Istanburbia

At the moment we’re traveling with my dad and his wife. Their first stop was Istanbul, where we stayed in an airbnb in an authentic centre city suburb. In this guest post he shares some observations about our time there.

Istanbul is the sixth largest city in the world. At 6400 people per square kilometre, it is up there in the density league, if you leave out the teeming cities of South and East Asia.

We have just been driven through about half of it, on the way to the secondary airport on its southern edge. It took an hour at mostly open road speed. Practically everyone in Istanbul lives in apartments blocks. So the journey featured mile after mile of them, in all sizes and states of repair.

In the older areas, the apartment blocks verge on the ramshackle. They seem to lean in towards each other, over narrow cobbled streets designed for cart traffic rather than motor vehicles. Lower windows are all barred, but up nearer the light, many are open, with washing and flower boxes adding colour. Music and conversation can be heard, the latter often shouted across and down or up. The Istanbulli do not hold back. There are always people on the street, even at odd hours and in the rain, and they are always carrying a package or two or three. These are people who do all their shopping locally, on foot. They are well served.

Outside our Istanbul apartment, featuring Mince the cat.
Outside our Istanbul apartment, featuring Mince the cat.

The population density supports lots of local shops of all kinds, all within walking distance. In the street in central Istanbul where we stayed, there were two local “dairies” within 100 m. of each other, and two vast aggregations of shops and eating places a block away on each side (the latter of which we only discovered en route to the airport). Our daily excursions to see Istanbul’s many sights took us through one of these aggregations, to and from the very efficient tramway system. At all hours the footpaths, shops, eating places and trams were crowded and busy. Even at 9.30pm, the barbers and hairdressers were only just sweeping up.

We have noticed a peculiarity in the way many shops are arranged. Nor far from our apartment there is a street that is only about 150m long, but it has six pharmacies! On closer examination, three of them are pharmaceutical dispensaries and the other three sell what might loosely be called “medical aids”. In the Grand Bazaar, shops are grouped according to product lines, so you will find clusters of a dozen or more shops selling the same kinds of things such as leather jackets, carpets, jewellery or spices and dried fruits. On the way to the airport we passed along a street of shops selling kitchenware.

We did not go into any of the more modern apartment complexes away from the city centre. They tended to be high rise, stand alone-monolithic and associated with shopping complexes that you would have to drive to. Their builders and tenants are clearly aspiring towards a more western lifestyle, but will they develop the sense of community that is needed to ensure a good quality of life for all?

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