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Making Room for Nature in Erdogan's Istanbul

Its former mayor—now Turkey’s authoritarian president—said the Gezi Park protests of 2013 were merely “for the sake of a few trees.” Today, activists are struggling to preserve green space against a sea of government-supported construction.
Young people sit on the stairs next to the Roma bostan to take in the view.
Young people sit on the stairs next to the Roma bostan to take in the view. Lorena Rios

“The first time I milked a cow was three years ago,” Rana Soylemez, a 30-year-old Istanbulite, admits. The historic city is known around the world for its beauty, but only 2 percent is classified as public green space.

“I am not dreaming about living in rural areas,” Soylemez says, inside a hidden café surrounded by a lush canopy of trees in a trendy central neighborhood. “You [shouldn’t] have to escape the city if you want a quality life,” she adds. “You don’t have to be part of this madness; we can change it.”