ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
Typical university campuses have a forested setting, lawns with age-old buildings and even a lake or sea if they are lucky. The students of Istanbul Bilgi University, however, have a view of shanty houses as they cross a small bridge that connects two of the campus buildings. Indeed, freshmen or visitors to the university must be astonished at the scene as they cross the bridge for the first time. Istanbul's Dolapdere district, behind Taksim district, faces the results of unsystematic construction, with shanty houses and unplanned buildings standing side by side. Istanbul Bilgi University constructed two separate buildings in Dolapdere and connected them with a bridge. Since those areas belong to the General Directorate of Foundations and are not sold to anyone, the university has shanty houses in their garden. The shanty houses were there before the university erected the buildings, and that makes it more interesting for the locals of Dolapdere.
It must be an interesting experience for students and university staff to see people living in those houses every day as they cross the bridge in order to pass from one building to another. One of those houses is so close to the university that one can see people walking or sitting in their living room. As people residing in those houses complain about the students making noise and smoking on the bridge early in the morning, the students seem to become oblivious to those people as they get used to them.
�Yes, we are disturbed by the students. They make noise on the bridge in the mornings,� said Özlem Tatveren, 22, answering questions from the Turkish Daily News from her second-floor window. She also complained that as �students smoke on that bridge,� residents are affected negatively in their houses. The residents said they do not have any other problems with the university.
Living side by side, the university and its neighboring shanty houses are still strangers, and have been for almost for a decade, since the university first built a campus in Dolapdere. Local resident Levent Tatveren, who passed away recently, was acquainted with almost everyone who studied on the Dolapdere campus for a while. He was known for his care for his garden and his manner of dress.
�[Tatveren] is very much interested in gardening; the whole environment is full of flowers and TV antennas,� said Ariana Ferentinou, an academic from Bilgi University. Tatveren was known as �a man wearing his pajamas in his garden� by most of the students.
Everyone in the university was astonished at how comfortable Tatveren was in his house, despite being so close to the passersby on the university's bridge. The residents of the other shanty houses also did not seem to be disturbed by the bridge and passersby. They were sitting on a sofa in front of their houses listening to music loudly while the TDN talked to them.
Although the university has a democratic structure that tries to ensure diversity in society, most students seem to be negligent of their neighbors. �[Tatveren] is just next to us and none of us know this person although we see him every day. He tries to get the best out of his surrounding,� said Ferentinou, a columnist for the TDN.
�Some students exclude those people living around them,� said Elem Tuğçe Oktay, a graduate student in the Film and Television Department at Istanbul Bilgi University. She said the students of a private university with higher incomes mostly do not pay attention to the low-income people living around them.
Although both sides are ignorant of one another, they are also still curious about each other. �Do you say, �Look at them, how poor they are,' when you look at us from the bridge?� asked Tatveren, in an interview with the members of a student club from the university in the Bilgi Bulletin, the campus magazine. This mysterious strangeness reflects the economic gap among the different social groups in society.
�There is a visible difference between students and people living in this house in terms of their life standards,� said Beyza Satoğlu, who graduated from Istanbul Bilgi University.
The region is usually associated with crime and drug dealers, which leads most students to have prejudices about the residents. �Most of the students believe that those people living around are potential criminals, and the students do not feel safe there,� said Satoğlu, a former student.
�Dolapdere hard to change and develop'
Although Istanbul Bilgi University is known for the projects it initiates to develop its neighborhood, it seems hard to do it in Dolapdere. �We launch courses to teach the craft of some handmade ornamentation and jewelry and organize panels to teach women in the neighborhood about their rights,� said Professor İhsan Bilgin, vice-dean and the Architecture masters' program director at Istanbul Bilgi University. However, Bilgin admitted that it is not very easy to change the area completely. �Dolapdere is a neighborhood where the rate of crime is high,� said Bilgin, adding, �It is not the duty of a university to change that; we cannot act like the government or the police.�
The university administration is aware of the contrast between the standard of living of its students and that of the people in the neighborhood. �We were looking for an interaction with the city,� said Bilgin, adding, �This contrast and encountering different parts of society is exactly what we want.�
Dolapdere is behind the Taksim district and close to Tarlabaşı, where poverty is visible. People excluded from and unseen in society, such as transvestites, Roma people, refugees, and immigrants from eastern Anatolia, mostly live in these locations. Dolapdere, which has a historical and multicultural structure, is very close to the nightlife of Taksim and also very far from being a part of it.
The area belongs to the foundations
Although the residents of the shanty houses said that they did not mind the presence of the university, they still have some fears. When the TDN asked Hasan Özsu, the owner of a shanty house close to the university's bridge, whether the university has ever asked residents to sell their houses, he said �no,� asking, �Do they want to buy our houses?� in a worried voice.
The university, however, could not buy these shanty houses. There is a tomb in the area where shanty houses are located, and, consequently, the land belongs to the General Directorate of Foundations. �If those lands are to be sold to anyone, they should be sold to us; our families asked to buy them in advance many years ago,� said Özsu.
The university administration claimed they were happy with the buildings being around.
�We are not bothered by these houses being located so close to us,� said Professor İhsan Bilgin, adding it is usual for a city university to be close to private dwellings, and many from the university find these ones very intriguing. �My colleagues from Europe admired our campus when they came for a visit, as it is very much close to the real city life,� said Bilgin. As an architect, Bilgin agreed there are many problems in Dolapdere, not only in terms of the structure of the buildings, but also because of the high rate of crime in the area.