The narrative to the snazzy new video on their website says as much. It points out that mayor Topbaş has a doctorate in art history and “was a major influence” on the project. Architect Hakan Kıran “considers the project a daring step from the traditional to the future…and considers Süleymaniye most precious -- the apple of İstanbul’s eye.” Touting Kıran and Topbaş’s credentials almost seems to be meant to reassure us that we can trust them with our precious historic sites.
The video seems like a nervous attempt to reconcile the past and the future. Reminding viewers that the metro only carries 8 percent of İstanbul’s traffic of 23 million people, it claims: “We have to embrace the fact that İstanbul, once thought to be 2,700 years old, has actually been a center of civilizations for 8,500 years. We have to pave new ways in our life.” The sentences extolling the past and reminding viewers of the importance of the future sit awkwardly together. The video makes it clear that the past and the future are both important. The fact that we must sacrifice the memory of the past for a better future, however, is unspoken, and the question as to what extent we must sacrifice is unanswered.
Can the two sides meet?
Although I sympathize with those who call for a bridge that blends in with the aesthetic of the old city, part of me finds the demands of UNESCO trivial. The very concrete needs of transporting millions of people every day clearly outweigh this very abstract concept of “outstanding universal value” that UNESCO has made into the sacred cow of İstanbul’s membership on the World Heritage List. How is this “outstanding universal value” determined? There are many other angles from which to catch an impressive view of the Süleymaniye. Would it be so bad if we sacrificed one of them? Does İstanbul necessarily have a defined “look”? Is it a transgression for the city to incorporate more contemporary designs into its landscape? Finally, one can hardly say the bridge is ugly. Can we truly say that a nice-looking bridge will “ruin the scenery?”
At the risk of sounding like a cold-hearted pragmatist ready to throw the past in the wastebasket at the first sight of difficulty, I will agree with a commentator called “Kat” on the S.O.S. blog who asked:
“What does UNESCO really know about İstanbul’s problems, I ask? … Should we not concentrate on solving [them] rather than pleasing an institution that sets skylines above people’s livelihoods and ecological stability?”
By ecological stability, the author refers to the destruction of huge swaths of forests if a third bridge is built across the Bosporus. The only way to prevent that project is to drastically reduce İstanbulites’ reliance on motor vehicles -- which points to the metro bridge. It seems like blocking the view of the Süleymaniye from a certain angle may be like sacrificing a finger in order to save an arm. That is, if the third bridge project can be prevented at all.