­op­er­a­tion fo­rums that have par­tic­i­pated with lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tions, form­ing a com­mu­nity of di­verse neigh­bor­hoods. It seeks to pre­vent de­ci­sions af­fect­ing a neigh­bor­hood that do not in­clude the com­mu­nity. A mem­ber of each com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pates in each meet­ing and brings up the is­sues and ideas of his or her group.

In Barcelona, Spain, since the 1990s, there has been a coun­cil that lis­tens to the needs and prob­lems of mi­grants. In ad­di­tion to this, a work­ing group on refugees and for­eign na­tion­als is also ac­tive. Given the high num­ber of aca­demics study­ing for­eign na­tion­als and mi­gra­tion is­sues in Tur­key, this could well be a sen­si­ble route to take to im­prove the reg­u­la­tions af­fect­ing mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods.

In terms of media cov­er­age, it would be ex­tremely help­ful to work with lo­cal as­so­ci­a­tions to re­de­fine the im­age of a neigh­bor­hood such as Tar­labaşı. Such NGOs could even act as in­ter­me­di­aries with the media to con­vey a dif­fer­ent im­age of the area. In Italy, the as­so­ci­a­tion Carta di Roma was cre­ated in the 2000s to act as a watchdog for the media when re­fer­ring to mi­grants and for­eign na­tion­als. This is mostly used to pre­vent the use of de­grad­ing or bi­ased lan­guage based on un­ver­i­fied in­for­ma­tion.

The process of im­prov­ing mul­ti­cul­tural neigh­bor­hoods re­quires mul­ti­ple ac­tors, such as the com­mu­nity, the gov­ern­ment and the media. These groups can­not suc­cess­fully work in­de­pen­dently to bet­ter the neigh­bor­hood; rather, col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­mon de­ci­sion-mak­ing on is­sues re­lated to ur­ban de­vel­op­ment is the key to suc­cess.

Tar­labaşı is cur­rently the run-down home of West African mi­grants, Kurds, Syr­i­ans and Turks


Tar­labaşı is a di­verse neigh­bor­hood in cen­tral İs­tan­bul.


Tar­labaşı is cur­rently the run-down home of West African mi­grants, Kurds, Syr­i­ans and Turks.

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