Reviewed April 2014
Irlanda Jacinto, Data and Operations Specialist
Bunting Visual Resources Library, College of Fine Arts-University of New Mexico

Ekümenopolis: City Without Limits analyzes the effects that neoliberalism, capitalism, and urban renewal have had on the metropolis of Istanbul.  The film, directed by İmre Azem, paints a grim picture of what the future holds for this and other global centers. It gives, in a provocative and effective manner, an overview of the widespread political and sociological issues that Istanbul has, does, and will face.

The film derives its name from the urban concept of ecumenopolis or “world city” developed in 1967 by Greek city planner Constantinos Doxiadis. Ecumenopolis is the idea that the outcome of our current population and urban developmental trend will lead to the creation of one continuous city encompassing the world. Azem applies this futuristic metaphor to the urban renewal projects that have occurred in Istanbul since the 1973 and uses it to conjure the humanistic issues involved with such developments.

Istanbul has historically been at the center of the world’s eye: the capital of four empires, it holds some of the greatest examples of Byzantine, Genoese, and Ottoman architecture, such as Hagia Sophia, Chora Church, and Galata Tower. Ekümenopolis examines Istanbul’s modern urban development from the building of the first bridge over the Bosphorus Strait to the proposed building of the third bridge. It follows a migrant family from the demolishing of their home in a gecekondu (illegal shanty town) through their fight for housing rights with TOKI (Turkey’s State Housing Administration) three years later. Azem contextualizes the family troubles by interviewing experts, academics, citizens, and investors.

What he achieves is a vision of the effects of rapid unplanned urban development that synthesizes the relationships between architectural history, the rough divisions between the rich and the poor, displacement of populations, political and economic rapacity, and environmental degradation.  The content of the film is not lighthearted; it is not a film that leaves one with any sense of hope. It is a dark and eerie true story that explores the tragic state of a city on the brink of chaos.

Azem’s purpose for making Ekümenopolis was to bring awareness to the issues surrounding the hyperbolic urban development that is occurring in Istanbul and as well as to discuss what will occur if this expansion continues to occur. Ekümenopolis had a brief release in independent movie theatres in 2011, but its mass distribution occurred through the internet. With the intent of ensuring access to the populus, as well as academics, Azem made the entire film available through YouTube and other websites in 2013.

Ekümenopolis: City Without Limits is recommended for students and academics interested in urban planning. It is an in-depth look at the effects and consequences that rapid, unplanned development has on a city, world history, and its peoples. Students of sociology and anthropology would also garner insight by watching this film as it discusses in detail the effects of displacements of populations caused by urban renewal.


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