Social Empowerment as an Antidote to sustainable Urban Transformation
City/Region : Kadıköy Municipality , Turkey

Kadıköy's transformative action involves including the direct participation of citizens and urban stakeholders in the creation of social spaces. This new “public spaces” approach is solidified by;
• Co-production spaces supporting collective production
• Enhancing social diversity
• Creating Learning Spaces
• Supporting Social Innovation
• Increasing Social Interaction
• Supporting participative design via Co-creation
• Increasing experience exchange and Social Learning
• Strengthening Collective Decision-Making  and Social Solidarity
Kadıköy Design Atelier, Kadıköy Academy, İDEA Kadıköy workspace, Kadıköy women solidarity network Potlatch, re-purposed historical heritage buildings, all share the determination of Kadıköy to use space as a transformative tool. 

Agendas addressed
Public spaceSocial inclusion and integrationLocal economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Ensure equal access to municipal services
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Create and close local value chains

Rapid urbanization has caused unprecedented population growth in İstanbul, giving rise to sky-rocketting urban land value, which has become the most important source of rent as a form on capital. Hence, social space has been under great pressure and especially in central districts as Kadıköy, with a population of ~450.000 and only 25km2 land area, significant social space deficiencies exist. Kadıköy has set as a vision, re-purposing, re-adaptation and re-defining social space, by multi-purposing thus expanding social space provision.

Kadıköy has started all the above via the participative/innovative creation of new social space in line with the diverse needs of a modern urban population. These transformative social spaces envisage at once, a social climate amenable to; participation, empowerment, solidarity, learning, sharing and cross-fertilization over the totality of the social base. The alienating, de-skilling, atomizing modern urban life-existence is thus socially re-defined, re-structured and re-contextualized to its full, softening all discriminating tendencies.

In Action

Kadıköy Design Atelier (TAK) was established in 2013 by Kadıköy Municipality in collaboration with the private sector and a cultural heritage NGO. It was established at the site of an unused old cinema (Özen), as part of the Yeldeğirmeni Regeneration Project, one of the oldest settlements in Kadıköy.

The motto of TAK is “you design, we implement”. TAK is an urban innovation space that brings together citizens, designers, volunteers, students and participants, both nationally and internationally to create ideas and products for the public good. TAK organizes design sessions that are sensitive to social restructuring and evaluates problem solving processes under three themes; Design, Research and Participation, which cover open project calls, events and workshop sessions (website:

Kadıköy Academy is a think tank that allows the local government to collaborate with academics and researchers to develop policy approaches. It addresses local, urban research topics routinely collated from public participation for and elaborated with cutting edge global approaches. Here science meets the public and theoretical approaches are tested against the fabric of daily life. Four principal actions define the Academy; research topics directly related to day to day business of the local government, think tank function developing innovative ideas (IDEA common workspace project), reporting/dissemination of “hot” topics and best practice, such as climate resilience, elderly and child friendly cities, urban transformation etc. , education and training actions. (website:

IDEA aims to bring together freelancers, creators and innovators from diverse backgrounds to construct a social space where public good is the major concern. Training and educational activities are important at IDEA, where classrooms (free work areas for learners), common workshop areas, open event area and the kitchen collective are 4 main fields of action.  (website:

Kadıköy womens solidarity network, Potlatch is an outcome of “Kadıköy Women’s Forum and Local Equality Workshop” which was held in 2015, with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, including women residents of Kadıköy and women’s organisations, academics, local government, and NGOs. Kadıköy Municipality heard the voice of women demanding support for “income generation” and created social spaces where women within the Potlatch network could produce and sell their products. These social spaces have opened the way for interaction, leadership, entrepreneurship and collectivity; and have been contributing the strengthening of women in both economic and social terms as a result.


TAK has held around 1200 events to this day with the participation of over ~40.000 people. According to records at hand, over 2000 people have benefited from and used TAK facilities. Average utilization of TAK co-creation and design space is around 25 people/day, consisting mainly of citizens, students, volunteers and academis collaborating for the public good.

The Academy on the other hand has carried out 3 seminars lasting around 10 weeks each with a participation of ~600 people. Three significant activities that have derived from the work of the Academy have been the Climate Volunteers groups, mainly youth and citizen volunteers setting out to raise awareness on climate matters, Yeldeğirmeni district regeneration activities that have resulted in very important gains for a historical heritage area, concerning for instance the prevention of gentrification in the area and economic rejuvenation. An urban design guide has been a very concrete and successful output of this work group. The migrants issue in Kadıköy has been tackled by a third work group and has attempted to look at the problems encountered by migrants in the city, the needs of migrant children etc.

İDEA Kadıköy has been open to the public since 2017, with hundreds of users immediately utilizing the common work areas. Some of the interesting outputs from contributors include the Design Thinking Program, Digital Marketing Workshops, Client Experience Meetings, Istanbul Intellectual Games Platform, Organic Reading/Writing, Ideas Ateliers, Social Commerce Events and others incubating activities targeting start-ups and young entrepreneurs.

Potlatch network presently involves around 1000 women coming together in municipally created social spaces and marketing a wide range of artisanal products. Potlatch Ateliers create opportunities to software working groups, shop design, marketing/sales workgroups, women’s coops etc.


The impacts of Kadıköy’s re-design and re-purposing of social space have been highly significant in providing a diverse range of spatial opportunities for different social groups to communicate and create innovative social and meta-commercial products, experiment in co-creation and learn from each other.

These groups have not only found new ways and avenues of expressing themselves, their relevant problems and concerns, but have also been able to devise novel ways and means of addressing these concerns in collaboration with informed scientific expert opinion as well as social networks that can qualify expert opinion.

Urban life-experience as a learning process has thus been realized for a multitude of not-so-active citizens, newly becoming aware of their potential to change urban governance as understood previously. Furthermore, being an integrated part of the whole organization while functioning in coordination with the municipality through active communication and interaction, the new social spaces attach the notion of participation to the municipal processes on the one hand, and serve as a powerful mechanism assuring involvement of stakeholders to these processes.

These activities have allowed social creativity to explode, social space utilization to increase exponentially and in general has empowered a variety of social groups not normally socially active, come to the fore to participate in urban space making, third sector commercial activity and solidarity based social organization such as women coops. The schisms dividing Turkish society on the base of social class, geographical origin and cultural/ethnical/religious/social identity have been largely overcome by the innovative use of social space. Kadıköy has been such a successful test bed for this novel social experiment that the experiment has spread outside the boundaries of Kadıköy to all of Istanbul trying to learn from this experience.

Challenges and lessons learned

Any metropolitan area as complex and varied as Kadıköy presents a plethora of “wicked” questions, in the terminology of sociologists. Turkish urban scene and its dynamics, further problematize even basic services provision in İstanbul thus revolutionary new approaches to break the logic of “capital accumulation via city rent”, manifesting itself in constant privatization of the  “commons” , and the spiral of rent seeking urban transformation. The logic of capital accumulation needs to be challenged by the logic of public good that can be achieved only by full empowerment of different social groups, hitherto left outside the decision-making processes and mechanisms.



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