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An Istanbul Utopia 2023: The Game

Do not Plan, Play Istanbul! Challenges the Urban Plan

Play the City's Ekim Tan introduces her vision for a creative and resilient alternative to Istanbul's current planning policy - a utopia made reality through the engagement of Istanbul's citizens in Urban Gaming.

The game is not about winning individually, but envisioning the city collectively. It brings conflicting and complementary parties of the metropolis together. These urban actors use roleplaying techniques to visualize urban interests on 3D city models and so simulate possible scenarios for Istanbul's future.

In the late twentieth century, Istanbul was the success story of informality letting urban developments run their cause. In contrast, the Netherlands was the epitome of order with a strictly engineered environment which was envisaged, designed, and managed. These two seemingly different design and planning regimes would make me unlearn and relearn everything I thought I knew about architecture and cities.

Today the Dutch are inventing ways to self-build cities, while the Turks establish new ministries and gigantic housing corporations to centrally plan the country. The institutions of fine city design tradition are beginning to weaken in The Netherlands, while modernist urbanist dreams for Istanbul triumph in Turkish national election campaigns.

Over the last decade, the shift in both planning regimes has been remarkable, but what Istanbul will witness by 2023 is mind-blowing.

This story is not only about Istanbul’s good urbanism practice for a just, resilient, smart and creative city, it is also the story of an unprecedented heroic urban operation saving millions of lives from a disastrous earthquake.

‘Can the crazy grand plans seducing the Turkish voters really help order Istanbul’s complexity? What will happen when the Black Sea new towns are realized? TUIK [Turkish Statistics Institute] has been publishing reports on steady diminishing migration to the metropolis. Will these new towns be Istanbul’s ghost new towns, examples of which are to be seen in China? Sacrificing its clean air and water in the north, will Istanbul become an unhealthy urban maze much like Mexico City? Will the growing inequalities and distances between social groups turn Istanbul’s streets into the crime gutters of Sao Paolo? As the world runs out of oil, will the mobility of the metropolis still depend on transport by private car, or will the newly built expensive Bosporus highway bridge become a white elephant?


++ Let us now travel to 2023, from where I’ll give you a tour of how Istanbul undertook a heroic and unprecedented operation to save millions of lives by securing itself against a disastrous earthquake. Looking back from 2023, I will construct an Istanbul utopia of urban justice, resilience and creativity. It will be a hybrid vision implemented by professionals and citizens, politicians and developers.

It all began with an evolutionary city game: Do not Plan, Play Istanbul

In 2013, TUIK [Turkish Statistics Institute] published reports on the diminishing demand for housing nationwide: Istanbul had a massive surplus of housing, 300.000 extra homes. These reports signaled that the property bubble was about to burst. During the building boom, 30% of Spain’s GDP depended on the construction industry, and soon after the country was hit by 42% unemployment amongst youth. Watching parallel trends in Spain, Turkish officials immediately stopped their mad modernistic populism. Citizens started caring for Istanbul’s burning problems and taking more responsibility. The dramatic earthquake that hit Van in 2011 must have played a role in the sudden change of attitude in officials and citizens alike.

The Istanbul Game

Since 2012 all the city’s stakeholders have been regularly attending an annual interactive game event, initiated by independent architects. The game event is called Yapyaşa.

Find more information on the players here.

Yapyaşa is an intensive learning fair.

The game is not about winning individually, but envisioning the city collectively. This multiplayer city game brings conflicting and complementary parties of the metropolis together. These urban actors use roleplaying techniques to visualize urban interests on 3D city models. As a result, players can simulate possible scenarios for Istanbul’s future. City simulations offer stakeholders clear rules for the city’s evolution and a simple language for effective communication. Given the variety of players, an accessible vocabulary is a must for Istanbul. In Yapyaşa, communication happens through mockups, rules and a 3D city game environment. These tools replace various complex jargons, and a 3D physical interface replaces verbal communication. Throughout the years regular city games have helped stakeholders fine-tune their agencies. New agencies were invented for Istanbul which became influential and communicative design forces - Local Architects Movement - or organizations defending the public interest - Public Matters -.

See the results here!

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