February 05, 2012

In Booming Istanbul, A Clash Between Old And New

On a frigid January morning, bundled-up travelers step off a ferry and scurry toward the imposing stone walls of the Haydarpasa train station, a 19th century landmark in Istanbul, a city full of history.

The people boarding this morning are nostalgic. They're longtime station employees, taking one of the last train runs to Eskesihir, where the station's first director-general is buried.

They're going, as it were, to give him bad news — that Haydarpasa's 150-year service as a public transportation center may be coming to an end.

Officially, the station is closing temporarily, for repairs and the laying of high-speed track. But employees fear that during the two-year closure, the decision will be made to convert the station to a more lucrative purpose. Plans are still under discussion, but possibilities include a luxury hotel, perhaps with a museum, and a shopping mall.

The potential closing of this iconic station is just one of the fast-moving major projects alarming urban planners and local activists.

Working-class neighborhoods have been cleared of their inhabitants to make way for villas and hotels. Public schools and hospitals, some in historic buildings, are being sold to private developers. And a third bridge across the Bosporus is planned, which would bring roads and development to a large swath of forest land in the city's northern reaches.

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