Different neighbourhoods, different risks, similar expectations

Discussions on future visions from women's perspective

We gathered with women from Ulus, Hürriyet and Güzelce neighbourhoods in Büyükçekmece District. Our objective was to understand these women from different neighbourhoods’ expectations, dreams and disappointments about their cities and futures under the increasing hazard risks and worsening living conditions.

With their lower socioeconomic statuses and relatively poorer-quality housing, Ulus and Hürriyet are different from Güzelce. Every day, these poor neighbourhoods have to deal with various problems with superstructure and infrastructure. Heavy and unpredictable rainfalls that are becoming increasingly more often due to climate change are challenging the neighbourhoods’ infrastructure more and more every day.

Nezihe (Ulus Neighbourhood)
“One of the hazards other than earthquake is flood. Thank God, our neighbourhood is up on a hill, so the streets do not flood that much, but there are people living in basement floors. Their houses are flooded every time it rains. Municipality needs to find a solution to the rainfall risks.”

Kadriye (Ulus Neighbourhood)
“Before the [drainage of] rainfalls, we need a proper sewage system. The sewage system is constantly overflowing. Infrastructure is very old, it does not suffice anymore.”

Ferah (Hürriyet Neighbourhood) [on the flooding of basement floors]
“Because of the excessive amounts of cement [buildings, roads, etc.] there is not enough land left to absorb the water. We have no safety and security against these kinds of disasters.”


Besides the insufficient infrastructure, the poor public transportation facilities are also controversial. Narrow streets and irregular transportation network connections are problematic even in normal daily life. What might just happen during a potential crisis situation is worrying the residents.

Merve (Hürriyet Neighbourhood)
“In case of any emergencies, we cannot go anywhere around here. There is neither any hospital, nor a taxi stop nearby. Fire is another risk. Our streets are very narrow. I’m not sure if the fire department would be able to reach to a place of fire if needed.”

In the context of natural hazards, these three neighbourhoods seem to be pretty much aware of a potential earthquake and its consequences. Unfortunately, scientific research is supporting these worries. A 2019 study carried out by Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IMM) and Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute predicts significant physical damage for all three neighbourhoods.

Sezen (Ulus Neighbourhood)
“When the earthquake happened in Adana, the new town did not get any damage, while the old city was drastically damaged and there were so many casualties. What happened is that those who could afford it have moved to the new parts of the city, to safer buildings. Those who could not, had no choice but to stay where they were. It will not be very much different for us either. And if they actually build the İstanbul Canal will be the end of us. … They destroyed everything. Human intervention is the worst natural disaster.”

Güzelce, on the other hand, is facing another hazard different from other two neighbourhoods: Tsunami. A 2018 study implemented by IMM and Middle East Technical University reveals that in this region tsunami waves are likely to cross the shoreline for several meters into the residential area and might reach up to 1 meter of height at some points. Women from Güzelce are aware of this hazard and accepting the fact that they have nothing to do but run from the waves.

Sema (Güzelce Neighbourhood)
“In our neighbourhood, houses are old but mostly single houses or low-storey buildings. Earthquake is one thing, but especially when tsunami comes, we do not know what we can do to survive. Our best shot will be to run away.”

When we asked about their recommendations about their neighbourhoods, women from Ulus and Hürriyet have consensus over one need: zoning permission. What they mean by that is to be granted with the rights and permission to rebuild their houses. Turkey and İstanbul’s experiences of “gentrification” over the past decade have inevitably been appealing to these residents. However, there is a  significant obstacle to having their demands met: Both neighbourhoods are located within the Büyükçekmece Lake basin. Considering the climate change and potential water shortages in the future, it would not be realistic to expect the decisions that would enable the area to be further constructed to be taken. When we take the construction costs and the area’s income level into consideration, these neighbourhoods seem to be at a stalemate in terms of urban development. Güzelce Neighbourhood, however, seems to be content with the lower-storey buildings and supportive of the decisions to keep it that way.

Zeynep (Hürriyet Neighbourhood)
“Without the zoning permission, everything else is pointless. Because the lake is moving forward, they  are not giving us this permission, but they are constructing very high buildings along the seashore. Then, is it really about the lake? Everybody is saying something different about the gentrification. All are right in their own minds. Without the zoning permission, or the permission to build higher storey buildings, how are we supposed to renew our houses? They are evacuating buildings because they are not safe, then rent these apartments to other people. Everybody’s blaming contractors for the unstable buildings, but the municipality and the municipal police have been aware of this during the construction, and they just let it happen.”

Reflections of the urban dilemma surrounding Ulus and Hürriyet neighbourhoods on the social domain is also very clear. The residents feel that their individual poverty is turning into a collective poverty that is affecting the whole area. They have little hope on the horizon for any change of their urban surroundings. Moreover, they express that this situation is negatively affecting the youth and driving them into marginalisation. Although the area is originally inhabited by friendly people with close neighbourhood relations, youth feel left out both socially and culturally by the rest of the region. This social landscape is, allegedly, leading some of the youth in the area to diverge into drug abuse.

Emine (Ulus Neighbourhood)
“We would like to live in a safe and secure environment in every sense, both against disasters and people. Earthquake is not the only natural hazard, I think drug abuse is a worse problem. When children cannot find any places to make sports or hang around decently, they will find other things to get involved with.”

Both neighbourhoods expect more attention and investment from the authorities. The lack of these investments and problems’ being left unsolved, gives them a pessimistic prospect of the future. Güzelce neighbourhood has different demands from the decision-makers. They want the city council to be more inclusive, representing more diversity and governed by a younger team. They also underscored the need for transparency and accountability in local governance.

Aysun (Güzelce Neighbourhood)
“We want accountability. So many disasters have happened, nobody was accounted for. First and foremost, the male-dominant understanding has to be left. Without the women involved, there can never be a balance.”

The women of all three neighbourhoods have stressed the need for a new and modern governance approach. Across different socioeconomic groups, people highlight the importance of a human-centred, inclusive understanding of service provision that goes beyond political views and conflicts.

Dilek (Ulus Neighbourhood)
“First of all, the Mayor and his team should be replaced with younger and more dynamic people. we need authorities who are capable of seeing and understanding the needs of different groups in society, especially women. We need a new vision for that. People should be served not in line with their political views, but only on the basis of being humans. Local governments have to treat everyone equally, instead of discriminating them based on their political opinions.”

As seen, different social structures and urban environments within the same district lead to varying demands and expectations. This situation lets us reflect on how complicated and closely related to social space it is to reduce disaster risks and take decisions for the city’s future.