The idea of urban dynamics refers to the complex but interrelated transformations that occur in each city over different generations. There are various elements such as economy, society, culture and environment that make up city dynamics. Urban dynamics include population growth, migration, technological developments, global change and urban planning policies. Urban dynamics show that urban systems are constantly changing, changing shape and function. This makes urban systems dynamically interrelated, sometimes leading to adaptations and sometimes evolution. Therefore, managers can take these issues into account when organising to face different growth barriers and opportunities related to urbanism.

Understanding Urban Dynamics Istanbul's Evolutionary Journey-Sheet1
At A Glance_©

Change In Urban Housing: Istanbul

The pace of change in urban residential environments continues to accelerate as globalization shapes the contemporary cityscape. This phenomenon, often described as a layered structure over time, is driven by the movements and energies of low-income groups whose presence is increasingly dominant in rapidly growing cities around the world. Istanbul is a perfect example of this. It has a rich historical texture that is more than 2700 years old and has been the capital of various empires. Currently, the city still bears ruins from different cultures – such as mosques, synagogues, palaces and castles – all of which contribute to Istanbul’s modern image as a cultural centre as well as Turkey’s financial centre.

Understanding Urban Dynamics Istanbul's Evolutionary Journey-Sheet2
Change In Urban Housing_©

Urbanisation in Turkey has been increasing rapidly, especially since the 1950s, and this has led to a revolution in accommodation styles under the influence of economic policies as well as urban processes. As poor people opened apartments for themselves, shabby buildings turned into public housing, while unauthorised settlements turned into high-rise neighbourhoods controlled by state institutions. Wealthier families are moving into older upscale neighbourhoods, as happened in many areas before. However, these changes resulting from globalisation have resulted in the elimination of small businesses including gated estates or luxury hotels, as well as the redevelopment of other areas, referred to as gentrification. Ongoing research seeks to understand new housing patterns and dynamics and provide insights into the evolving urban fabric of this dynamic metropolis undergoing radical sociocultural and urban identity changes.

Urban Housing Evolution and New Residential Patterns in Istanbul

Urban dynamics these days are very closely related to global restructuring processes that bring about city transformations. Economic, political, socio-cultural and technological changes influence city life in various ways. Guided by a vision of becoming a global city rapid urban transformations characterised by their politicisation, culturalisation and economisation have taken place in Istanbul over the last three decades. Urban housing patterns are very different due to this revision.

Understanding Urban Dynamics Istanbul's Evolutionary Journey-Sheet3
Residential Patterns_©

The combination of these factors has created a set of new metropolitan lifestyles and housing needs due to the following processes: economic liberalization, rapid urbanization and technological leapfrogging. Istanbul has witnessed many changes in terms of settlement types in the last 30 years, from garden cities to luxury apartments, from multiple residences to mixed-use projects. These changes not only reshaped the landscape but also allowed the creation of a new urban order characterised by mixed functions and transformations.

The Evolution of Istanbul’s Levent-Maslak Axis

The Levent-Maslak axis in Istanbul is a good example of how the urban fabric is transformed in the context of globalisation and the history of the city. The region was one of the major crossroads for travel from Asia to Europe and from Asia to Europe. Despite the rapid emergence of high-rise buildings and population changes in the 1990s, the character of the region changed. Old illegal neighbourhoods such as Ortabayır, Çeliktepe and Security Houses were formed on the west side of Büyükdere Street; In the eastern branch, it consists of social housing areas and mainly trade and commerce areas, together with the Levent and Konaklar neighbourhoods. There are two separate worlds here, separated by a street.

Understanding Urban Dynamics Istanbul's Evolutionary Journey-Sheet4
Büyükdere Street Located in the Middle, Levent-Maslak Axis and Surrounding Houses_©

The above differentiation emerges due to the socio-cultural fragmentation, duality and exclusion observed especially in the 1990s. Spatial heterogeneity increased social exclusion and cultural fragmentation, resulting in the loss of the city’s identity. The socialization space, which Levent first created in 1947, became an expensive residential area where the buildings were reconstructed in 1990. At the same time, there were also secret settlements such as Ortabayır, Çeliktepe and Security Houses due to rapid urbanization and the transformation of newcomers from agricultural areas into settlements. These areas were not built legally. In general terms, the Levent-Maslak axis shows the complexity of the changes experienced in cities, and this complexity is clearly seen in the social, spatial and functional transformations caused by globalization and history in the physical structure of Istanbul.

A Six-Decade Journey Along İstanbul Levent-Maslak Axis

In the last sixty years, rapid changes have occurred in Istanbul due to migration from other parts of the world. By the 1980s, these were bringing with them two main trends for the future growth of the city: a homogenizing strategy towards a single international identity and a focus on global economic new spatial formations. Büyükdere Street emerged as a catalyst for global dynamics and significantly influenced construction and spatial transformation. Starting from the 1940s, rapid migration and industrialization encouraged urban development, resulting in the emergence of new streets, factories and residential settlements such as Levent social housing. The lack of housing policies led to the establishment of informal settlements in areas such as Ortabayır, Güvenlik Evleri, and Çeliktepe. Illegal development permits and the subsequent conversion of residential neighbourhoods into mid-rise apartments were the turning points that determined Istanbul’s journey to becoming a big city in the 1980s. The Levent-Maslak area has become a mixed-use commercial and residential area, becoming the symbol of Istanbul’s contemporary appearance. 

Understanding Urban Dynamics Istanbul's Evolutionary Journey-Sheet5
Levent high-rise blocks and the Levent’s former social housing units on the left, and illegal housing areas on the right_©

In the 1990s, the axis became a business and commercial centre, where the city’s first skyscrapers were built. Over the next two decades, a building boom became evident along the axis, reshaping its spatial fabric. The axis is still fragmented into various parts due to its physical appearance based on social, cultural and economic divisions, but there is arguably heterogeneity resulting from these factors. Urbanisation in this region shows distinct periods that undergo differentiation leading to socially fragmented landscapes. As a result, the emergence of the Levent-Maslak axis in sixty years is a reflection of Istanbul’s urban competition following global dynamics, and urban development characterized by spatial and social inequalities. And this example actually contains examples of urban problems that can be found in many parts of the world.


Image 1_At A Glance_©

Image 2_Change In Urban Housing_©

Image 3_Residential Patterns_©

Image 4_Büyükdere Street Located in the Middle, Levent-Maslak Axis and Surrounding Houses_©

Image 5_Levent high-rise blocks and the Levent’s former social housing units on the left, and illegal housing areas on the right_©


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Simay Karadogan is an architect living in Istanbul. She is someone who loves to write, especially for his profession, and admires many subjects related to a structure. Advanced building technologies, smart and sustainable buildings, construction management and computer-aided architecture are among her favorite areas to read and research.