Istanbul Disaster Prep: From Urban Regeneration to Relocation


Istanbul, Turkey's most populous city with a rich cultural and economic landscape, is precariously situated on several active fault lines, including the North Anatolian Fault (NAF). The city is at a high risk of experiencing a devastating earthquake, a threat made all the more urgent by the twin earthquakes earlier this year in the country's southeast that claimed over 50,000 lives. Recognising the urgency, the Turkish government, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change, has been proactive in implementing a range of measures aimed at earthquake preparedness. This article delves into the multi-faceted approach Turkey is taking, from legislative frameworks to financial incentives, to prepare Istanbul for an imminent large-scale earthquake.

Legislative Framework

The Turkish government has initiated plans that are set to be brought before Parliament. These plans focus on enhancing building safety, transforming vulnerable areas, and providing support to homeowners. The legislation aims to formally identify specific vulnerable districts such as Bağcılar, Bahçelievler, Beyoğlu, Büyükçekmece, Eyüp, Gaziosmanpaşa, Kartal, Kağıthane, and Sancaktepe for urban revitalisation. The laws are designed to provide a comprehensive solution to a complex issue, balancing the need for rapid transformation with the rights and needs of Istanbul property owners. The passage of this law is set to accelerate the urban transformation process in Istanbul, making it more resilient to earthquakes.

Financial Aspects

Financing is a critical component of any large-scale urban transformation. Recognising the financial burden that comes with demolishing and reconstructing buildings, the government is considering offering low-interest, long-term payment options for affected homeowners. In districts like Bağcılar, where transformation of 4,500 houses is aimed to start within one year, these financial mechanisms are crucial. Additionally, rental assistance is expected to increase to encourage more building renovations. These financial mechanisms aim to make the transformation process more manageable for property owners while ensuring that the city becomes more resilient to seismic activity.

Urban regeneration

Identification and Transformation of Vulnerable Areas

Districts like Bağcılar, Bahçelievler, Beyoğlu, and many others have been specifically identified for urban revitalisation. In Avcılar, 1,967 buildings were renewed, and in Bahçelievler, approximately 35% of buildings constructed before 1999 were renovated. The approach is not uniform; it varies from district to district, depending on the unique challenges each area presents. For example, in Başakşehir, the risky structure rate fell from 50% to 13% due to ongoing urban transformation activities. This targeted, district-by-district approach allows for more effective resource allocation and planning, ensuring that the most vulnerable areas receive the attention they need.

Zoning Challenges

Zoning issues present a significant hurdle in the urban transformation process. Nearly 10% of buildings in some districts find themselves in restricted zoning areas, complicating efforts to replace them with earthquake-resistant structures. In these restricted zones, the new legislation aims to offer residential units in reserved areas for a specified fee. This approach not only addresses the immediate safety concerns but also contributes to the long-term urban planning and development of Istanbul.

Decision-Making Process

The decision-making process in urban transformation is fraught with complexities, often requiring the consent of multiple property owners. To expedite this, a two-thirds majority rule is being considered for decisions at every stage of the process. This approach aims to strike a balance between speeding up urban transformation and respecting individual property rights. It provides a democratic yet efficient way to make collective decisions that benefit the larger community.

Turkey earthquake prepared

Preservation and Sustainability

Istanbul is a city steeped in history, and any transformation efforts must respect its rich cultural heritage. The proposed legislation highlights the need to balance urban transformation with the preservation of historical and cultural landmarks. Moreover, demolished buildings in restricted zones will be transformed into green spaces and parks, contributing to the city's sustainability and alleviating congestion. This dual focus ensures that Istanbul will not only become a safer place to live but also a more sustainable and liveable city.

Implementation and Oversight

To ensure effective implementation, a dedicated unit for urban transformation is set to be established within the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change. This unit will oversee various aspects of the transformation, from land production to income-generating activities. Several general directorates will be formed under this unit, each responsible for different facets of the transformation, ensuring that the process is as smooth and efficient as possible.


Istanbul's proactive approach to earthquake preparedness is a multi-pronged effort that involves legislative action, financial incentives, and targeted urban transformation. By addressing the financial, logistical, and cultural challenges head-on, the city aims to create a safer, more resilient environment for its residents. While the threat of a high-magnitude earthquake looms large, these comprehensive efforts offer a blueprint for how cities in similar seismic zones can prepare for natural disasters.

Istanbul in Turkey


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