Civic pride and what we can learn from Istanbul!

In 2006, the Turkish government, run by the AK PARTİ (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) under the leadership of Erdogan began a process to import tulips back into Istanbul.

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Today, there is such an abundance of tulips, that splashes of colour scythe through the city like a parade of multicoloured  dervishes, spreading the scent of Spring. I have been to Istanbul most years since 2004 and I have seen for myself how this transformation has taken place.

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The tulip is just one example of a horticultural revolution that says Istanbul is proud of herself. That pride is evident of course in the colours of the flowers but it is also evident on the faces of the people in the street, the ordinary people who go about their lives feeling better because they can see- and smell- that the Council really cares!

It is actually a fairly simple plan, but I will come to that shortly.

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The tulip was introduced to Turkey from Iran where it grew wild. It is a traditional image on the tiles that decorate some of the greatest mosques around the city and today it has been adopted as a symbol on the Istanbul logo.

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The cultivation of the Tulip became a mania in the Ottoman period, so much so that one particular epoch is called “the Tulip period” and at that time, rare bulbs sold for remarkable sums of money. Trade was international and soon, that mania had passed to Holland, the setting, for example, of “the black tulip” , a novel by Alexandre Dumas. My mother always said she had a black tulip bulb in the safe: I have no idea but it sounded very exotic.

I grew up in a small Market town in Lincolnshire where my mother was involved in the local tulip bulb industry. Spalding was so industrious and the ground so similar to that of Holland that, when I was a small child, the town held its own Tulip Parade to rival that of the Dutch mega-parades in Zundert and Keukenhof. Sadly, the flower parade in Spalding ground to a halt last year. But I loved the imagination that went into making these amazing floats; I loved the fact that they were decorated overnight, and, really, only lasted a couple of days (it’s actually very Buddhist!); and I also loved the complete sensory effect of the flower parade- the noise, the colour, the smell, the excitement, the overpowering beauty and the pride it gave to our small town.

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The mother of all tigers from the Keudert Flower parade!

Check out this archive flim:

I well-remember this parade!

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THE DAVENTRY PARK PROJECT:

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Here in Daventry, I have been campaigning for a restored Professional Park scheme. I am, of course, inspired by the wonderful images from my childhood in Spalding. But I am also inspired, perhaps more so by the practical approach taken in Istanbul by the city Council. I have been talking to members of the Council over the last year with a view to designing some children’s books to celebrate particularly the history of the Fatih district, but I have also been impressed by the overall scheme the council has followed to refresh the city. I intend to talk to Councillors about their scheme and also about how they sourced materials, especially the outside gym equipment which is so striking a part of the overall vision, and I think it would work here in Daventry too!

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I think there are three specific things that the AK party have done:

  1.  the training and courses set up in horticulture by the City in association with local universities and colleges, providing garden design and employees for the future.
  2.  the celebration of festivals and history that also involves research into plants of the past. It is because of this that the tulip has been so revived, but there are also “Monument trees”, that are replanted and tended, restoring the vistas of the past and improving the way the city looks today. It is partly this vision which ironically both inspired the protests in Gazi square to “save the trees” and also inspired the developments that threatened to redevelop the area. The compromise seems to involve some transplanting/replanting and rethinking. For all the negative image this protest created, it shows very clearly that our environment is something people care deeply about.
  3.  The city has established open-field gyms, taking exercise out into the parks and democratising sport in a very real way, giving access to children, the disabled and the elderly. I will be going to Istanbul soon to try to find out how the technology was developed for outdoor sports equipment taht would withstand a climate that is no less changeable and erratic than our own.

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If my vision of what we could do in DAVENTRY is shaped by my childhood in Spalding, my practical proposals follow what has already happened in Istanbul. What we can see there is that this sort of revitalisation works. It is a positive force in society and we can do something similar here in Daventry.