February 23, 2012

Take a Video Tour of Istanbul's Conceptual New Taksim Square

The pulsing heart of Istanbul, Taksim Square, is about to undergo an operation that will make it all but unrecognizable to many Turks.

Gone will be the honking mix of cars weaving through an estimated 2 million pedestrians who visit the square each day; in the redesigned plaza, automobiles will travel through a complicated series of subterranean tunnels. A vast chunk of green area will disappear, paved over with concrete and tiles. And an Ottoman military barrack that hasn't existed on the spot since the 1940s will rise again, although this time around it will house not soldiers but likely cultural exhibits and tony cafes.

Construction is set to commence on the Taksim Project this year as part of the Turkish government's strenuous push for urban renewal. As with any major civic project, critics have come out in full force, decrying Taksim's transformation into a "soulless, concrete desert." They do seem to have a point: While it would definitely be a bigger delight to stroll across the area without today's thick auto fumes stinging the nostrils, the rejiggered square loses its loveable, chaotic character and stretches toward the horizon like an empty Walmart parking lot. As for that buried labyrinth of streets, drivers navigating it for the first time should carry a good map.

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