Intersections: Istanbul, Democracy In Transit
As a perennial fan of Marshall McLuhan’s best remembered phrase ‘the medium is the message,’ I found our Flamingo Global Expo inspired a novel twist on the well-known adage.
Before departing for our Flamingo Global Expo, I was curious about the setting we had selected and the dynamic nature of the once Ottoman Empire capital, Istanbul. Initiated as a key gateway for the Silk Road, Istanbul has maintained its heritage and become a predominant public transportation icon. Weaving its way through the past 700 years of history, from a bustling avenue on the Silk Road to its current cornucopia of modern transit options, the city has maintained an enviable heritage of conveyance and cultivated a unique dynamism. The city’s well heeled history of mobility piqued my interest. Partially in my own self-interest of not getting lost in a city with familiar Romanized characters in combinations that are explicitly foreign and unpronounceable, I set about learning more of the city’s transportation culture.
Coming from a country that is younger than Istanbul’s public transit system, I was impressed with the heritage and modern evolution of transit available. Keeping forerunner transit heritage the city transit system runs off of a contact-less payment card called the Istanbulkart and ferries millions or commuters each day. A selection of trams, funiculars, metro lines, buses, bus rapid transit, seabuses and ferries presents a cacophony of modes that will take you anywhere.
This recent addiction to public transit stems from a two pronged effort aimed at getting citizens to relinquish their personal transit options. The public concern has driven investment and led to the upkeep and further expansion. The aforementioned cornucopia of transit options, as well as restriction of roads to pedestrian-only traffic in densely populated city areas has dramatically shifted the tempo and tone of many public areas.
It was easy to see why there was little outcry around the divestment of vehicle use when we arrived and started to saunter through the narrow streets and walkways of the historic Galata region. We were quickly infatuated with the nooks and crannies that house niche personas and bustling walkways that served an endless mix of nationalities intermingling. It is no wonder that 2.5 million people walk on Istanbul’s pedestrianized streets every day. I deferred from the tight and busy walkways for those that abutted with the waterways a cafes, chatting with colleagues about travel histories that make James Bond look like a hermit.
Sitting at the banks of the Bosphorous we were able to watch the ebb and flow of water traffic. Poised between two continents, the amount of commercial traffic that shuttles through the region is staggering. More than 200 million tons of oil pass through the strait each year, helping to push the traffic on the Bosphorus to three times that of the Suez Canal.
The soothing setting on the shores got me thinking about the unique range of interactions I had had across each of the different types of transit available. Each method of transit facilitated distinct conversations. Common areas served up colloquial banter instead of automotive mayhem, and city squares welcomed conversations between differing perspectives in place of parking spots.
To bring it journey into trasnportation back to the genesis of this article, my point is that the mode of transit is the medium for conversation. In the case of Istanbul, democratic representation of transit presents an opportunity for more democratic conversations to come.
Article by Wesley Robison; Images from City Fix and Wesley Robison