So I’ve lived in three cities in my life. First city – Kent, Washington, a quiet but large suburb of Seattle, I’ve lived in neighborhoods with density ranging from 2000/sqmi to 10,000/sqmi. Second City – The Second City (Chicago, IL) where I lived in neighborhoods with density ranging from 11,000-50,000 people/sqmi. Third, and current city – Mecidiyeköy, Şişli, İstanbul, Turkey – a neighborhood with 113,000 people per square mile. İstanbul is a city with 15 million documented people (but if you ask people who live here they say many people aren’t counted and it’s closer to 17-18 million), with neighborhoods that have more than 200,000 people per square mile in places.
One might be led to believe that with so many people in so little space crime would run rampant, it would be noisy and dirty and a disaster. One would be dead wrong. İstanbul has a crime rate that puts the cities of the US to absolute shame. Murder rate in İstanbul? 1-2/100,000. Death by traffic? 1.5/100,000 Death by terrorism? .7/100,000. Add those up and you get the death by traffic rate alone of America’s safest big cities (for traffic). Alex, if there’s that many people, there must be tons of noise! Nope. I live downtown İstanbul, and Downtown Chicago was far noisier, with the freeway about 500 feet away, I could hear it perfectly, loud asshole motorcyclists at 2AM, sirens, loud people talking on the street at 2 am, all of it. In Mecidiyeköy I again find myself ~450 feet from an elevated 4×4 expressway. but I rarely hear sirens, I don’t even know the freeway exists until I’m under it, the motorcycles are only around in the daytime mostly, people rarely are loud on the street after 0:00, the only noise (which I’m hearing now as I write this at 1:23AM) at night is the garbage/cleaning trucks. Which brings me to cleanliness! The city is not dirty. There’s spots of untidiness here and there, but the city as a whole stays really clean (especially the public transport!). Cleaning crews go through the city constantly, shop owners sweep their sidewalks, the plants along the freeway are kept looking nice(actually, those plants are a work of art), etc.
Life is easy going here. The neighborhood is full of things to do and see. There’s three grocers on the next street, there’s small 7-11 like stores everywhere (that sell beer!), there’s a few super-grocers in walking distance (4 Migros locations, 2 Carrefour locations, 1 Namli). There are three malls within 1/2 mile of my apartment. There’s restaurants everywhere, hardware stores, etc. Plus, I chose this neighborhood because it’s on top of the subway and the Metrobüs. This is where almost every one of the main transportation arteries in the city cross(which actually makes it very difficult to access by car…). Barbaros Bulvarı comes up from the bosporus, Halaskargazi Caddesi comes in from Taksim, the D-100 carries people from Beylikdüzü (Western suburbs) to Gebze(Eastern Suburbs), as well as the Metrobüs from Kadıkoy to Beylikdüzü. Büyükdere Caddesi runs through the other neighborhoods that make up downtown İstanbul, and on up to the northern suburbs. And they’re building a new metro line from the bosporus to the northwestern suburbs and industrial areas. Anyways, due to the proximity of everything I walk to almost everything I do. I actually only take the subway when I’m in a gigantic hurry, or if I’m feeling exceptionally lazy. There’s more to see in a minute of walking here than in an hour back home in the U.S.
A little about İstanbul’s organizational structure: İstanbul is a metropolitan municipality, which means nothing to someone in the U.S. Basically, İstanbul is a merged city-state. The mayor of İstanbul is the highest elected official in the city-state. There is a governor who is appointed by the national government. This strange legal arrangement is why when you look up some statistics about İstanbul, there’s oddities – like the claim that Istanbul’s density is 6900/sqmi. (less than the city of Seattle). That is the provincial density, and does not represent in any way the density at which people actually live. The density of the ~350 populated square miles of İstanbul is 44,700/sqmi
Further down, the city is split up into districts – there are 39 of them that break up the city-state. My district (İlçe) is Şişli. These are administrative units that have local school boards, utilities departments, garbage men, etc. They act like the services part of a city government in the U.S., but they don’t seem to deal with infrastructure and other large things.
The smallest unit is the neighborhood, my district has 25 neighborhoods (Mahalle) and I live in Mecidiyeköy. These neighborhoods have a legal definition, boundaries, etc. They are not like neighborhoods in the U.S., where you can argue with your friends on wether Streeterville ends at Chicago Ave. or if it goes all the way to E. Lake Shore Drive, the borders of these neighborhoods are set because they provide minimal administrative services.
So when I give my address it includes this: Mecidiyeköy Mah. Şişli, İstanbul, 34. If I were to try to do something similar for where I lived in Chicago it would look like: Streeterville Neighborhood, Near North Side, Chicago, IL
The neighborhoods in my district are all ranging from 10,000/sq mile (large empty cemetery included in this) to 170,000 people/sqmi. Basically residential streets are 100K-150K/sq mile dense, and if the neighborhood includes a nonresidential function, it brings the neighborhood’s density down, but this is how we live. Very close together.
Given how close we live together, you’d imagine that it would be impossible to find a quiet place to relax in the city, right? Well, I’m here to say, there’s lots of quiet places in the city to relax. I know of quite a few tea houses that are never super busy, a couple parks with amazing views that are also quiet and pleasant. There’s a lot going on in this city, but if you’re willing to look, you can find whatever element you need. There’s also some gorgeous forests north of the city that you can walk into from the metro stations, and some gorgeous beaches along the black sea that I have visited! It’s really easy to get around the city, be it on busses (they go all over), or the subway.