As anti-government protests continue in Turkey people all around the world are beginning to see that the people of Turkey are not just protesting the demolition of a city park, but rather protesting the government itself. The demolition and rebuilding of a commercial mall in the spot where Gezi Park now stands is, so to speak, the straw that broke the camels back for the Turkish protesters. As news agencies around the world so obviously point out, this isn’t just about a park.
Why can’t it be? I don’t want to attempt to even pretend that I have any extended knowledge of politics and history of Turkey that even makes me remotely qualified to comment on the protests – but I do think I am qualified to point out the importance of municipal parks. I’ve recently been staying with my partner and her father in an apartment that is a short walk away from Toronto’s High Park. Wandering through the park almost daily now, and drawing on research I have done of municipal parks in the past I have been thinking more and more on how important public natural spaces are to cities.
The practical reasons are numerous and varied. From examples such as Central Park being highly valued for cooling down New York City, as well as almost countless environmentalist reasons for having parks anywhere. Yet the social and political reasons are less general. While Central Park’s head designer, Frederick Law Olmsted had a certain vision of what his park would become, he was vocally opposed to what it became in reality. That is a public space for people of all classes and ethnicity’s to come together and use the park in various ways. While I would have to agree with Olmsted that children ought not to be allowed to trample around and pull out handfuls of plants as they please, his Victorian styled recreation intentions depart greatly from the reasons why I and most others enjoy public municipal parks.
Public parks are not only a space where one escapes from the hustle and bustle of city life, but as well from the socio-economic hierarchy that pervades it. While it is true that someone can drive into the park with their expensive sports car to find a parking spot, they are met with the reality that driving just isn’t fun at the twenty kilometers per hour speed limit that is enforced within High Park for example. It is also evident to anyone who has been to a municipal park on a sunny Saturday afternoon that driving, let alone trying to park, is nearly impossible which leads to most visitors to the park relying on public transportation no matter whether they have a car or not.
This lack of any social hierarchy is extended upon, especially among families. Weekend wear at the park is nearly uniform in its practicality, as well as its quality. Only a fool going to the park with their children would wear one of their “good shirts”, lest they wish to ruin it with ice cream, grass stains and who knows what else can happen in an afternoon in the sun. The philosophical value of public parks aside from the lack of social hierarchy can be best defended by looking at Martha Nussbaum’s defense of “Other Species” and “Play” being central capabilities within her capabilities approach to human development. Due to this I will not attempt to elaborate why public parks are important in this respect.
To return to Gezi Park in Turkey however, we have to see what the intention of turning a public park into a commercial retail space entails. To support such an action would be to devalue all the activities and events that happen in parks, it would also support the elimination of space where socio-economic hierarchy lacks power. I believe it obvious why a mall, opposed to a park, is highly dependent on as well as reproductive of further social divide as well as consumerism.
Within democratic elections all candidates should be asked what their opinion of public parks is. What Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown is that he does not value what parks are and do. It is because of this action alone that it is clear to me that the protesters in Turkey are just and the world ought to stand in solidarity with them. For anyone to devalue municipal parks so much that they would go so far as to remove them from the world are truly committing a wrong.