If you have been reading international news about the protests that started in Istanbul and have spread across Turkey, you may be under the false impression that this is an ideological battle between a secular piece of society and an Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sparked by an insignificant event, the occupation of a city park. But the role of space in these outbreaks cannot be underestimated. As part of a project that wouldpedestrianize Taksim, Istanbul’s main square, the adjacent Gezi Park was to be demolished to build an Ottoman-via-Las Vegas Mall. The protest was an effort to save a park by occupying that very park; it was not a symbolic or ideological demonstration like the Occupy Wall Street movements, but a primal struggle between human bodies and bulldozers, that made the political discourse all the more potent.
Taksim is also the first place where protests have historically occurred; the planned pedestrianization of the square would have cut off the avenues where protesters could enter, effectively a vasectomy of its power as a commons. In Erdoğan’s own absurdly ironic words, “We want to stop traffic in Taksim, give the square to the people, pedestrians so that everyone can walk there freely.” This space of dissent, the last vestige of democracy reserved for moments in time when politicians have refused to listen to their populous, was itself under threat.
(via Urban Heroes of Istanbul: It’s About Public Space)