Wanna Drink Coffee While Watching Poverty?

I was taking a class last year about environmental and urban politics at ITU. There was an article I was supposed to read: “Socio-spatial legibility, discipline, and gentrification through favela upgrading in Rio de Janeiro”[1]. While reading I realized that the story of the neoliberal urban renewal of Rio de Janeiro is not an alien to our stories in İstanbul and Ankara. So here I am to talk about how the implications are all common to the non-westerners.

It is not the first time someone just gets up and compares Turkey cities and Rio de Janeiro. Yet, it is crucial to remember what gentrification for the Global South is, especially during the days we face increasing rents, housing problem and urban accessibility issues. As article writers claim, gentrification in the North is not similar to the one in South. This makes me think of Fanon’s unforgettable passage on “The Wretched of the Earth”:

The settlers’ town is a strongly built town, all made of stone and steel. It is a brightly lit town; the streets are covered with asphalt, and the garbage cans swallow all the leavings, unseen, unknown and hardly thought about. The settler’s feet are never visible, except perhaps in the sea; but there you’re never close enough to see them. His feet are protected by strong shoes although the streets of his town are clean and even, with no holes or stones. The settler’s town is a well-fed town, an easygoing town; its belly is always full of good things. The settlers’ town is a town of white people, of foreigners. The town belonging to the colonized.” (Fanon, 1963:39)[2]

Gentrification seems to be the process of making neighborhoods clean and even for the expanding privileged only. Our standpoint, however, is the one that fights for urban justice, not for the benefits of settlers’ ideological grandchildren. So here we start with the story of the resemblance of Turkey and Brazil, examples of continuing settlers’ city building.

The authors wrote the article after 3 years of continuous interviews with all actors that experience the gentrification and favela upgrading; respectively, the favela residents, Unity of Pacification Police (UPP), and the architects and planners. The two favelas the interviews take place are Chapeu Mangueira and Babilonia. These favelas were particularly chosen as they have green lands, ocean landscape and a low density in terms of population with a lower drug trafficking rates compared to other favelas. The location of the favelas is quite beneficial for the capital owners though. Just like Sulukule or Dolapdere.

Interviews are made three different times, in 2015 after the World Cup, in 2016 during the Rio Olympics, and in 2018 after the security crisis. The interviewees were asked questions about public space, which is the main focus of the research proving the gentrification process was not only aimed at economic change.

Gentrification was analyzed through 3 different dimensions: physical, symbolic, and economic. The physical discipline is mainly related with UPP, the pacification police -if you ever think that any kind of police department has ever brought pacification to anywhere on earth-. Nevertheless, UPP increased the conflict at the end and played an effective role on local resident’s dispossession of the public spaces. Although at the beginning and after the consensual conceding there was a short period of pacified favela daily lives, after a while the existence of the UPP has caused the security crisis. It is not quite an alien phenomena to us as Turkey-residents as well. The watchmen department re-introduced in the Internal Security Directorate was one of the outcomes of the ongoing urban crisis and authoritarianism in Turkey. For example, I remember a newly hired bekçi (watchman) approached me and tried to charge me a fine for drinking beer in front of the concert hall in Ankara in 2019.

Second discipline is the symbolic one, which claims the touristic attraction of the favelas for the white, middle class Brazilians’ tastes and fetishization of the poverty. The establishment of different bars and hostels has increased the interest from the people who live in asphalt (asfalto) in the hills, however, this also stimulated the invisibilization of the racial dispossession and damages such as the appropriation of the public space from the local residents. I don’t know whether you have visited Arter in Dolapdere but somehow one of the leading contemporary art institutions decided to build a quite contemporary building in the middle of Dolapdere, a former industrial area close to Taksim and suffering from insufficient infrastructure for exhibiting Dolapdere and the poverty it reflects. Now you can drink expensive coffee while watching the daily life in gecekondus.

The final discipline is the economic one. Just like in many gentrification cases, the non-owners faced increasing rates whereas the property owners were complaining about the coerced shift in daily cultural activities. After the removal and relocation of those who live on the green areas of the favela, the green spaces became privileged as the landscapes of pleasure. This reality does not feel from other worlds as well, on the contrary it fully matches with the Sulukule displacement. One of the former Sulukule resident, Cafer Gitmez saying “Of course they’re excited at first. Poor people are being given housing. They won’t be able to afford those houses in 150 years. That is true. 30 kilometers there and 30 back, 60 in total to get to work in Taksim or Dolapdere. Or anywhere else. I earn between 20 to 30 TL. I take the subway and then behold, back to my house. Sorry, but should I eat the walls?[3] explains the deplacement’s results from the local residents just in terms of working experiences.

At first, it surprised me seeing the similarity between the outcomes of the gentrification. Then I realized, it never only belonged to İstanbul, Rio de Janeiro or any other Global South city located somewhere around the world. It is the settler’s tradition to stay foreigner, to sip their coffee. There are numerous ways to make cities liveable, there are many ways to build the environmental justice. We’ll talk about them in the following columns.

[1] Thaisa Comelli, Isabelle Anguelovski & Eric Chu (2018) Socio-spatial legibility, discipline, and gentrification through favela upgrading in Rio de Janeiro, City, 22:5-6, 633-656

[2] Fanon, F. (1963). The wretched of the earth. Grove Press. New York.

[3] (Ecumenopolis: City Without Limits, İmre Azem, 2011)

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