Rapid Urbanization and Yumuktepe, Toroslar
In the last century, the city of Mersin has faced rapid population growth that began in the 1980s due to immigration, establishment of free trade zone in Mersin port and new economic investments in the city. As a result, the city now faces various urban challenges such as unsustainable urban development, socially isolated communities, and degradation of historic and natural resources.
During this rapid growth, Mersin’s Toroslar District became one of the focal points of immigration. Former agricultural lands were transformed into unhealthy urban districts due to their close location to the city center and the Muftu River. Natural and cultural resources are currently under threat as a result of the uncontrolled growth in places like Yumuktepe and the Muftu River [image 1 Muftu River]. Informal developments take the form of socially isolated communities. Due to these social and economic limitations, the reputation of the area became associated with crime and insecurity. As the urban development of Mersin expands northward, Toroslar District recently found itself in the midst of urban transformation discussions. Project developers are attracted to the area for the same reasons immigrants once were. Recently, a number of local investments such as high-rise residential and office blocks around the area started to emerge. Implementation of these investments is fragmented and does not include an integrated, comprehensive plan for the region.
Social Tensions and Environmental Degradation
The ongoing developments disregard the local migrant population and their social challenges in terms of education, water and air pollution and access to decent infrastructure and housing. [image 2, Informal City in Yumuktepe] The mismatch between the local community and newcomers living in high-rise buildings is only adding to socio-economic tensions. Additionally, ecological degradation along the Muftu River and the historic and morphological protection required by the Yumuktepe archeological site add to the complexity of the local development challenge. [image 3, A Panoramic View of the Mound, the River and the New City] As common in Turkey, academics and experts of private or public planning and design institutes track and document changes in the area. However the well-recorded academic research still must find a direct way to influence the development practice.
Citylab as a Method of Informed Planning
In the case of Yumuktepe, there has been recent collaborative work between Mersin University and Toroslar Municipality - give link to former activities here. A number of projects for the socio-economic empowerment of local communities, such as training local craft workers or providing education courses under life-long learning programs, have been introduced. Now, the ambition is to build a platform that more systematically supports similar socio-spatial initiatives and enables the local administration to work with intellectuals as well as citizens directly and informally. A natural next step is to establish an interactive platform in the form a ‘CityLab’ where locals, NGOs and academics can collaborate to voice their expectations and influence visions and future plans for their environment. Such a process will help those responsible for planning the site create more critical and informed public support, and inspire developers and investors to think and work in a more environmentally and socially sustainable ways -even slightly- for the future of Yumuktepe.
The History of Yumuktepe and the Muftu River
The prehistoric Mound of Yumuktepe, whose background dates back to around 7000 BC, is the oldest historic core of Mersin. Yumuktepe, which is located by the Muftu River today, had been continuously inhabited from Neolithic times until the Medieval period. The geology and natural context continued to change, and the Mound reached up to 23 meters in height. [image 4, Site Section]
Surrounded by unplanned urban transformation, the cultural heritage site remained neglected and untouched for decades. Archaeological excavations started in 1993, and although they have revealed the significance of the site to an international audience, the area still faces severe urban challenges. The cultural heritage site is now a socially isolated immigrant neighborhood with low-quality public space around the Mound and along the Muftu River.