When urban planning gets political, or public space vs social media

The outrage of protesters in Istanbul is the latest in the series of “Arab Springs”, a catch-all term for very different types of protest (from change-driven to ultra conservative) against the powers in Arab countries that mostly have been in power for ages. Public spaces, like Tahrir Square in Egypt, and now Taksim Square in Istanbul, and social media have played a crucial role in this. In the case of Istanbul, the cause of all the uproar is in fact urban planning. The New York Times, in this article ‘In Istanbul’s Heart, Leader’s Obsession, Perhaps Achilles’ Heel‘, sees social media of way less significance than in the previous “Springs”, but gives the public space itself the most prominent role, as does Archdaily in this article.

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From the article:

On a normal day, Taksim Square is a mess of buses and crowds, a tangle of plazas, streets, shops and taxi horns. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is determined to clean it up and make it into a pedestrian zone, with a new mall, mosque and tunnels for traffic to move underground.

After Tahrir Square in Egypt and Zuccotti Park in New York, Taksim is the latest reminder of the power of public space. The square has become an arena for clashing worldviews: an unyielding leader’s top-down, neo-Ottoman, conservative vision of the nation as a regional power versus a bottom-up, pluralist, disordered, primarily young, less Islamist vision of the country as a modern democracy.

And now comes the interesting part:

So public space, even a modest and chaotic swath of it like Taksim, again reveals itself as fundamentally more powerful than social media, which produce virtual communities. Revolutions happen in the flesh. In Taksim, strangers have discovered one another, their common concerns and collective voice. The power of bodies coming together, at least for the moment, has produced a democratic moment, and given the leadership a dangerous political crisis.

Sentiment and emotion mapping of social media at Taksim Square could definitely lead to new insights.

Update: 20 June 2013: a reminder of the urban agenda initially driving the Turkish uprisings on thepolisblog.org

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The Guardian published an interesting map of protests all over the world in 2013.