Bostans: Agricultural Generators for Istanbul’s Urbanization

Yao Dong (MAUD) and Di Xia (MArch II)

Project Overview

In addition to its direct contribution to urban food supply and security, urban agriculture positively affects a wide variety of other urban issues, ultimately contributing to the creation of sustainable cities. In our proposal, we will investigate the capability and potential of urban agriculture in terms of urbanism and to study the urban agriculture as an urban generator. With this objective, we will go to study an old urban agriculture form – bostan and investigate its contribu­tion to Istanbul’s urbanism, and how it articulate the idea that urban agriculture goes beyond food produc­tion to agriculture urbanism. In order to test our hypotheses, we will use multi-scale study and comparison. Firstly, we will record how people live, work, play and learn with it—its contribution to form and support a dense local urban settlement. Then we will jump into a larger scale to embed bostans in the contexts of an urban green system, urban connections, historic conservation, tourism, domestic markets and economy, etc. to find out a significant role of these agriculture fields in the current rapid and some­what turbulent urbanization of Istanbul. Lastly, our investigation will look into the challenge and potential of this agricultural urban generator in the future.

Project Information

Human has been evolving into an urban species in the 21st century. Mass urbanizations are taking places all over the world, large amount of people move from villages to cities, and those cities keep expanding the territories with high speed, especially in the developing countries. However, more and more people re­alize that the concept of 20th century city, which mainly focus on the consumption (and also wasting), is not sustainable. As a result, productive landscapes thought as alternative meanings come into sight, among which urban agriculture not only has a profound human culture connection, but provides many practical examples around the world for us to study.

When we firstly refer to theoretical precedents in this topic, we find Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City of To-morrow, Le Corbusier’s The City of Tomorrow, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s idea of Broadacre City are regarded as attempts to conceptualize the relationship between urban life and agriculture. Nevertheless, we find there is a slight difference between Howard and Wright’s and Corbusier’s view toward urban agriculture that neglected by most studies. In Garden City of Tomorrow, the idea of “city” is driven by the idea of “garden”, the 80% area of city which devotes to food production not only forms the structure of city, but also becomes a spirit symbol of city (Howard, 1946). In The Disappearing City, Wrights shows a similar idea by saying “architecture as acreage seen together as landscape”, articulating the generative potential of productive landscape (Wright, 1932). On the contrast, in Le Corbusier’s urban model for tomorrow city, although describing a visually similar scenery, makes productive landscape as a subscribe component and left-over space for his architectural idea. Compared to Le Corbusier’s somewhat pictur­esque and quasi-ecological idea toward urban agriculture, we are more interested in an essential and gen­erative urban agriculture which has the real potential to form, shift and shape our cities. With this interest, we begin to find and study examples in the practice domain and get two categories. On the one hand, there are large amount of ancient precedents which are still playing important roles today, for example, Chinese market gardening, Istanbul’s bostans, and Botswana’s urban agriculture fields. On the other hand, there are also many contemporary attempts trying to integrate agriculture into urban environment, such as Michael Sorkin’s plan for Manhattan (Sorkin, 2009). However, comparing to contemporary adaptive approaches, those old urban agriculture models are more suitable for study in terms of the generative idea. Their concrete and profound nature already has ability to establish ecological, social and cultural networks which have potential to generate real urban communities. Moreover, through the interplay with cities in the dynamic contemporary context, those ancestors have opportunities to develop new models to adapt, to challenge and to change both our urban concept and environment.

Through this lens, Istanbul’s bostans are to be investigated. We will choose old bostan fields in the Asian side facing the Bosphorus channel , and aside the ancient Theodosian city wall as the sites (Figure 1, 2) and investigate how bostan, an ancient urban agricul­tural form since Byzantine period in Istanbul, generates urban community and environment in the current Istanbul’s rapid and turbulent urban development, how people live, work, play and learn with it, how it impacts to the various layers of this city, and further how it contributes to an idea that goes beyond the agricultural production to agriculture urbanism.

Urban agriculture has become a research topic with much attention since 1980s (Kaldjian 2005). Such researches range from the 1958 study by James Blaut on market gardening in Singapore in Asia, to later studies in East Africa (Donald Freeman 1991), and in South American countries including Cuba (Adriana Premat 2005) and Argentina (Eduardo Spiaggi 2005). Specific topics in this area include: policy formu­lation & land use planning , food safety and nutrition for city poor, using waste resources as means for sustainable development, local economic development, gender issue, etc.

Recently an interesting view point is building community through urban agriculture network (Kaldjian 2000, Howe 2002, Henderson and En 2007). City garden is considered as a “resource to build commu­nity, foster social and environmental justice, eliminate hunger, empower communities, break down racial and ethnic barriers, provide adequate health and nutrition, reduce crime, improve housing, promote and enhance education, and otherwise create sustainable communities.”(ASLA, 2006). Based on previous research on the basic condition and historical knowledge of the Turkish farm garden (Kaldjian 2004), we think our study of urban agriculture in Istanbul should combine current urbanization of Istanbul, and focus more on the spatial relationship through an urbanistic perspective.

Metropolitan Istanbul is divided from north to south by the Bosphorus which is recognized as geographi­cal divide between Europe and Asia. The city is further sectioned by the Golden Horn, on west side of which Old Istanbul lies. A 7-km land wall, built in the fifth century and maintained for more than1000 years until now, runs from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara.

The population of the metropolis more than tripled during the 25 years between 1980 and 2005. Specially, the fast urbanization depends largely on the informal networks where publicly provided infrastructure is inadequate (Keyder 1999), such as informal housing “gecekondu” and transportation “dolmus” systems which are integral parts of the city’s fabric. It is a wild city with various layers for urban agriculture to play with in nowadays tremendous transformations.

Turkish traditional market garden, known as bostan, is a specific form of urban agriculture in Istanbul for long history. From Byzantine period to the twentieth century, bostans satisfied the need for food in Istan­bul (Kaldjian 2004). A typical bostan produces 15-20 types of vegetables in a year, capable to feed several hundreds of people. Some also have fruit trees, chickens and cows for agriculture sideline products.

Around 1900, more than 1,200 vegetable (12 square kilometers) gardens were reported in a larger area on both sides of Bosporus with 102 reported within the old city. In the 1950s map, within the city wall, 44 discrete areas of bostans were found, each of which could be large enough to be divided into 10-20 individual gardens( Figure 5). No dramatic change was found from the end of the Ottoman Empire to 1970s. In 1980s, bostans became seriously endangered and were pushed to the periphery of the city due to the massive population growth, political corruption and housing development (Keydar 1999)( Figure 6). However, gardeners believe there are still about 1,000 bostons with traditional style, in metropolitan Istanbul (Kaldjian 2000).

Among the gardens which can still be found today, what we are studying is the bostan in a linear field adjacent to the Theodosian wall ( Figure 7, 8), dating from twelfth century. The original bostan near Yedikule, the seven towers fort area at the south end of the Thedosian wall, is the earliest garden in this serious of bostans. Since the late 1990s, a number of gardens along and outside the wall expanded north­ward from Yedikule toward the Topkapi Gate, forming a special linear farm land along the wall. The wall itself was uilt in 400s, still retaining its visual strength, providing a powerful backdrop for urban farming. There are three layers of the structure in the section of the wall, and spaces in between the walls are also used as the land for bostan ( Figure 9, 10, 11). On one side of the field is the old city which is now being transformed into a modern metropolitan center, on the other side of the field is the aggregation of different dense urban settlements.

As hypothesis, we argue that urban agriculture exist as a way for urbanization, which works in the center of the layering of numbers of networks. The arguments should followed like this: Firstly, Bostans as an urban agriculture can foster dense urban settlements and also urban activities by providing resources for living, working, playing and learning. Secondly, bostans also play an important part in Istanbul’s green system, connection, historic conservation, tourism, domestic markets and economy. Thirdly, compared to a previous bostan site in the central part of the city which now becomes construction field and parking area due to Istanbul’s development, urban agriculture challenge Istanbul’s undergoing urbanization, forces us to retrospect our traditional urbanization model. As a result, we should look into both potential and challenge of this kind of agriculture urbanism in order to preserve and develop it.

Contact Information

Di Xia

Yao Dong


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