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A/Professor Eda Yücesoy

Eda is an Associate Professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Istanbul Technical University.

Caitlin Morrissey

I'll kick off with the first which is, what is the DNA of Istanbul as you see it?


Eda Yücesoy

OK, well, as I said, it's very hard to describe the DNA because there are various components, various, let's say, aspects of the city. Well, I mean, culture-wise, of course, it's a very, let's say, multicultural, multi-layered city. It's very hard to really say it in, let's say-- we cannot say that “OK, this is a kind of Republican Turkish city”. We cannot say that “OK, this is an Ottoman city”. So in that sense, it's very-- there are some parts representing this, let's say, characteristics of the city in terms of its architectural and political, let's say, processes.


But I think, well, population-wise, for example, it's a very diverse city. There are lots of migrants, so in my opinion, which makes the city very interesting in that sense because it's the centre of, let's say, people who are coming from different parts of the world. And, well, throughout the ages, throughout the centuries, it was always like that. So there were, let's say, large number of peoples migrated to the city for different reasons, so I think it's a kind of very, well, diverse and, well, quite, let's say, multi-structured city.


In terms of, let's say, economic wise, we can say that it's an entrepreneurial city because, well, here, people work very hard, I think, and people's entrepreneurial skills are much more developed than the, let's say, other parts of the country, in my opinion, and that makes Istanbul also quite interesting and varied in Turkey.


And I think, in my opinion, what makes Istanbul quite unique in people's imaginations or in people's minds is that because, well, Istanbul is full of opportunities, full of possibilities for everybody, anyone who really wishes to pursue a kind of, let's say, a dream has a potential, let's say. I'm not saying, "Yes, they can. If they work hard, they can achieve that." Maybe it is not the case, but there is a huge potential in Istanbul so that people can, well, really, let's say, live here.


And I think when you look at the population figures, there is a constant, let's say, growth of population which is much more than the natural growth. So there is a continuous-- the same migration from all over the, let's say, provinces of Turkey and, let's say, neighbouring regions or neighbouring countries and some other parts of the world. So, well, I think this is it. Let's start with this. Maybe in some other parts, there can be other explanations that may come to my mind.


Greg Clark

So it's not unusual, when we look at big cities around the world, that they have this role in their nation where people see them as a place of opportunity and people migrate to that city. But in the case of Istanbul, is the migration mainly for economic reasons: there are jobs in Istanbul you can't get elsewhere? Is it mainly for cultural reasons: you can experience a different idea about life and communication and art? Or is it mainly for personal freedom: it's possible to be yourself in Istanbul in a way that perhaps you can't be in another smaller village or town? Which of these things is more important, and how do you explain this magnetic effect of Istanbul?


Eda Yücesoy

Well, of course, well, this is very hard to say that it is this because I don't have a kind of, let's say, research about it. But it seems that your last point, the, let's say, freedom aspects covered all well because I think when people arrive here, let's say, for economic means, maybe they start with a very kind of, let's say, unskilled, let's say, low paid jobs, but they have freedom so that they can, yes, if they choose, they can continue to work there and make a little progress. But also if-- well, it is up to them actually. It is up not to the, let's say, structures surrounding them, but it is up to them so that they can continue their own careers. So that's why I use the term, it's like a kind of 'they can pursue their dreams because they are free'.


But, well, some other cities-- well, in Turkey, there are also some other metropolitan areas as well. Probably, you know. Well, potentials are kind of there as well, but it is, well, limited. So Istanbul is, by all means, well, in my opinion, it's a free city. So, well, yes, there are community ties here, there are some, let's say, strong, let's say, community or even further, let's say, ties here in the city as well. But still, there are, let's say, opportunities, much more than everywhere. And I think this freedom, well, covers educational aspects, economic aspects or other political things or other, let's say, entrepreneurial, real things as well.


Greg Clark

That's very helpful, Eda. I thought this. And I suppose, if you like, there is one more question here which is, obviously, Istanbul has a different history to Ankara or İzmir or any of the other big metropolitan cities of Turkey. This is a city with a history of three and a half thousand years. So is this great history part of the pull that creates this idea of personal freedom of expression, or is it not so much to do with the history and really just to do with the size and, if you like, the geography of Istanbul, that it is Europe and Asia in one city?


Eda Yücesoy

Well, I think, well, perhaps in people's minds, it is-- well, I think it is very hard to say that it is because of this. But, well, in my opinion, this history plays an important role because unconsciously, people think that this is a different city. This is a kind of-- well, maybe when you ask people in the street, they may not say that, "Ah, OK. Yes, I'm fascinated with the," let's say, "presence of Greeks here or Byzantines here." But I mean, unconsciously, this creates a kind of world of freedom, world of opportunity. So normally, in daily life, we do not observe it because when you look at ordinary people's everyday life, it happens around, let's say--


OK, since I work at the university, there are a little bit more students, but let's say, 40 people you'll see daily and in large cities as well; in many cities, it is the same. So 40 to 100 people. But why I like to live in Istanbul is that there is more than that all the time. So it can happen-- if I want, there is a possibility, there is a, let's say, potential, so unconscious, I think, that may affect people so, in that sense, I think, acts in a different way.


It's, I think, counter, let's say, wise, because while size makes people a little bit sceptical and a little bit, let's say, negative about the city's, let's say, things because, well, ordinary people-- it's the kind of oxymoron, I think. When you ask the people, they are very happy to live in Istanbul, in their neighbourhood, in Fatih, in, let's say, Üsküdar, wherever, these, let's say, populated areas. But at the same time, when you ask some questions about size, they got nervous. They say, "Oh, it's too crowded," let's say, "Too many people live in Istanbul." So it's a kind of-- I think, people, well, tend to think that too many people is a bad thing. But on the contrary, they, I think, get benefit of it as well.


Greg Clark

Yes, and the benefit is somehow unconscious.


Eda Yücesoy

Yeah, in my opinion.


Greg Clark

Yes, yes. This is the dilemma of all city dwellers, isn't it? We like the benefits that come from size but not the experience of crowding.


Eda Yücesoy

Definitely. So in Istanbul, for example, well, now, we have a long, let's say, sunny weekends in autumn and spring. And everybody complains about the traffic and the, let's say, congestion, but people still go to the same places, and they wait in the traffic for long hours. But they say, "But this is nice." So they enjoy it. So it's kind of--


Greg Clark

Yes. They don't realise that-- they don't realise that they are the traffic.


Eda Yücesoy

Yes, definitely, definitely.


Greg Clark

Yeah. 


Caitlin Morrissey

I want to pick up on Istanbul’s spatial form and its architecture and its vernacular. And I'd love to ask you what forces have shaped the way Istanbul looks now and the way that it has grown in its urban form?


Eda Yücesoy

I mean, I also teach an Istanbul course, well, at university about the spatial development of the city, so I can give, let's say, a very long, let's say, seminar about it.


Greg Clark

Take your time. We're ready for the lecture, Eda.


Eda Yücesoy

Oh, no. But I think-- well, what forces? Well, we can say that, in general, during the, let's say, Byzantine and Ottoman times, it was mainly the, let's say, ruling class, the Sultan and the-- yeah, Constantine-- the Byzantine emperor. So they were actually-- well, they acted as the main architect or main, let's say-- well, they were the head of the city. And if you look at the-- there are numerous books about their, let's say, interventions and the way they look at the city. And they kind of acted as if like a mayor, but it's, I think, more than that: it's a kind of combination of everything. So in that sense, early times, we can say that till probably 1950s, it was the authority, main authority of the, let's say, state authority or the imperial authority was giving the shape of the city because they decide on which mosque would be built, which, actually, church would be built or which street would be, let's say, taken care of, which, let's say, food or the soup house would be, let's say, operated.


But after 1950s, especially with the flux of a lot of migrants to Istanbul and also due to this diminishing authority and the interventions of the state, I think it's a kind of a new-- we see a new formation; this informality took place. And, well, starting from 1950s, we started to see new urban forms, informal-- let's say, informality. I mean, I should say that different sectors of urban informality taking place in Istanbul like Dolmuş, for example, as an informal transportation; let's say, gecekondu, squatter houses as an informal housing area; and of course, street vendorship as a informal, let's say, trading. And how did they happen? Well, it was probably because of, well, the heightened industrialization in the country, and, well, politicians were ignorant, and it was, I think, happened all around the world. A similar story in some countries. It happened in the late 19th century. In some countries, it happened in the early 20th century. So more or less, there was a kind of change of, let's say, urban management, or I should say-- yeah, in general, a kind of shift.


But of course, later, starting from 2000, I think, there was a kind of combination because people were very much aware that we could not go to the days of the authoritative, let's say, or, let's say, this implementations of policies, but also, we don't want this too much informality as well. So, well, there were some-- now, I think it's a kind of consensus between, well, formal ways and informal ways of structuring the city continues. And of course, you can see it, also, in many practices.


So there is still a huge informality taking place in Istanbul, when you compare it with the other metropolitan cities of the West, of course, but there are also lots of formal ways of shaping the urban space. Formal, let's say, regulations were also enacted when you compare it to the other, let's say, cities like, for example, Sao Paulo, Mumbai, Johannesburg. So it's a kind of, let's say, I think, in-between. I don't know if-- maybe I understood your question differently, but, yeah, feel free to, let's say, expand.


Caitlin Morrissey

No, that's really interesting. Yeah, and I'm so interested to hear you so clearly say about how the urban form-- who's responsible for shaping it has changed over time and where it is now. We've been doing lots of research on Istanbul over the last few weeks, and I hadn't quite made that connection so clearly, so thank you. I wish I was on this course that you're teaching.


Greg Clark

Me too.


Caitlin Morrissey

Yeah. I'd love to come onto this question about how many different Istanbul's are there? Because you've spoken about Istanbul being an Ottoman city, a Byzantine city. Now, is it something else? And are these very different types of cities still present? Are there different neighbourhoods? Is there one city? Are there many? What are your reflections on that?


Eda Yücesoy

I think, yes. Well, in my opinion, everybody has his/her/its own Istanbul. So you can say it's a very masculine Istanbul; it's a very feminine Istanbul as well. There's a young Istanbul and old Istanbul in, of course, metaphorically and physically speaking. So there is a kind of children's Istanbul - although, very few in my opinion - and there's also cat's Istanbul, and there is an Istanbul of birds as well. So there is a kind of, of course, a lot of Istanbul we can really depict.


But I think this is the good part because sometimes people complain about Istanbul. Well, there are very, let's say, territorial areas in Istanbul, so people really assert their territorial identity to some parts of the city. But in my opinion, well, this is how people practise attachment, and this is how people really kind of feel that they belong to certain areas. It's a kind of-- they kind of, let's say, transmit their identity to the areas that they live so that they can really show or represent their, let's say, characteristic or their characters in that particular places. So there are probably hundreds, thousands of different Istanbul's, and we don't know, actually, at this moment.


But-- well, once, I talk to a kind of, let's say, immigrant woman; actually, her parents migrated to the city a long time ago, and, well, she was not born in Istanbul but raised here. And we were talking about if she wanted to go back to the city of, let's say, her parents' origin. She said, well, "No, impossible because this is Istanbul. I belong." And when you look at her, let's say, life, it's very difficult with, let's say, lower economic prospects, over, let's say, solidarity networks or a lot of problems inside. But it is kind of-- she had a very certain image and identity of the city she wanted to really, let's say, take. And, yeah, well, it was her city, I mean. There was no kind of, let's say-- she had no kind of second thoughts about it. So in that sense, I think there are numerous Istanbul's probably.


Caitlin Morrissey

Thank you, Eda. 


Greg Clark

I wanted to just come back to Eda’s earlier point about the emerging informality in Istanbul and really just to ask, Eda, whether you see that informality having a very different character to, let's say, São Paolo and Mumbai, the two cities you've mentioned, or Johannesburg where what you get, of course, is a very large informal economy and very, very large numbers of people living in low density but semi-permanent informal structures. Is the character of informality in Istanbul similar or different? I am not aware of semi-permanent, informal communities emerging in parts of Istanbul, but I'm ignorant, you know; I haven't visited every part of the city. So what is the character of informality in Istanbul, I guess, is the question.


Eda Yücesoy

I think, well, of course, in every city - I mean the world cities - depending on their, let's say, national, economic, let's say, social, cultural context, there could be different ways of informalities exist. And in some parts, there can be similarities as well. But in a, well-- and also, sometimes, cities kind of-- they could take examples from each other, so that one form that we see here in, let's say, 1960s, which started, probably, here, we could see it in 1980s, late-1980s or '90s in, let's say, Johannesburg. And this accelerated as well, I think. In the last 10, 15 years, we had seen different feature. So, well, by informality, we used to think these different sectors, such as, well, as I mentioned, squatter areas, but squatter areas are completely different in every parts of the world. So that in the São Paulo, let's say, what was the name? Favelas--


Greg Clark

Yes, the favelas.


Eda Yücesoy

--are completely different from Istanbul's squatter areas. And also, in Istanbul, squatter areas has a wide, let's say, range. So it is, in some parts, they are completely illegal, but in some parts of Istanbul, they are semi-legal, semi, let's say, formal. So it's the kind of-- there are hybrid forms as well.


But I think in people's, also, social practices, there are some informal ways. For example, when people help each other in public spaces or when they form a kind of, let's say, social networks in the city, it's a kind of-- still, there are these traits of these informal ways of structuring their relationships. So this is what I meant. And I think that makes people live in Istanbul longer and that makes the city a little bit different from the other metropolitan areas because there is a-- because, in Istanbul, people think that, well, it's a very-- well, when you look at the social relationships, it's very different from the other parts of Turkey, so that's why people-- I think you had a question about it. I remember it in the, let's say, coming parts, so that there is a kind of let's say-- what was it? I don't remember it at this moment because I couldn't find it. But there are some, let's say, this informal-- I mean, in, of course, urban sociological terms, I'm thinking because, well, in forming their relationships, there is this informal ways of doing things continuous.


For example, well, I live in a neighbourhood where I know there's a pharmacy, and I know that, for example, if my daughter gets, let's say, stuck in somewhere in the street, she can go there, and she can call me from there, and she can stay there, even that pharmacy closes down, so there is a kind of, let's say, place, and they may act as a kind of solidarity network in the city, so it is nota problem. And these kind of contacts, they are formal, but also, in times of needs, they can turn to a kind of informal, let's say, structures of, let's say, solidarity or kind of, let's say, supporting networks. This is what I meant.


Greg Clark

So it's neighbourliness.


Eda Yücesoy

Yeah, you can say neighbourliness. For example, I lived in the Netherlands for five years, and there were very nice neighbourliness there as well, so people show, let's say, positive reactions to each other. For example, when you move to your house, they bring coffee, cookie to you so that they introduce each other. But somehow, there was always kind of this, let's say, barrier. For example, in the Netherlands, I would never imagine calling the pharmacy, for example, for my order, let's say-- another-- I don't know-- some, for example, family doctor to ask something else than our formal relationship. But here, for example, in Istanbul, you can do that, and people are very, let's say, OK with that. So no one thinks that, oh, this is kind of some kind of a strange wish or strange want; no one thinks that. This is a kind of different, I think, part of the neighbourliness.


Greg Clark

Yes. It's another kind of social capital, actually.


Eda Yücesoy

Yes, definitely.


Greg Clark

Yeah. I know, Eda, we are going to come onto the other questions, and Caitlin will put them in a minute. I want to just ask one more question about women and Istanbul and, if you like, the gender dynamics. For Turkish women moving to Istanbul, is there the idea that Istanbul is a better city for women than the rest of Turkey or not really? And what's your assessment of, you know, the experience of migrant women in Istanbul or refugee women in Istanbul? What can we say about Istanbul as a city for women?


Eda Yücesoy

I think, well, of course, for a woman, when you move to the city, it could mean that it's a kind of large metropolitan area, it's very dangerous, it's very kind of difficult to sustain. But once, a friend of mine told me-- let's say, she's a Dutch woman who lived in Ankara for a very long time. She said, in Istanbul, woman smoke a lot in the street. And, well, I was not paying attention to that honestly, and after that, I started to pay attention, and, yes, in Istanbul, when you compare to other cities of Ankara, İzmir included, a lot of women smoke in the street. So what this says, of course, they feel free because smoking in the street for a woman is considered as a very bad habit, is a very kind of sign of kind of, let's say, low morals. Well, when I was a child, my mother was, let's say, saying that I should also not chew gum in the streets, so it's a kind of low, let's say, morals, low attitude. And it was very surprising for me, also, to see that. A lot of woman in Istanbul smoke freely in the street. Whenever they are, they can be, let's say, standing in the bus stops in the middle of the night, or they can be, let's say, walking in the İstiklal street with their friends or in other, let's say, areas.


So, well, in my opinion, woman feels much more free in Istanbul, and that, of course, accelerates some problems as well, some other problems because some, let's say, people sense it as well. Woman feel a lot free in Istanbul, so there can be some issues, and I think the same applies to migrant woman. Of course, this would be very bold for me to say that, but in my opinion, well, in other cities, the options are very small, very little, so, yes, in, well, Istanbul, the life would be difficult, life would be very kind of-- let's say, because it's-- but there is still possibility. And in my opinion, for example-- well, as I said, it would be very bold to say; maybe this is not my-- let's say, I shouldn't say it.


But if I was a migrant woman, probably I would be in Istanbul or in the larger city of the country because of possibilities, because of options: formal options, informal options. I think it's everywhere, the same. I mean, in London, probably there can be much more options you have, or in, for example, Amsterdam or in Berlin, you have a lot of options than the small, let's say, towns.


Greg Clark

Of course. But I'm very interested in your anecdote about women smoking in the street in Istanbul but not in İzmir or Ankara or other large Turkish cities.


Eda Yücesoy

No. Actually, they smoke, but the numbers are-- it was her, let's say, description, and it was her observation. But still, I think-- for example, I grew up in a small city in the Aegean region of Turkey, in Denizli which was also kind of not a very close community but still, let's say, middle-sized. Now it is a large city. But as I said, there were very strict rules for girls, for women to act in the street, in the public space: so don't chew the gum, don't laugh too much, don't, maybe, higher your voice, so on and so forth.


But, well, in Istanbul, also, I don't imagine-- I don't know, actually, there are people smoking in the streets of Denizli at this moment, but very little probably when you compare. People say, "OK. Oh, this is here." People are kind of, as I said this-- well, they feel free; maybe they are not. There can be economic problems, there can be economic or social factors, cultural factors involved, but still, I think, unconsciously, they think that they can do a lot of things.


Greg Clark

Yes. And I want to ask you, then, do you think this idea is reflected in other ways. For example, do women more commonly go out together to have a dinner together in Istanbul than they would elsewhere, or do women make different choices about what clothes they're able to wear in the streets in Istanbul, or do they, for example, have a stronger propensity to establish their own businesses? I wonder if this smoking anecdote is the top of an iceberg, and what's the iceberg, or not? I'm interested.


Eda Yücesoy

Well, of course, we have to look at it in detail, but, well, I have to say that, well, smoking is just the kind of-- well, a habit, let's say, that has a little cost so that people can do it, but when you go out, of course, it can be-- because of the community relations, it can be very costly, so I don't expect that they are. But they form woman, let's say, networks of doing things together. So it is, for example-- and the same applies to men as well. So, well, that gives some, let's say, free time other than family or other than, let's say, work relations. Well, probably they form such groups - they do this - and maybe, well, of course, in terms of, let's say, clothing practices or other social relationships, probably there are-- well, it's a reflections of this. Yeah. I don't know.


Greg Clark

OK, for me, it's an interesting question because the smoking anecdote makes me think a lot of things.


Eda Yücesoy

Yes, definitely. It's a very interesting-- it was a very interesting observation. I was also, let's say, surprised to see that because, also, she knows some Turkish migrants in the Netherlands. She knows a lot of, let's say, Turkish people, and she lived in İzmir and Ankara, so, well, it was a kind of-- sometimes you make this, let's say, linkages.


Greg Clark

Yes. Thank you very much, Eda.


Caitlin Morrissey

Thank you, Eda. This has been so interesting to listen to you reflecting on all of this. I want to come onto the question about misconceptions that people might have about the city, things that people believe that might not be true, whether that's people from Turkey and the wider region or whether that's people that you've spoken to around the world that have ideas about the city that you think aren't quite right.


Eda Yücesoy

I think people think that it's a very difficult city. Actually, it is not, in my opinion, because people come here during their holidays and wander around. I mean, just ignoring all the time, let's say, limitations or other people's practices, well, of course, every city is difficult. I mean, even small cities can be also difficult. But, for Istanbul, people say that it's a congested city. Yes. But, well, we, Istanbul, let's say, inhabitants kind of develop a kind of strategy to deal with this, let's say, crowdedness or deal with this congestion, traffic, so on and so forth.


So, well, I studied in Ankara, and I lived in Ankara for 12 years, and I have lots of friends visiting us from Ankara, and every time, they complain about it's a very crowded, let's say, congested city. But, come on, they take the wrong routes in the rush hours, and they got stuck in traffic for two and a half hours, and normally, Istanbul people don't do that. So it's a kind of-- in my opinion, it is a misconception. So, yes, there is traffic, of course - it is a large city - but the traffic is not related with everybody or everything, so kind of people create that image.


Also, I think people think that Istanbul is extremely expensive. Yes, actually, it is expensive, but also, when you look at the value generated here, the added value generated here in Istanbul and when you look at the people's, let's say, work and the other, let's say, economic, let's say, assets, it's probably-- well, there is a kind of, let's say-- it should be like that because when you look at the other cities, when you look at, for example-- OK, London is also the most expensive city, probably, in the UK, maybe, let's say, in Paris as well. But there is, of course, a kind of added value here, so that it's kind of-- people tend to think on one terms.


And also, I think there is a wrong misconception about this territorial, let's say, neighbours or the - how can I say? - neighbourhoods that people tend to think about Istanbul, especially because of the division between religious, let's say, people and the more secular people. But they think that if they end up in their neighbourhoods, they would be kind of expelled, or there would be negative, let's say, encounters. I don't think so. I think, well, if you go to a kind of-- well, I remember that some friends of mine told me that they felt unease in them when they walk in the Roma neighbourhoods at the centre of Istanbul. They felt insecure. But it is in the daylight, and it is one of the main thoroughfares of Istanbul. So they have this ideas of security myths, ideas of this, let's say, fear sometimes against each other. I think, well, I wish these were not, let's say, there.


Caitlin Morrissey

Thank you, Eda. And then another question we had is about myths and stories that unite people in Istanbul. Are there any of those that--?


Eda Yücesoy

Sorry, can you repeat the first word? I couldn't hear it.


Caitlin Morrissey

Yes. So it's myths--


Eda Yücesoy

Myths, OK.


Greg Clark

Ones that are important for people, that they associate with Istanbul, a story or a song or an idea that tells you what Istanbul is.


Eda Yücesoy

Actually, there are lots of them. And, let's say, of course, well, since Istanbul, well, was and is the jewel of the country, the entire cultural works of songs - I mean, popular songs, rap songs or kind of, let's say, Turkish classical music, songs - they're all related to Istanbul, so people repeat that all around the country. They kind of, actually, say that.


I think - let me see - well, I have to say that there are, of course, these conquest myths of the city, so that there is this-- let's say, related with the Ottoman conquest or, you can say, the fall of Constantinople. And a lot of people feel that that unites them, and that's why, also, time to time that myth kind of becomes more alive than the others. There are, of course-- let me see. There was one example in my mind, and it just slipped. So there are, of course, lots of songs and--


Ah, yes, I was about to say that, in my opinion, let's say, the most ultimate, let's say, myth or the thing comes from an old Turkish movie in 1970s, I think. There were lots of movies descripting the migrants lives in Istanbul, I mean, in the, of course, gecekondu areas or in the-- their hardships and their kind of problems. And in all of these, let's say, movies, they arrived to Istanbul from Anatolia to Haydarpaşa, let's say, train station. And I don't know if you have ever been there, but just right when you leave Haydarpaşa Station, you kind of see the historical peninsula, the entire Fatih district with Sultanahmet, Hagia Sophia and the entire, let's say, Istanbul Galata Tower, everything just in front of you. And there are these stairs towards the Bosphorus, and they stand on top of it, and they shout, "Istanbul. I will conquer you." So it's the kind of 'I will win'. So I think this is the myth, so that this is-- so people are kind of much more than the city.


So, of course, this is a very funny thing. Time to time, we make a lot of jokes about it. But this is a kind of, I think, recurring thing because it's a huge city with, let's say, 10 million at that time; probably, now, 16, 17 million people. And you're just an individual with nothing, with your only luggage, and you say, "I will conquer." So it's a kind of, I think-- in people's minds, it's kind of probably, yeah, in my opinion, a funny-- and at the same time, probably true, so people believe that.


Greg Clark

Can I just check something? So, Eda, I want to make sure I understood what you just said. So there have been many times in history when people have said, "Istanbul, I will conquer you." And, you know, firstly, it was said, of course, by the different people who tried to attack Byzantium, then it is the different groups that tried to attack Constantinople, then it is the different groups that tried to attack Istanbul. So this is kind of historic thing, that people tried to conquer Istanbul maybe 100 times in history, right?


Eda Yücesoy

Yes, definitely.


Greg Clark

But today, there's a kind of popular thing, for an individual, in her heart or his heart. They stand there, and they say, "Istanbul, I will conquer you," meaning, in their life, Istanbul will become subject to them. It's a kind of ritualistic statement of personal intention to make the city somehow their own. Is that correct? Did I understand?


Eda Yücesoy

Yes, I think so as well. Yes, definitely.


Greg Clark

And did you do it? Have you done it?


Eda Yücesoy

Well, so, I mean, after Ankara, we moved here, and we had, of course, my-- I have some relatives here in different parts of the city, but in some ways, probably we did it, I think. Yes. Yes. And all my friends, they are still asking, "What are you doing in Istanbul? It's a very congested, very crowded, very difficult city."


Greg Clark

So does it become a kind of ironic because people can say to you, "Oh, hello, Eda. Have you conquered Istanbul yet?" This kind of thing?


Eda Yücesoy

Yeah, this is kind of-- they don't say it, but time to time, close friends ask, how do you cope, for example. For example, I never say the price of our rent to my close friends, never.


Greg Clark

Because it's too much.


Eda Yücesoy

Yes, it is kind of beyond their imagination. For example, my rent is a regular rent, maybe a middle-class rent that people pay here, so it's a kind of, well, different thing. So why I don't say it because we sustain ourselves here, and we choose-- we continue. So it's a kind of, you can say, “as long as you stay here, it's a kind of conquer.” But, yeah.


Greg Clark

So I'm sorry to pursue this, but it's very interesting for me. Caitlin, I think this is a little bit like something we do in England a lot where we say things like 'we will fight them on the beaches', which is a phrase of Winston Churchill, that we will stop anyone-- will never invade Britain, OK? So 'I will conquer Istanbul' sounds a little bit like this.


Eda Yücesoy

I think so, yes.


Greg Clark

But you're saying something very important: that to succeed in Istanbul, you have to accept all of the challenges of living in a city which is very big, very congested, very expensive. And you only do that if you really bring to that task the desire to optimise the benefits of being in such a city: in your job, in your social networks, in your cultural experiences. So it's a kind of contract between the individual and the city, that you accept that the city is going to be challenging because it will be expensive, congested, but you will conquer this because you will make the most of it.


Eda Yücesoy

Yeah, definitely.


Greg Clark

That's the idea?


Eda Yücesoy

Yes, definitely because, well, yes, we work hard sometimes. For example, I lost two hours a day in commuting, for example, which is a kind of-- well, nowhere in Turkey you can see that. And there are people who travel longer than that, commuting every day for maybe four hours and changing five, let's say, let's say, buses or metro or whatever. So it's a very difficult thing.


But in return, you have much more benefits. You have, for example, on, let's say, for entertainment, you have, let's say, possibilities of everything. Or when you-- let's say, there can be business options, maybe, which may not arrive right now, but in the future or for your children, for example. Most of the education institutions, universities are in Istanbul, so there are, for example, when you look at the numbers of, let's say, private universities, almost 70%, 80% are located in Istanbul. So it's a kind of, let's say-- for social mobility because education is the only social mobility option in Turkey, so it's a kind of-- let's say, everybody tries to have a higher education in order to increase their social status, and in Istanbul, there is a possibility.


So sometimes-- well, I have a helping lady at home - I had, actually, before COVID times - and she barely kind of, let's say, makes the family economic means, so she really works very hard. But she was insistent that she was-- actually, she was sending her only son to a private university. Why? Because of, let's say, possibilities. And it was extremely expensive, in my opinion, but they said that it is the only option. So there is this kind of, let's say, give and takes.


Greg Clark

Yes. I'm understanding what you're saying, Eda. It's, everybody makes their own contract with the city, and it involves high stakes--


Eda Yücesoy

Definitely.


Greg Clark

--high investment, high return, and it's not for everyone, but for a lot of people, it is the best option. And, you know, Caitlin will know this. In the UK, people outside of London talk about London prices twice as much as anywhere else, but you pay it because you get London benefits, right? Or they talk about London as the Big Smoke because the air is polluted. But London is also the place with the best-paying jobs, so it's the same kind of contract.


Eda Yücesoy

Definitely. Yes, definitely.


Greg Clark

I think Caitlin might have one more question, and I'm sorry to prolong.


Caitlin Morrissey

Greg, actually, you asked what I was going to ask which was, what does it mean to conquer Istanbul, and I think that I understand that now. 


The final question I wanted to ask is if we were to have asked you the right question would there have been anything else you would have wanted to say about the DNA of Istanbul?


Eda Yücesoy

Well, Istanbul is a very resilient city. Well, resilience is a very kind of fashion term at this moment, so everybody uses resilience all around the world. But when you look at the city throughout the centuries-- probably, you talk to some historians. They probably talk about the, let's say, invasions: Latin invasion, Ottoman, let's say, kind of confiscation in the first days of the, let's say, Istanbul's or the Constantinople's fall.


Or, for example, we should say that there were a large number of peoples arrived to the city. They changed the city. Also, we can say early 20th century, Ankara became the capital of the, let's say, Republic, and Istanbul lost one-third of its population, so there was a sudden shrink in terms of not only-- because they lost the major, let's say, influential population: the entire ministries, entire administrative classes, entire, let's say, major, let's say, influential non-Muslims in the city. Armenians, Greeks, they moved out, and there was a sudden, very crucial population change-- let's say, decline, we can say.


But in time, what we look at when we see this, of course, in 100-years intervals, although there were this kind of, let's say, things or traumas or the kind of things, the city rewind again. So for many people in Turkey, I think, especially for academicians in Istanbul as well, Istanbul's change after 1990s was unexpected. They were expecting some, let's say, connections to the wider world or that kind of Istanbul become one of the major, let's say, cities in Turkey. But this much of change, I think, no one was expected.


So I think Istanbul is now-- again, I don't want to use the term resilience, but this is a kind of show of resilience. So at this moment, we are trying to understand what makes the city resilient in modern terms or in kind of current day. But when you look at Istanbul's history, the city experiences some declines and then comes back and then climbs a kind of higher economic cultural position. So I think, well, there is something in its DNA that fosters that.


Greg Clark

This is actually a very important point, Eda, that you're making because, obviously, Istanbul is one of the most resilient cities the world has ever seen. Historically, the information shows this must be true. But you're talking about the power of reinvention of the city and the ability of the city to continuously replenish itself, to make itself new again and again and again and again. And this is, obviously, the most important thing to say about Istanbul in a way.


Eda Yücesoy

Yeah. I think, for example, this is not only related to, for example, people who live here, but there is something-- there was this-- I think, a couple of years ago, I think in 2009, there was this LSC event of Urba Age here. And I think Hashim Sarkis - I think, today, head of the Harvard Design School - he wrote that Istanbul is too big to fail. I think this applies to all time periods and all contexts because, well, we can say, it is because of the geography, it is because of the economy, it's because of the connections, whatever, of many things. But it is, all together, of a lot of things probably. It's very difficult to make it fail, and this is, I think, interesting for us also. Probably in our lifetime, we will not see it. I mean, from history books or other documents, we can analyse it. But in general, this is the feeling that I have.


Greg Clark

So I'm sorry to ask one more question now, Eda, because we could observe in history that Istanbul had some siblings: Baghdad, Cairo, Athens, Rome. In a certain way, those cities have failed and are no longer the size they once were - although, Cairo, of course, is a very big city - but they no longer have the influence that they once had. Is there a certain way in which Istanbul is different to Cairo, Rome, Athens, Baghdad in your way of seeing it?


Eda Yücesoy

Well, it's a very good question, I think. I have never thought about it. But again, I think it's-- yeah, it is interesting, I think. It's related with politics, probably, it's related with population changes, it's related with, I don't know, economy. But there is always kind of an opening for Istanbul which was unfortunately not the case for other cities. So, yes, Cairo has, let's say, expanded a lot - it's a huge city - but somehow, they couldn't really transfer this, let's say, size into something, as an economic asset. Probably, Istanbul did that.


So it's a kind of, well-- well, maybe it's, in Istanbul, Istanbul has some assets that they can be transferred to other assets easily, so there is kind of this transferability. I don't know if this is the thing, let's say, for some-- for example, sometimes you can-- well, social capital can be transferable to economic capital, but economic capital is not easily transferable to social or cultural capital. So something like that, I'm talking about. In Istanbul, somehow, this one asset could be easily, I mean, by people's, I mean, force-- or we can say the context, in general-- that was transferred to something else. So, well, there was this, also, potential, I mean, this transferable or-- I can't really think about a better word now, but maybe there is a better word in English, probably, you know.


Greg Clark

It's a very good word.


Eda Yücesoy

Yeah. So I think Istanbul can transfer it. For example, in, let's say - when was it? - late, yes, 15th century, these Sephardic Jews arrived to Istanbul, but they were kind of-- they were transferred to something else in the city. So imagine, at that time, half of almost one-third of the population was completely change, and this could generate a huge, let's say, tension, a huge problem in a Muslim country, I mean, when we think about today's terms. Also, yes, we have, now, problems with, let's say, Syrian migration, and we have these tensions.


But when you look at it, it is now also transferring to something else in terms of its economic life, in terms of its cultural life. So I think Istanbul is a huge migrant city. And while we tend to think that Turks are here for a very long time, and we own the city, I think this migration aspect is the DNA of, probably, the city because this is the major, let's say, force behind of city's, let's say, success, we can say, in general. And I mean, success is-- OK, when you look at the GDP, it is not the first in the world, but there is this kind of resilience; there is this kind of continuation.


Greg Clark

Eda, the thing you've just said is the thing that really strikes me as the DNA of Istanbul. This is what I think it is, that the geographical location and the social engine that it creates as a multinational, cosmopolitan city of continuous reinvention and replenishing means that Istanbul is different to Cairo and Athens and Rome and Baghdad because it's forever a connector of different kinds of places and people and forces and flows. And somehow, Istanbul has acquired the ability to integrate, to assimilate and to evolve through that process at the same time. And for me, that's the fascinating thing.


Eda Yücesoy

Yeah. We also get fascinated a lot. So we live in this city, and we continue, let's say, to do research and study about the city.


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