Stop Calling Gezi Park A "Small Green Space"

On Tuesday, reporting on the Istanbul demonstrations, Elizabeth Hewitt of Slate wrote:

Many young people simply want to save the trees in Gezi Park, the small green space where the protests began last week.

Emphasis is mine. Hewitt wasn't alone, the phrase "small green space" could also be found in The New Republic, Medium, and this very website. Atlantic Cities took it a step further, noting that Gezi would be "but a blip on the map in cities such as New York."

It would be more than a blip. Gezi Park is just nine acres, but when people hear a phrase like "small green space," they're bound to think of something like a neighborhood lot with a couple of trees. This is a terrible characterization of Gezi as an urban park.

The image at the top is a same-scale comparison between Gezi and New York's own Washington Square Park. As you can see, these two green spaces are similar in size, shape, and layout* (note: these images have been rotated for comparison's sake, these parks do not have the same orientation). This wasn't a bunch of neighborhood tree-huggers, these protests began as an attempt to prevent the Istanbul-equivalent of Washington Square – a green space universally acknowledged as crucial to Lower Manhattan – from getting torn up.

Occupy Gezi has since exploded into a much broader protest about secularism, freedom, and culture in modern Turkey, but it's important to remember that the initial protest, the urban planning one, is also a very big deal. I lived in Istanbul a few summers back, and the area around Taksim Square, including Gezi Park and İstiklâl Caddesi (the famous commercial boulevard running through the heart of the city's European side), is a de facto gathering point for young people in the city. If New York decided to build on Washington Square Park, which is a similar gathering point, New Yorkers would freak out.

In fact, they already did. In 1952, Robert Moses proposed to extend four lanes of Fifth Avenue right through the heart of Washington Square Park. Locals rose up, led by Jane Jacobs, and the final defeat of this proposal in 1958 is considered to be one of the greatest public victories in the history of American urban planning. Let's hope that the citizens of Istanbul can manage to pull off something similar.

*Some may argue that a big difference between the two parks is that Washington Square is beautiful and Gezi Park is kind of shitty. I've been there, it is kind of shitty. So was Central Park a few decades ago. Bad parkland can turn into good parkland, but parkland that no longer exists can't.