“Road” to Global City (2007-2013) Part III: The Three Mega Projects in Istanbul

Aside from various reformation towards public transport put forward in the Istanbul Master Plan 2009, there were mega-projects drafted or under construction in this period, including the Third Bosporus-Crossing Bridge (i.e. Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge), the Third Airport (i.e. Istanbul Airport), and a new waterway project connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara named Kanal Istanbul. These three mega-projects would play a significant role in shaping a new city in northern Istanbul.

The role of mega-projects in a global city

“Mega-projects” usually refers to large-scale projects that can transform land uses which involved a huge amount of financial resources, such as airports, high-speed train nodes and convention centres. Under the globalized world in the modern age, mega-projects are tools of facilitating urban redevelopment plan [1]. Moreover, many regimes believe that construction of mega-projects and holding mega-events can boost the economy of the city and get global recognition, raising the status of the city under global competition.

From the three mega projects proposed, we can become aware of the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) government’s ambition in enhancing the international position of Istanbul as a global city. In fact, from the 21st century, Istanbul had been persistently bidding to host the Olympic Games for 5 times but unfortunately unsuccessful. International Olympic Committee (IOC) identified transport as one of the toughest challenges for Istanbul, and this might also be a factor leading to the desire of AKP government in terms of improving Istanbul’s transportation network [1].

The ambition of the Istanbul government could also be reflected in national development document “Vision 2023”. Global city discourse was highlighted in all these projects in line with the “Vision 2023”, tracing the path for a new urban hub with an airport, seaport, tourism facilities, residential and recreational areas, congress and convention centres, and cultural and business facilities. The government has high expectation under “Vision 2023”, for example, to increase GDP per capita to USD 25.000 and the number of local tourists from 2 million to 20 million per year. Nevertheless, attracting flows of international tourists remains imperative related to the aim of higher global recognition and competitiveness [1].

1. The Third Airport (Istanbul Airport)

In the technical report “Transport Infrastructure Needs Assessment for Turkey” published by the Ministry of Transportation in 2007, evaluations regarding airport and air traffic management capacity were made. It was concluded that bottlenecks of substantial terminal capacity would be expected at several airports after 2020 [2], leading to a need for construction of a new International airport.

Passenger Traffic at DHMİ Airports in 1997-2006 (Source: Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure of Turkey, 2007)

In 2007, to cope with the saturating capacity of two existing airports Ataturk and Sabiha Gökçen under growing needs, a third airport was proposed and constructed. The third airport was announced in 2012 and opened in 2018, the construction was divided into 4 phases and to be completed entirely in 2028 [3].

It was planned to be the biggest airport in the World with total coverage of 76.500.000 m2, situated in the North-West of Istanbul, with an annual passenger capacity of 150 million [3]. Furthermore, this project would be extended by an airport city [1] with a central innovation district, hotels, retail and commercial office space, logistic centres, an expo and convention centre, public space, and metro and high-speed rail connections to Istanbul and beyond.

Istanbul Airport (Source: IGA, 2020)
Istanbul Airport Interior View (Source: IGA, 2020)

2. The Third Bridge (Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge)

Construction of the third Bosporus-crossing Bridge has long been discussed since the 20th century, due to a series of protests opposing the move, the decision was suspended. The idea was brought to discussion again later in around 2005 with the announcement of the new Seriyer/Tarabya and Beykoz route [4]. In the end, the third bridge project was announced in May 2012 and opened in August 2016.

The bridge has 8 motorways and 2 railway lanes on the same level and is the widest (59m) suspension bridge in the world and the longest (1408m) spanning bridge with the tallest tower [5].

Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge under construction (Source: Janberg, 2015)
Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge (Source: Janberg, 2016)

Kanal Istanbul

The artificial sea-level waterway was another project also been long discussed, the history of it could be traced back in the Ottoman Empire. In the modern age, Kanal Istanbul was announced during 2011 by the AKP government in the election campaign. Aside from being a large transport and infrastructure project, it would also be part of a geopolitical strategy bypassing the Bosporus Strait, hence, it was referred as a “crazy project” by Erdoğan [6], the president of Turkey.

The project would be a 45km (28 miles) shipping canal joining the Black Sea to the Mar-mara, running parallel to the Bosphorus strait, cutting through the centre of Istanbul. The government claimed that the canal can help reducing water traffic through the city [6].

Location of Kanal Istanbul on Google Earth (Source: The Guardian, 2020)

Since the waterway project which would bisect Thrace and create an island in the middle of the sea is far more than a canal [1], it has caused huge controversies among different parties.



  1. Dogan, Evinc, and Stupar, Aleksandra. “The Limits of Growth: A Case Study of Three Mega-projects in Istanbul.” Cities 60 (2017): 281-88.
  2. Ministry of Transport of Republic of Turkey. Transport Operational Programme 2007-2009. Ankara: Republic of Turkey, 2007
  3. İstanbul Airport (IGA). İstanbul Airport. Accessed 13 December, 2020. https://www.igairport.com/en
  4. Paker, Hande. “Contesting the “Third Bridge” in Istanbul: Local Environmentalism, Cosmopolitan Attachments?” In Istanbul, 145-59. Ithaca, NY: Rutgers University Press, 2019.
  5. Janberg, Nicolas. “Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge”. International Database and Gallery of Structures. Accessed 13 December, 2020. https://structurae.net/en/structures/yavuz-sultan-selim-bridge
  6. Fox, Tessa. “Erdoğan’s ‘crazy project’: new Istanbul canal to link Black and Marmara Seas.” The Guardian, 17 February, 2020. Accessed 13 December, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/17/canal-istanbul-erdogans-crazy-plan-to-plot-route-between-black-and-marmara-seas


1 Comment on ““Road” to Global City (2007-2013) Part III: The Three Mega Projects in Istanbul

  1. We can see the ambition of the government of Istanbul towards becoming a global city from their persistent bidding for the host city of the Olympic Games. The case is similar to Seoul, which was highly concerned about its transportation capability when it successfully bid for the 1988 Olympics. As you mentioned, the government introduced these three mega-projects to improve the transportation system, but the traffic congestion problem of Istanbul is still unsolved today. I am interested in knowing more about why the mega-projects are not as effective as how they are planned and the physical or cultural constraints they faced.

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