“Road” to Global City (2007-2013) Part IV: Contention over The Three Mega Projects

Just like the scale of these mega-projects themselves, controversies brought by them were huge as well. Although the AKP government has been enthusiastically promoting the three mega-projects, not everyone treated them as a “blessing”.

Mentioned in the preface of the Istanbul Master Plan 2007, striking a balance between human and nature would be one of the biggest goals, yet the mega-projects proposed in fact brought huge damage to the green areas. Lots of green areas would be in danger under the construction of mega-projects – forest containing rich flora and fauna, water basins and natural resources in the northern part of Istanbul [1].

Mega-projects vs. sensitive and protected areas (Source: Dogan, Evinc, and Stupar, Aleksandra, 2017)

Another point of argument would be the effectiveness of these projects. The projects were being challenged that they would actually increase the intensity of traffic instead of serving as a solution to growing transportation needs, as they encouraged that use of private vehicles and was contradicting to the idea of promoting the use of public transports. In addition, such transportation development would trigger urban expansion and intensified urban activities around new traffic arteries and nodes [1]. As a result, many people questioned if it is worth or not putting forward these mega-projects at the expense of huge environmental and financial costs.

In this session, debates arouse among different parties towards the three mega-projects in terms of environmental, economic and socio-political considerations will be discussed.

Deforestation under construction of Istanbul’s Third Airport

Istanbul’s grand (3rd) airport was proposed under a confrontational socio-political environment [2], and it inevitably encountered much determined and multifaceted opposition from different opposing organizations.

Environmental issues are also identified in the project for the Third Airport.

As 80% of the total project area of the third airport consists of forested land, deforestation was needed in Northern Istanbul. The area being affected couldn’t be limited to the construction area according to the Northern Forests Defense’s estimation since mega-projects would also turn surrounding areas into new usage areas [1]. Deforestation could cause heat island effect and health of the urban environment would be threatened. Moreover, air and noise pollution caused by the hub airports were also another environmental concern which drew the public’s attention.

The construction had been halted by Istanbul’s Fourth Administrative Court due to the potential environmental impact brought by it, until a new EIA report was done in 2014 emphasizing the necessity for a new airport [1].

Third Bridge and the “Two Million Istanbulites Campaign”

 “We are environmentalists,” claimed Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s then prime minister and current president. “This bridge will have features that protect the environment.” [5]

Despite the claim of “just a couple of trees” made by Erdoğan, the Green Party together with environmentalist and other affiliated groups have organized protests and a large meeting in 2010, against the construction of the Third Bridge [3].

Here was the slogan of the campaign:

“Let’s not take the issue as an anti-AKP problem; on the contrary, let’s try to bring them in… That’s why from the first day we thought of doing something that would include the support of all institutions and organizations… Since 2 million trees will be cut down, we will mobilize one resident of Istanbul to defend each one tree. So 2 million residents for 2 million trees… Get out to defend a tree, no matter what your political affiliation is.” [5]

According to the ESIA report for the third bridge and connecting motorways, the main route would through the northern border of the Belgrade Conversation Forest at the European side and also the Bosphorus Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). The affected areas consist of a wide range of habitats such as sand dunes along the coastline, rocks, maquis communities, pasture lands, forests and lakes, as well as several vulnerable habitats with rare plant species [1].

Prediction of transformation from geological risky area to settlement area in 2030 (Source: Ayazli, Ismail Ercument, Kilic, Fatmagul, Lauf, Steffen, Demir, Hulya, and Kleinschmit, Birgit, 2015)

In spite of the fact that mega-projects bring significant impacts on urban communities, public consultation towards these projects were seriously insufficient which greatly diminished the role of public participation and public awareness [1].

Even though the AKP government always claimed themselves “highly transparent”, they paid no attention to the voice from the public.

Erdoğan’s taunt: “Do whatever you want in Gezi Park, we have made up our mind” (about the park’s fate). [5]

Environmental Concern towards Kanal Istanbul and AKP government’s Ignorance

Ekrem İmamoğlu, the mayor who affiliated with Turkey’s main opposition party CHP, Greenpeace, many non-governmental organizations and even the mayor of Istanbul took a strong stance in opposing the canal project. Many campaign and protests were mobilized to halt the construction [4].

“In many respects, Istanbul, one of the most important and unique cities in the world, is going to be thrown into disaster with this unpredictable project,” says Greenpeace’s Mediterranean program director, Deniz Bayram. [4]

Even though the Turkish government had done an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for Kanal Istanbul to declare the project didn’t cause great damage to the environment [4], which “necessary measures to prevent its negative impacts on the environment” has been taken, and there were “sufficient level of data and information”[5].

“The environmental impact assessment report for Kanal Istanbul and its process has been one of the most well-attended, transparent processes,” said Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum. [5]

However, the report was condemned by the head of the zoning and urbanization department, Gürkan Akgün that it contained “erroneous assumptions and insufficient analytical surveys” [4].

“The north end of Istanbul is the life support system for all of us,” he says. “It all will disappear irreversibly with this project.” [4]

Criticisms were made on the irreversible environmental destruction on the delicate ecological balance of the Marmara Sea under construction of Kanal Istanbul, for example, there would be a change in sea level and salinity density in the Marmara Sea and Black sea, oxygen level would decrease drastically in the Marmara Sea which would harm numerous marine lives. Furthermore, water supply in Istanbul was also threatened as Terkos Lake and Sazlıdere reservoir have long been Istanbul’s main water source since the Roman period. The destruction of Küçükçekmece lagoon could also cause hundreds of different species to vanish, causing a great ecological lost [4].

The plans have sparked protests and a petition signed by more than 70,000 people. The banner reads: ‘Either canal or Istanbul’. (Source: Fox, 2020)

Despite the many opposing voices from the public, the government didn’t respond and approved the proposal still.



  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. Eren, Fatih. “Top Government Hands-on Megaproject Management: The Case of Istanbul’s Grand Airport.” International Journal of Managing Projects in Business12, no. 3 (2019): 666-93.
  3. Paker, Hande. “Contesting the “Third Bridge” in Istanbul: Local Environmentalism, Cosmopolitan Attachments?” In Istanbul, 145-59. Ithaca, NY: Rutgers University Press, 2019.
  4. 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
  5. ANKARA-Anadolu Agency. “Canal Istanbul environmental report very transparent, minister says.” Hürriyet Daily News, 27 December, 2019. Accessed 13 December, 2020. https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/canal-istanbul-environmental-report-very-transparent-minister-says-150332
  6. Ayazli, Ismail Ercument, Kilic, Fatmagul, Lauf, Steffen, Demir, Hulya, and Kleinschmit, Birgit. “Simulating Urban Growth Driven by Transportation Networks: A Case Study of the Istanbul Third Bridge.” Land Use Policy49 (2015): 332-40.


2 Comments on ““Road” to Global City (2007-2013) Part IV: Contention over The Three Mega Projects

  1. This blog shows a very vivid confrontation between the authority and the local groups. The use of quotes is definitely helpful to understand different stances here – however, it would be more revealing if you could give a brief account of the background of those opposing voices so that we could also understand their agenda better. Such contents could be integrated to the bibliography and historical entries that follow.

    While many of these projects are still evolving, it is hard for us to evaluate its implication. But I’m keen to know who are involved in these projects apart from the planning authority. Who are the investor, the design party and the executing consultants? It might not be easy to locate these details but I’d give it a try to see if we can find more revealing linkage. Jonnathan’s analysis of consultant structure might be a good example to this https://asiancitiesresearch.online/2020/12/16/new-yangon-city-2040-final-master-plan/.

  2. Indeed, there are some interesting moments in this highly charged debate. Your clever play of word is attractive, as I’m drawn into this as a study of the expansion of “infrastructure” of transportation and roads. But ultimately, what we are witnessing is a clash of social and political interests – between urban modernization that is designed to make the city attractive (to both citizens and investors), and social modernization that actually improves lives (and the wider environment). It is beneficial to readers to see how you have carefully positioned the different agencies and actors in the debate. The picture will become clearer as you complete the narratives and key bibliographic items. Good work!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.