Architects in 2009 described Istanbul’s downtown neighborhood of Tarlabaşı as an unsafe place for children -- a district whose destruction and reconstruction would be in the interest of its residents.
Few dispute that Tarlabaşı is run-down and that many of its residents live below the poverty line. But the congested neighborhood is also one of the few remaining places in the city center where there is affordable housing for the urban poor.
Despite its appearances, Tarlabaşı is a vibrant community comprising not only multiple ethnic groups -- Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Roma, Kurds and African migrants – but, also a diverse array of social groups, ranging from devout believers to transgender sex workers.
That mix of residents allows for social interactions that would be considered impossible elsewhere. For instance, an informal arrangement enables workers from a transgender brothel drink tea, play cards and have lunch at a next-door café that caters to Kurdish working men. Brothel customers, however, are unwelcome.
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Jonathan Lewis is a freelance photojournalist based in Istanbul.