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Editorial: Urban Transformations in Rapidly Growing Contexts

By : Yonca Hurol, Ashraf M. Salama

Cities have always been sources of inspiration for poetry. However, the modern western cities, which are the origins of secularity, have inspired poets in different ways. Charles Baudelaire captured the poetic dimensions of modernity in Paris in the 19th century. He wrote about the night life of Paris which became possible after street lighting. He wrote about corruption. Baudelaire also wrote about the changing character of commercial places in cities and tried to grasp the feelings of people as a ‘flaneur’: an individual stroller at city streets. The philosopher Walter Benjamin got inspired by Baudelaire`s poems and formed his philosophy, which relates poetics to modernity during the 20th century. Modern cities take an important role in his philosophy too, because Benjamin was making a collection of political event news in the cities of Germany. Then he had to leave Germany because of the growth of fascism. He left his collection behind. When he went to Paris he wrote about the passages and the poetic dimensions of modern city life. When Nazi army came to France, he had to leave Paris too. The poetry of Baudelaire and the philosophy of Benjamin are evidences for the poetic nature of modern city life. The relationship between the modern city and the free individual can easily be felt in their works. However, when you read heir work, you can easily understand that today`s Paris is not the same Paris any more. It is still poetic, but in another way.

A Turkish poet: Orhan Veli Kanık; wrote poems about Istanbul during the first half of the 20th century. The name of a very famous poem of his is: I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed. He was interested in the haptic dimension of Istanbul in this poem. The poem contains the light wind blowing and shaking the leaves of trees, never stopping background voices of the street sellers, the screaming seagulls, feet of a woman touching the water of Bosphorus , the grand bazaar, courtyards full of pigeons, hammer sounds coming from the docks and the smell of sweat, the drunkenness of the old worlds, a moss passing through a sidewalk, songs and insults, a rose falls down from her hand, the warmth of the forehead of a lover, her heart beat and a white moon rising over the peanut trees. The poem represents a day in the Istanbul of 1940`s. Istanbul is not the same Istanbul any more too. Street selling was banned long ago. Many trees were cut. People do not put their feet into the water of Bosphorus anymore. There are changes beyond the content of the poem and these changes effect the whole poetics of the new Istanbul. Population of Istanbul has increased at least 20 times more and reached 15 millions. First migrants came from the villages of Turkey since 1950`s and later migrants came from all over the world and especially from the war-torn Syria. There are new districts, new public squares, boulevards and avenues. Transportation has been changed several times and many cultural festivals have been organized. Istanbul is still a poetic megacity, but it is certainly not the Istanbul of Orhan Veli any more.

Academics continue to generate research findings on cities to capture such changes. This latest issue of Open House International, volume 44 – issue 4, is also about cities and urban environments where nine articles are included to delineate the dynamic nature of contemporary cities. They address the contexts in India, Malaysia, Chile, Turkey, Scotland, Bahrain, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates. By mapping the content of the articles to the abovementioned poems, we may grasp intrinsic characteristics about the nature of changes in the cities. Gated communities of Nagpur- India, inclusivity of urban design, urban transformations and identity in Santiago and Samsun- Turkey, impact of south Asian migrant communities in Glasgow, contested spaces in Bahrain, expatriates housing in metropolitan Doha, public involvement in the design of public projects. The cosmopolitan nature of current cities, the segregation between different groups of people, the demand of urban democracy, the affect of wars and migration on the cities are heavily felt.

Today`s flaneur should be of another type. Maybe a tourist or a retired person or an unemployed one… The speed of life is much faster than it was in Orhan Veli Kanık`s Istanbul poem. Is it still possible to slow down and listen to the sounds of a city? Can these sounds help us to understand the contemporary cities? Are there still something haptic in the nature of cities? Whatever… The contemporary cities and metropolises still keep on being inspiring and poetic for many people. Yonca Hurol, Ashraf M. Salama

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