Istanbul’s portrait as an example of neoliberal urbanism
Ecumenopolis: City without Limits, A documentary film about Istanbul
The documentary film Ecumenopolis: City Without Limits directed by Imre Azem premiered in May after years of production. The film takes its name from the word ecumenopolis invented by the Greek city planner Constantinos Doxiadis and portrays Istanbul as a city that keeps expanding without limits - physical, ecological, financial and in any other sense.
While for some, Istanbul represents the breeze on the Bosphorus, for many it means struggling with life-threatening problems in a mega-shanty town of 15 million. Like many other major cities in the world, Istanbul has also taken its share from the neoliberal transformation of the 1980‘s on a global scale and from the accelerated globalization.
A mega-shanty town of 15 million
The film Ecumenopolis is combining scenes from real life events and interviews with animations how Istanbul as an urban land has become a tool for capital accumulation at the cost of people’s need for survival in a humane environment. It details how Istanbul has been transformed from an industrial city to a finance and service-centered one - and handed over to investors at the cost of public good. The film takes scenes from world news and highlights that the scope of this problem extends beyond the city limits of Istanbul: the working class on a global scale is faced by a transformation like this.
Urban renewal projects
The documentary shows urban renewal projects carried by TOKI (State House Administration), and the problems faced by the inhabitants of Istanbul. It reveals the mechanism at work behind the "shopping mall-ification" of Istanbul, how the neighborhoods are jammed into alienating skyscrapers or highway corners. And it shows how this process further segregates the poor and the rich in terms of spatial distribution. While the rich are isolated in their gated communities, the poor are driven more to the periphery under the guise of urban renewal projects. Interweaving into the general storyline are the personal stories of a few families driven to hopelessness and the periphery, by which the film also acquires a personal, humane dimension.
A city without a plan
Ecumenopolis sheds a light to the absence of a real city planning for Istanbul. It lays bare that many constructions under way such as highways, or future projects for transportation like the 3rd bridge over the Bosphorus, are in the service of the capital rather than that of the public.
At times it becomes unbearable to watch when the hypocrisy of our politicians is exposed with such clarity. The film does not ignore the environmental aspects of such a growth without limits and planning either.
While on the one hand one might criticize it artistically for its lack of a more coherent dramaturgy in comparison to a similar film such as 'The Corporation', there are other artistic aspects which compensate for this absence: the music by some very good underground musicians & bands such as Gaipten Sesler and Istanbul Fart Ensemble.
Ecumenopolis: City Without Limits unveils that in Istanbul:
“Ecological limits have been surpassed. Economic limits have been surpassed. Population limits have been surpassed. Social cohesion has been lost. Here is the picture of neoliberal urbanism: Ecumenopolis.”
And it asks us to rediscover the city and question its transformations since this is what democracy requires of us. Ecumenopolis is a depressing film; or better said it is a very truthful film and since the truth is so depressing when laid bare, the film takes its share from it…. Definitely worth watching!