Ecumenopolis is a word invented in 1967 by the Greek city planner Constantinos Doxiadis to represent the idea that in the future urban areas and megalopolises would eventually fuse and there would be a single continuous worldwide city as a progression from the current urbanization and population growth trends.
The neoliberal transformation that swept through the world economy during the 1980’s, and along with it the globalization process that picked up speed, brought with it a deep transformation in cities all over the world. For this new finance-centered economic structure, urban land became a tool for capital accumulation, which had deep effects on major cities of developing countries. In Istanbul, which already lacked a tradition of principled planning, the administrators of the city blindly adopted the neoliberal approach that put financial gain ahead of people’s needs; everyone fought to get a piece of the loot; and the result is a megashantytown of 15 million struggling with mesh of life-threatening problems.
Armed with new powers never before imagined, TOKI (State Housing Administration), together with the municipalities and private investors, are trying to reshape the urban landscape in this new vision. With international capital behind them, land plans in their hands, square meters and building coefficients in their minds, they are demolishing neighborhoods, and instead building skyscrapers, highways and shopping malls. But who do these new spaces serve?
The huge gap between the rich and the poor in Istanbul is reflected more and more in the urban landscape, and at the same time feeds on the spatial segregation. While the rich isolate themselves in gated communities, residences and plazas; new poverty cycles born in social housing communities on the prifery of the city designed as human depots continue to push millions to desperation and hopelessness. So who is responsible for this social legacy that we are leaving for future generations?
In 1980 the first plan for Istanbul on a metropolitan scale was produced. In that plan report, it is noted that the topography and the geographic nature of the city would only support a maximum population of 5 million. At the time, Istanbul had 3.5 million people living in it. Now we are 15 million, and in 15 years we will be 23 million. Almost 5 times the sustainable size. Today we bring water to Istanbul from as far away as Bolu, and suck-up the entire water in Thrace, destroying the natural environment there. The northern forest areas disappear at a rapid pace, and the project for a 3rd bridge over the Bosphorous is threatening the remaining forests and water reservoirs giving life to Istanbul. The bridges that connect the two continents are segregating our society through the urban land speculation that they trigger. So what are we, the people of Istanbul, doing against this pillage? If cities are a reflection of the society, what can we say about ourselves by looking at Istanbul? What kind of city are we leaving behind for future generations?
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.
Ecumenopolis aims for a holistic approach to Istanbul, questioning not only the transformation, but the dynamics behind it as well. From demolished shantytowns to the tops of skyscrapers, from the depths of Marmaray to the alternative routes of the 3rd bridge, from real estate investors to urban opposition, the film will take us on a long journey in this city without limits. We will speak with experts, academics, writers, investors, city-dwellers, and community leaders; and we will take a look at the city on a macro level through animated maps and graphics. Perhaps you will rediscover the city that you live in and we hope that you will not sit back and watch this transformation but question it. In the end this is what democracy requires of us.