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Europe

Istanbul keen to bridge cultures as Olympics host

This is the fifth time Istanbul has competed to host the Olympic Games. Critics say the Turkish metropolis lacks the necessary planning. Proponents say Istanbul is the perfect host - a hospitable bridge between cultures.

Istanbul's campaign for the 2020 Summer Olympics features the slogan "Bridge Together." The city on the Bosporus is widely known as a bridge between cultures, and the ability to host the Olympics on two continents is one of its leading claims. It's a claim that Madrid and Tokyo - Istanbul's two remaining opponents - can't make.

Istanbul Ortaköy Moschee

Some events will be held in the conservative Muslim parts of town

Without a doubt, Istanbul belongs to the world's most contrast-rich cities. It's oriental and ancient, on the one hand; and surprisingly modern, on the other. This is something that goes for the city as well as its people.

Glamorous cosmopolitan women in miniskirts, traditional women with headscarves, Kurdish street musicians, students with thick-rimmed glasses and laptops, poor districts, historic buildings, skyscrapers and luxurious districts - all together, in one city. Istanbul has applied to host the Olympics four other times since 2000. Each time it failed to bring home the prize.

Master Plan 2020

The city has laid out its plans on its Istanbul2020 Internet site under the title "Master Plan Map." The Olympic Village is to be set up in the west of the city, and will be one of four zones in which the games are to be held. A bit to the south is the coastal zone, located right next to conservative Muslim districts like Fatih or Zeytinburnu. From here, spectators will easily be able to pay a visit to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Hagia Sophia.

The southeast Bosporus zone would be on the Asian side of the city, not far from the historical Haydarpasa Terminal - one of the symbols of Istanbul. This is where the opening and closing ceremonies have been planned, in the brand-new Bosporus Stadium.

A small section of the Bosporus zone is located in the modern district of Beyoglu - right near the central Taksim Square. In the green north of Istanbul is the forest zone, where the cycling events have been planned, as well as the slalom canoe course.

Two stadiums in Istanbul and one each in Kayseri, Ankara, Antalya, Izmir and Bursa have been reserved for soccer matches. According to the Master Plan Map, around $3 billion would be invested in construction of stadiums. Some $20 billion would go toward infrastructure projects.

City planners skeptical

Many Istanbul residents - like Akif Atlar, who heads the city planning desk - are skeptical of the Olympics plan. "As soon as the decision is made, most of the plans will just be tossed aside and reworked," Atlar told DW.

Akif Atlar Stadtplanung Geschäftsführer Istanbul Türkei

Atlar is deeply skeptical of some of the planning decisions being made

This wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened, added the city planner. Back in 2009, a finished plan for the city was completely disregarded by the government. Out of nowhere, government officials were talking about a third bridge over the Bosporus and a new airport. "This city is growing at an uncontrollable rate, and the logic that is required for city planning is lacking," Atlar said.

With regard to the Olympics plan, Atlar is particularly critical of the decision to hold events in the forest zone. "The forest acts as our lungs, and should be protected at all costs," he said. He also objects to an arena being planned near the Haydarpasa Terminal. "This station is a symbol of this city. Now they are putting tennis and volleyball courts next to it - this is not good for our image," Atlar said.

Another potential problem is infrastructure, in a city where millions of people live and commute on a daily basis. "Our public transportation network is pathetic compared with Tokyo, London, Paris, Berlin or New York," Atlar said. As opposed to a web-like network, Istanbul's transit system "is like a grid, and much too small." Atlar added that a further problem is the omnipresence of archaeological sites, which constantly puts construction on hold: "Such projects will take years in Istanbul."

Satellitenbild von Istanbul

Few would disagree that Istanbul's geographic location is ideal for the Olympics

Istanbul innovation

Despite all the nay-saying about the feasibility of Istanbul as a host city, Ruhet Genc - who directs the tourism management department at Bilgi University - remains positive about the mega-event.

"Turkey is the seventh-most-popular tourist destination in the world. I'm quite sure that this country will be able to take on an event like the Olympics," Genc told DW. "If it were to take place in one or two years, then I would have my doubts. But in seven years? That's doable," he said.

Turkish people are adept at finding solutions to problems, Genc said. "This city grows by 1,600 people every single day. We've gotten used to dealing with masses," he explained. He also pointed out that Istanbul has recently gained experience dealing with demonstrations, so security issues shouldn't be a problem.

"This event would be of critical importance for the entire country. If the people want to demonstrate, then they will do it in a peaceful and creative way," asserted Genc. He stressed the positive aspects of his country: "In Turkey, there are around 50 ethnic groups. Istanbul is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and the Turks are very hospitable by nature."

Not to mention the advantages of Istanbul as a geographic location. Genc concluded: "In this regard, Istanbul is unique in the whole world."

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