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15 April 2015

The Galata Bridge

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Even the best urban planning can’t anticipate the ways that a city will use its infrastructure, though good planning often leaves facilities open to adaptive use. The Galata Bridge in Istanbul is an excellent example of the intersection between planning and adaptation. Located on the north side of Istanbul’s Golden Horn, the bridge is more or less in the center of the city. There has been a bridge here for hundreds of years and it’s entirely likely that the current bridge is the ugliest of the five that have crossed this channel. But the aesthetics of the Galata Bridge are immaterial: the real story is in how the bridge is used.

Yes, the bridge carries cars, and also Istanbul’s trams, but the city wasn’t satisfied with a piece of infrastructure that just carried traffic. The wide sidewalks are home to an extensive fishing community; long poles bristle from the railings and dangles filament into the blue green water below. You can rent a fishing line, or just ask nicely and take a few casts. This is a genuine scene on the bridge, there seem to be guys here that do this all day, every day, in the middle of a massive city. They talk and joke and sit on their buckets holding their poles.

The fishermen aren’t just fishing for fun. The lower level of the Galata Bridge is stuffed with restaurants of varying qualities and degrees of kitsch, but the fish is fresh because it is delivered by the fishermen of the bridge and based in the channel. The highlight? A simple fish sandwich, fresh fish on fresh bread, a quick cheap meal spent watching the lines jerk and lift fish out of the water to the deck above.

The Galata Bridge is a centerpiece of this part of Istanbul. It is a vital connection between two parts of the city, a gathering place, a fishery, and a home to restaurants. Its actual purpose is simple, but the way in which the city uses the bridge is complex. It’s an excellent addition to the city for every inch is used by city dwellers for city living. All too often we think of infrastructure as utilitarian and cold, but the Galata Bridge in Istanbul proves that with the right atmosphere and the right kind of people, even something as uninteresting as a modern bridge can become a valuable place, a part of the pulse of the city.

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