Istanbul Canal’s Impacts on Urban Planning
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The Istanbul Canal Project is known as a waterway project developed to provide alternative passage opportunities for ships facing heavy traffic at both entrances of the Bosporus by minimizing the ship traffic that threatens life and cultural assets in the Bosporus. However, it has recently been understood that the Canal Project is not only a maritime transportation project. It is an integrated project that concerns many sectors such as public works, agriculture, education, employment, urban planning, family, housing, culture, tourism, and the environment. The government officials frequently emphasize that realization of big projects under the coordination of the state is of great importance in order to sustain the economic growth of the country and to provide new residential areas for the increasing population. “Yenişehir” area, which is stated to have a population not exceeding 500.000 on both sides of the Canal and is planned to be developed with horizontal architecture in order to eliminate the disaster risk and declared as a reserve area with the law numbered 6306, contains urban settlement areas, urban development area, and special project area, as well as functions such as an airport, 2nd, and 3rd-degree centers, technology development zone, logistics zone, tourism zone, eco-tourism zone, health tourism, university area, urban and regional greenery and sports area, urban and regional social infrastructure area bus terminal, and coastal facilities area. A total of 11 connections, including 1 railway bridge, 7 highway bridges, and 3 metro line crossings, are planned to reconnect the land parts separated by the Canal, transforming into an island and two peninsulas.
None of the examples in the world for any canal project proposed to shorten sea transportation has a dense settlement proposal like in the Istanbul Canal. This settlement and impact assessment is not included in the Istanbul Canal Environmental Impact Assessment Report. Yenişehir Project, based on the law no. 6306, is considered a new settlement project for the high-income group with a high quality of life. It is seen as a project that claims to accelerate the earthquake-oriented urban transformations, based on a trade and service-oriented economy that brings global developments. However, the population living in the Istanbul Canal Reserve Area has a limited income and education level. Most of them work as blue-collar workers in the industrial sector and live on agriculture, animal husbandry, and fishing. This population has no chance of living on the proposed project, and there is no recommendation on where to house them.
Yenişehir Project, a project that is a political product of the efforts to stimulate the economy through the real estate sector, does not respond to the real needs of society. 1/100.000 Scale Landscape Map Change is not based on a well-researched and well-designed planning study. The examination of the current land use of the planning area, the conservation principles, and intended uses shows that the principles defined in the plan are not very realistic, the data do not coincide with the usage decisions and do not comply with the sustainable protection principles. Suggested functions and location selections are incorrect. It is clear that the project will cause irreparable damage to the living resources of Istanbul, its cultural and natural values of Istanbul, archaeological sites, agricultural and forestry areas, water basins. It is evident that there is no public interest in any aspect of the project.
Standing out with its ecological structure and natural heritage diversity brought by its special position in the world as well as its rich cultural heritage diversity, which is of global importance regarding the socio-cultural development history of humanity, Istanbul is home to many natural resources that need preservation both globally and nationally. Also, there are scientific studies showing that the biodiversity of the city is higher than that of some countries. Therefore, spatial practices that prioritize the universally accepted sustainable development policies that are promised in the agreements to which our country is a party at the supranational level should dominate the spatial planning of Istanbul. Istanbul should take its deserved place among the exemplary cities in the world with such spatial practices.
The implementation of the Istanbul Canal Project will leave Istanbul’s spatial sustainability under multi-dimensional negative effects. It is evident that the project conflicts with many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Despite the fact that clean drinking water resources are among the scarce resources in Istanbul as in the world, the project may cause the Sazlıdere drinking water source to disappear and the risk of salting the Terkos Basin and groundwater resources with seawater. Further, even if it is not used as drinking water, with the disappearance of Küçükçekmece freshwater source, three freshwater sources of Istanbul will be negatively affected. “Life support systems”(basins and drinking water resources, agricultural lands, and forest lands) are essential for the sustainable development of the city. Increasing pressure on them poses the risk of fragmentation and/or destruction of natural ecosystems.
The scope of the project contradicts the policies of adaptation to climate change. (Effects such as the destruction of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, the increase of built-up land cover in natural areas, the urban heat island effect increase). In addition, the zoning of natural land covers such as forest areas for settlement construction and the loss of land consisting of terrestrial, marine, and freshwater resources that preserve their naturalness to a great extent are in contradiction with climate change adaptation policies. Water resources and forest areas are essential land covers to improve water and air quality and regulate the climate. The United Nations stated that healthy ecosystems could balance the temperature increase due to climate change by 37%.
The Istanbul Canal Project is also inconsistent in the context of Life On Water and Life On Land – SDGs. The Black Sea coasts, the only coastal ecosystems that preserve the natural character of Istanbul, are the guarantee for marine biodiversity. Coastal, forest, wetlands, pastures, maquis, and agricultural ecosystems, which contain sensitive habitats and species that need to be protected at both national and global levels, are sensitive biodiversity areas of Istanbul. With the project, these habitats will be fragmented and sensitive habitats will be lost. The measures specified in the EIA Report do not eliminate these risks. The 38-kilometer-long (23.61 mi) coastal filling area planned with the Istanbul Canal will cause irreversible damage to the only remaining natural coastal ecosystem of Istanbul.
In conclusion; the area chosen for the project in question is not an area that is degraded, lost their functionality, or pose a danger to human habitats. It will be located in natural and seminatural nature that preserve their naturalness to a great extent. The lands chosen for the Canal are unbuilt and have resource value for the sustainability of human and natural life, and have ecological value at Istanbul, region, country, and continental levels. Spatial policies related to “Sustainable Development Goals, Adaptation to Climate Change, and Reducing Natural Disaster Risks” at the global level and in UN-HABITAT meetings have priority. Therefore these policies should guide the spatial planning in the sustainable development of Istanbul.
The priority of a livable Istanbul should be freshwater resources, the transformation of risky areas, social justice, and adaptation to climate change. The protection of freshwater resources, the transformation of residential areas with high-risk building stock into safe living areas, ensuring a fair quality of life and equal access to urban services, and the development of spatial policies for adaptation to climate change should be of vital importance to in the sustainable development of Istanbul.
The planned Canal route passes through the Sazlıdere and Terkos basins, which provide drinking water to Istanbul, and in case the Canal is constructed, the Sazlıdere Dam will be destroyed, and the drinking water capacity of Istanbul will decrease by 55 million m³. Since the elevation of the Canal is lower than the elevation of Terkos Lake, it may be possible for Terkos Lake to drain. Terkos Lake is the main storage area of the Istranca Project and the water source of 4 drinking water treatment plants. Any formations that would risk this reservoir should be avoided.
With the implementation of the Istanbul Canal Project, some of the existing infrastructure and treatment facilities operated by ISKI will be disabled, and new investments will be required to replace these facilities and to meet the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure services of the new settlements. Within this framework, the total cost is predicted to be over approximately 20 billion Turkish Liras in total. This total cost includes 2.5 billion for 4 dams, 2.2 billion for drinking water lines, 4.5 billion for 6 wastewaters and 1 drinking water treatment plants, 2.3 billion for wastewater lines, 6.2 billion for the expropriation of these facilities, and 1.6 billion for the provision of the impermeability of the Canal.
In conclusion, water resources are under the protection of the ISKI under Law No. 2560 will be canceled, as the water supply of ISKI will decrease. The sustainability of Terkos Dam and groundwater resources will be endangered. Additionally, transmission lines, wastewater collectors, network lines, treatment facilities will be eliminated and disabled or lose their functions. The Construction of the Istanbul Canal will adversely affect the infrastructure services under the responsibility of ISKI.
No direct requirement and relationship were defined between the Marmara Container Port and the Black Sea Container Port projects at the entrance to the Black Sea and the Istanbul Canal Project, which is the main project component. Within this context, the statements “…Most of the 70 billion m3 mud-like material that will be extracted by dredging at the Marmara entrance of the Canal and the dredging at the entrance of Küçükçekmece Lake can be used in the pier/service area fillings” in various sections of the EIA Report for Marmara Container Port show that the main purpose here is that the large amount of dredging material that will be extracted from the Marmara Sea entrance of the Canal and Küçükçekmece Lake and cannot be transported to the Black Sea fill areas, will be disposed of in the 1 million m2 of the coastal filling area to be created under the name of Marmara Container Port.
Although it is shown as one of the financing/income sources for the Istanbul Canal Project in the EIA Report, there is no consistent justification for the public benefit for dredging in an area of 3.7 million m2 with a frightening volume of 9.7 million m3, just like in Black Sea Container Port Project and the Marmara Container Port Project. Moreover, IGA Container and General Cargo Port, which are still active, are located next to this project area.
In the EIA Report Section 3.13 and the Financial Feasibility Report annexed to this report, the operating revenues of these Container Ports and Küçükçekmece Marina were considered as a source of income/financing for the Istanbul Canal Project to be built using the Build-Operate-Transfer model. In other words, it is clear that these ports in the Istanbul Canal Project are being constructed/planned not for the benefit of the public, but as a tool. Another indication of this is that these port projects are not directly included in the Work Schedule provided for the Istanbul Canal Project in the EIA Report.
The frightening filling planned on the Black Sea coast is not an aim for the public interest but a tool to dispose of/eliminate the 1.2 billion m3 excavations and dredging materials that will be generated by the Istanbul Canal Project. It is clear that the labels such as Recreational Area and Logistics Center on these fillings are nothing more than an effort to present these practices as innocent/functional.