Istanbul mayor İmamoğlu appoints pro-Gezi city planner as new zoning official

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu has rolled up his sleeves to appoint new directors to several municipal departments, including a new director for the megacity’s zoning and urban development unit.

Gürkan Akgün, a Chamber of City Planners board member who is known for his support of the environmental concerns voiced during Turkey’s 2013 Gezi protests, will head İstanbul’s municipal zoning, Turkish alternative media outlet Medyascope reported.

A member of the Union of Chambers of Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), Akgün was an important figure during the civic objections to the construction of an Ottoman-style barracks in one of the last green spaces left in İstanbul’s central district of Beyoğlu, which later evolved into massive protests with millions of people throughout Turkey, known as the Gezi Park protests.

Akgün was also part of Taksim Solidarity, a group of academics, civil society activists and members of professional organisations that led the theoretical objections against the barracks and acted as the interlocutor for talks with the government when protests broke out.

The newly-appointed director spoke to Medyascope about his plans for the department the city’s northern forests.

Akgün said the department will focus on a scientific and participatory approach as part of the environmental plan for the city of 17 million. The official vowed to remain committed to the good of the public and protection of the natural environment.

The northern forests are the lungs of Istanbul, Gürkan said, and as such must be protected if Istanbul is to survive. The forest area in question is one of the very last pockets of complete ecosystems to survive the decades of hectic urban development Istanbul has seen, and have been significantly damaged by the Istanbul Airport project already, despite prolonged civic protests against the construction.

Speaking on the city’s famous Taksim Square, Akgün said residents’ complaints about the current state of the most important public space in the city will be heeded and the historical identity of the square will be protected through a "public and transparent process.’’