BUILDING COMMUNITY, CULTIVATING HOPE AND IMAGING THE FUTURE IN ISTANBUL: THE (SHORT) STORY OF ROMA BOSTAN
At a time when permaculture, community gardens and access to urban cultivation begin, literally, to take root in Chile, the activist dedicated to cultural studies Basak Durgun presents this week the case of Rome Bostan, name of the site and social group responsible for its urban recovery in the heart of the city of Istanbul in Turkey.
Construyendo Comunidad, Cultivando Esperanza e Imaginando el Futuo de Estambul: La (breve) historia de Roma Bostan
En un momento en que la permacultura, los jardines comunitarios y el acceso al cultivo urbano comienzan, literalmente, a echar raíces en Chile, la activista dedicada a los estudios culturales Basak Durgun presenta esta semana el caso de Roma Bostan, nombre del sitio y grupo social a cargo de su recuperación urbana en el corazón de la ciudad de Estambul en Turquía.
Appropriating a derelict, debris-filled plot through collective gardening, Roma Bostan is a community space where new ideas, networks and connections for self-determination and mutual aid flourish, and where newer forms of resistance take root. Initially established as an autonomous guerrilla garden by reclaiming a small abandoned plot in 2013 by activists energized by the Gezi Park resistance, Roma Bostan became a four-season cultivated community garden with a new, organized and sustainable plan in May 2015. Situated on a slope in Cihangir overlooking an enchanting, panoramic view of the view of Seraglio point (fig.1), where the Bosphorus meets the Golden Horn, Roma Bostan survived and flourished in a grid of right to the city, environmental and food movements into a significant symbol of urban green commons in Istanbul.
People of Roma Bostan, as they refer to each other signaling their dedication and belonging to a space forged through hard work, aim to cultivate a “food forest.” Grown in a successive process, building up nutrient rich soils and taking advantage of companion planting, food forests predominantly consist of polyculture edible layers of plants such as fruit and nut trees, vines, shrubs, herbs and perennial vegetables from ground cover to canopy.
The garden plot is on a slope which makes it challenging to till the soil, water the garden and control top soil erosion (fig.2). People of Roma Bostan built soil terraces and planted bushes and trees that control soil erosion and seeded the soil with ground cover plants. Hearty trees, such as juniper, privet, laurel and cupressus are planted along the borders of the garden to act as fences. Blackberries line up the front of the garden. The garden contains soil enriching short bush-like plants, like rosemary, lavender, and Spanish broom which is a remarkable sight in the spring and into the early summer, as it blooms bright yellow (fig.3). The center of the garden has two raised beds and eight wicking planting beds, with built in water reservoirs that reduce the need for frequent watering for seasonal vegetables and herbs. During the summer, people of Roma Bostan plant tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplants and cucumbers, and during the winter, they plant onions, garlic, lettuce, chard, kale, spinach, and other winter greens. Wild hibiscus takes over the garden paths. Fruit trees, such as pear, sweet cherry, mulberry, apple, plum, sour cherry, pomegranate, olive, persimmon, and walnut, are planted interspersed. An older, large fig tree towers on the top right corner of the plot. In the garden, there are also silverberry, Australian pines, stone pines, honeysuckle, forsythia, Chinese quince, judas tree and a cassia tree with wonderful healing properties that marks the center meeting point of the garden. They also built a chicken coup for the neighbor’s chickens and rooster.
Growing food, cultivating a garden in Roma Bostan is not about subsistence, but a means by which the gardeners prevent the construction of a building, produce an open green space in a neighborhood that lacks adequate green spaces, activate urban commons to experiment with alternative future visions for the city, and heal together in the context of volatile political climate by reconnecting deeper to the very essence of life in Istanbul: the people, the city’s landscape and food. The garden plot was slated as the site of a social center building in a heavily disputed redevelopment plan for the district of Beyoglu, which was announced in 2011. Arguing that “The Beyoglu Plans” are detrimental to the social, cultural and historic fabric, and destructive to the rare open green spaces in the district by expediting new redevelopment without adequate projections and conservation plans, the neighborhood associations organized a unified response against it. After two rounds of court proceedings and expert opinion reports, continuous advocacy in the news, popular magazines, social media and in the neighborhood, the plans were overturned in July 2017, which was joyously celebrated in Roma Bostan.
People of Roma Bostan were actively involved in this struggle by cultivating an open, inclusive and welcoming garden, organizing social gatherings, collective gardening and education events to make this a space for everyone, using media resources effectively to stay in the spotlight and submitting a report on community gardening and permaculture as part of the expert opinion report in the courts. With the motto of “less talk more action,” the people of Roma Bostan set precedence in interrupting hegemonic urban governing model of Istanbul. The people of Roma Bostan see their labor as building a common and sustainable future, and forging solidarity with the growing network of people in the grid of right to the city, food, and environmental movements. Cultivating this garden with perseverance in the context of the roll back of democratic possibilities in Turkey, especially following the coup-attempt in July 2016, people of Roma Bostan also harvest hope and provide an open space to breathe (fig.4).
Basak Durgun es Ph.D © en el Programa de Estudios Culturales de George Mason University. Su formación es interdisciplinaria y arraigada en estudios de globalización enfocados en materia de urbanización, ecología política, políticas culturales, estudios de género y movimientos sociales. En su tesis titulada “Políticas Culturales de Espacios Verdes urbanos: Producción y Reorganización de los Parques y Jardines de Estambul,” Basak analiza cómo diferentes actores sociales (como el estado, agentes inmobiliarios, activistas y jardineros) han re-imaginado el futuro urbano de Estambul a partir de la inclusión de naturaleza urbana bajo el formato jardín. En el link adjunto puedes ver su currículum, además de acceder a sus últimas publicaciones: < https://basakdurgun.com/>
(3) Katırtırnağı (Spartium junceum, retamo) florecido (Mayo 2018) © Basak Durgun para LOFscapes / (4) Preparación de la celebración por la caída de los “Beyoglu Plans” (Julio 2017) © Basak Durgun para LOFscapes
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