02 June, 2010

Ankara Kalesi

Back in January, i wrote that i'd probably post more about Ankara Kalesi (the Citadel) when i knew more about it. Little did i know the Citadel neighborhood would become a recurrent research topic throughout the semester for LAUD 322, People and Environment. In writing this post, i'm looking back over old scratchings and academic assignments - so it may have a different character than most. Though rather general, People and Environment was an intriguing cross-disciplinary offering – an introduction to  environmental psychology tailored to urban design students – and as we produced the final assignment, we had to choose one social process related to physical space through which to view our chosen site. Territoriality was an easy choice.

There is, of course, ancient history. These stone bulwarks were built in the Hittite Era, commanding an impressive view of this central Anatolian valley and, until the modern Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 and Ankara was chosen as the capital, formed the nucleus of a small settlement. It remained the anchor of Ancyra through Celtic and later Roman tenure, when central Anatolia was known as Galatia. But as i've said before, ancient history doesn't mean much to me: it's a reference point, but in a way it doesn't tell you anything. Ancient history is frozen, immutable, though the telling of it might change with new philosophies, new perspectives, and new victors on the world stage.

As we explored a range of methods for appraising the site, trying to perceive it as a phenomenologist might, i realized that the ancient walls not only demarcated a defensible space for the ancient Hittites; they also enforce a certain territoriality of time. Despite long-held intentions to revitalize the area, it retains an almost rural character, "frozen in time" since the decision to make it a backdrop for the modern city.

In the course of research, i was pleasantly surprised to find a detailed analysis of Ankara Kalesi published by two Bilkent faculty (Erendil and Ulusoy, 2002). While portions of the outer citadel have been transformed into restaurants and tourist shops, most of these buildings have been subdivided into multi-family residences with two rooms per unit, creating overcrowded conditions. This neighborhood has the lowest rent in Ankara.

In the literature of urban planning and political economy, i found a unique definition of territory as a phenomenon produced relationally rather than bounded and static - “a tangled mosaic of superimposed, interpenetrating nodes, levels, scales, and morphologies” that cannot be mapped in any Cartesian sense (Brenner, 2004). And throughout a series of visits to the site, that became the clearest, most convincing way to understand it. We had identified several different user groups - illustrated by female residents who rarely leave the site, merchants who commute to it daily (yet are not an integral part of the social networks within its walls), tourists who may visit it for a few hours in their lifetime, and young male residents who from an early age play independently in small groups in the street, moving freely through both interior and exterior spaces. That last group is, as they grow older, a source of apprehension for others.

Off the record, i would add to the analysis a fifth group: lifelong Ankarites who may have visited the neighborhood once or twice. Altindağ district, where the Citadel is located, has a reputation as the most dangerous corner of Ankara, and whenever i talked to friends about the idea of visiting it at night to see the city spread twinkling below us, they grew hesitant. So at last i went alone. The Citadel tower, alas, closes at dusk, but as i walked down through the narrow cobblestone streets i heard music – a neighborhood wedding party.

One of the tidiest little theories of environmental cognition is Kurt Lewin's field theory. Simply put, you can organize information about life experiences in a diagram rather like a peach. The pit and flesh are areas of familiarity, while outside the skin of this experiential peach lies an area called the foreign hull, a place of mystery, curiosity, and at times, fear.

The citadel environment presents an interesting case. One of the few touristic places in Ankara, it draws radically different socioeconomic layers into contact, something we typically avoid. If you're familiar with Boston, imagine the Bunker Hill monument smack in the middle of a Jamaica Plain ghetto. Older women selling handcrafts along the citadel steps present an aggressive presence that infringes on tourists' personal space (their "portable territory"). Both the low-income residents and camera-toting visitors perceive each other as a curiosity.

From observation, it seemed that differences in territorial cognition are closely related to Lewin's field theory and to perceived threats. That is, individuals for whom the space occurs as a place of touristic interest within the foreign hull will classify it as more public, yet feel apprehensive, perhaps because they subconsciously know the space is cognized by other users as a primary territory. In a cognitive sense, residents (particularly young males) own even the public spaces, yet tolerate the territorial infringement of tourist users for its economic benefits. It doesn't take much empathy to understand that the cognitive and emotional experience of being  a “curiosity” for higher socioeconomic visitors has negative components for residents.

It is uncertain how redevelopment will affect these people – or whether it will come at all. But tourists will continue to ascend the narrow, uneven cobblestone streets past wool and copper merchants and walk beneath the arched Gates. Wherever i am in Ankara – from Sihhiye, Altındağ, or affluent Çankaya – i see the flag perched atop the citadel; like the window-cornices of its old buildings, a place where sparrows nest.