Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Juli 2004

1.2. Signs, Texts, Cultures. Conviviality from a Semiotic Point of View /
Zeichen, Texte, Kulturen. Konvivialität aus semiotischer Perspektive"

HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Jeff Bernard (Wien)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Grundlagen/Fundamentals Teil 1/Part 1:
Teil 2/Part 2:
Teil 3/Part 3:
Teil 4/Part 4:
Nonverbale Zeichen/Non-verbal Signs
Moderation / Chair: Renée Gadsden

The Evolution of Popular Culture and Transformation of the Urban Landscape of Ankara

Zeynep Uludag (Ankara)


Summary: The writing of the city as a text needs to re-map imaginatively the conceptual system of signs and symbols with reference to the existing social and spatial processes within the urban context. Since the changing urban culture of modernity steadily generates new meanings of leisure and popular culture, the urban landscape becomes the representational space of different social and spatial practices. Any conceptual study on the writing and reading of the city as a text should refer to those inputs as informal knowledge of everyday life as well as the formal analytical references. This paper aims to explore the ongoing urban transformation of the capital city Ankara with respect to the evolving popular culture and the new concept of leisure in the city.



The writing of the city as a text needs to imaginatively re-map the conceptual system of signs and symbols with reference to the existing social and spatial processes within the urban context. This paper aims at exploring the ongoing urban transformation of the Turkish capital city Ankara with respect to an evolving popular culture and new concept of leisure in the city. Since the changing urban culture of modernity generates new meanings of leisure and popular culture each time, the urban landscape becomes a representational space of different social and spatial practices. The city, in other words, can never be fully grasped, because repeated attempts to organize its representational structure already "carry in them an understanding, at the level of grammar, syntax, rhetoric, and enunciation - in short at all levels of form - of the excess beyond comprehension" which is characteristic of modern urban spaces (Wolfreys 1998: 6 quoted in Vasudevan 2003: 170). A multidisciplinary approach is needed to understand the relationship between popular culture and everyday life, the public sphere and urban space, a space of recognizable indices and icons. It is obvious that any conceptual study on this field cannot be reduced to a single set of reasons and consequences, or to any kind of generalizations about the city. Here, we need to analyze the performative identification of these concepts from social and historical perspectives. In this way, writing the city does not depend on or inadvertently re-inscribe the predictable separation between text and city, nor the invariant one-to-one correspondence between representation and reality (cf. Vasudevan 2003: 170).

Popular culture, through its social exercise of forms, tastes and activities that are flexibly tuned to the present, rejects any narrow access to the cerebral world of official culture. It offers instead a more democratic prospect for appropriating and transforming everyday life (cf. Chambers 1988: 13). As a result, multiple meanings in popular culture are embedded in the informal knowledge of everyday life, based on the sensory, the immediate, the pleasurable, and the concrete. Popular culture is not appropriated through the apparatus of contemplation, but, as Walter Benjamin once put it, through "distracted reception" (Chambers 1988: 12). Benjamin's flanerie approach - as a critical analyst - is a significant method used to understand and to structure the social and spatial realities of everyday life in the city. This is due to the fact that he joined material and cultural analysis in his critical observations. Yet, he also touched an emotional core of discontent within urbanism and public culture (Zukin 1997: 254). Direct access to the visual phenomena of the city and to the daily routines of the citizens is necessary in order to grasp existing social processes and their representational spaces within the urban context. Generation and circulation of those meanings in the daily routines of the citizens inevitably create superficial, ephemeral and visceral changes in the public sphere. Any conceptual study on writing and reading of the city as a text should refer to those inputs as informal knowledge of everyday life, as well as the formal analytical references.

There is a collage of sights and sounds in the urban scene. Advertising, music, cinema, television, fashion magazines, and video clips all exist in the rapid circuits of electronic production/reproduction/distribution (cf. Chambers 1988: 185). The production of this popular culture offers new images, styles, consumerism and also a disposable culture. Across its multiple surfaces, a popular semiotics mixes together real conditions and imaginary material day by day. In this collage of sights and sounds, we discover the immediate co-ordinates of the present: where existing meanings and views, together with ideas and opinions, are reproduced; where social practices are formed and experienced; where both consensus and rebellion is voiced; where dogma and innovation, prejudice and change find expression (cf. Chambers 1988: 185).

In this essay, Ankara, Turkey, is taken as the case study. Although it is difficult to make concrete conceptualizations about the city, postmodern urbanism provides significant references to the direct access of social and spatial phenomena on urban land. In addition to direct access to the architectonic impulses in that era, a journalistic reportage of the tools and products of media, and also of literature, is needed in order to provide the necessary knowledge about daily routines in the city. In Ankara, the 1980s in particular marked a turning point in a new urbanism and a new way of public life. However, in that era, the attitude towards postmodern urbanism was so naïve that it remained only with some additional buildings to the existing urban fabric. After the 1990s, the diversity of media played a significant role in breaking down traditional values and promoting new messages and meanings in daily life. The tools of powerful media - films, television programs, magazines and photos - created a trendy world and invoked mobile orders of sense, taste and desire, especially for the youth culture. This trendy lifestyle also dominated the images of leisure in the city. Thus, the emergence of a new architecture and a new environment began to be discussed.

As Zukin says, "[s]ince 1980 culture has become a fiercely explicit battleground for struggles that used to be considered political or economic" (Zukin 1997: 263). As a product of postmodern society, culture has become a commodity to be sold and bought on the urban market. It is often reduced to a set of marketable images. The cultures of cities certainly include ethnicities, lifestyles, and images - if we take into account the concentration of all kinds of minority groups in urban populations, the availability and variety of consumer goods, the diffusion through mass media of style. As a result, cities are sites of "culture industries" and also a visual repertoire of a culture in the sense of a public language (cf. Zukin 1997: 264).

From a global point of view, cities - as local concentrations of population - share certain features of urban change as a part of the global economy. With the development of new communication technologies, the global network of world economy and industry, big companies and markets introduce their spatial organizations into the urban centers. Confrontation with the rise of new urban politics that enhanced the idea of de-centralization and community control changed the urban space (cf. Zukin 1997: 122). Ankara as the capital city of Turkey has become the showcase of these global changes in the country.


Ankara after the 1980s: a new urban consciousness

After the military coup at the beginning of the 1980s, Turkey entered an era of economic liberalism. The social effect of this liberal economic system was changing life-style patterns of the society and, following this development, the emergence of new images and new architectural programs to meet the needs of the changing society. In other words, as a result of this social, cultural, political and economic change, new cultural and social patterns emerged. Cultural identities and the changing activity structure of society influenced many architectural designs in Turkey in the 1980s. This new ideal was evident in a series of government-sponsored architectural and urban design competitions during this time period.

These changes brought new social relations into the consumer society. Large trade centers and shopping malls were designed with new architectural programs. New prestigious headquarters of private enterprises were built at business centers in various cities. To cater to the changing needs of the consumer society, new shopping centers were built and large shopping malls were designed in the urban quarters close to the city center: the Atakule Shopping Complex and the Karum Shopping and Business Center were designed in the southern part of the city, close to the residential quarters of high and medium income families. These efforts to create such quality public spaces have produced some welcome results. Although they have received "the critique of postmodern urbanism as enhancing settings for consumption" (Ellin 1996: 164), such projects have introduced new social relations to the consumer society within the changing means of shopping.

Atakule, consisting of a shopping mall and a tower, was completed at the end of the 1980s (Fig. 1). The building, which was one of the first great shopping malls of the capital city, immediately became the showcase of the new life-style and the emerging consumer society. In that sense, it became the symbolic image of the new consumer ideology. With its physical qualities, geographic orientation and organization as a macro form of the city, it became a significant landmark and a reference point for the citizens of Ankara. With the use of advanced technology, new construction materials and new architectural forms, it not only became the symbol of the city, but also the symbol of the liberalizing era.

The new economic and political system accelerated the availability of new technologies, construction materials and infrastructures. Urban space constantly being restructured under capitalism was a joint result of government policies. The dense and concentrated commercial activities developed at the city center began to move towards the south, towards the new urban quarters. The development of "high-street" or "main-street" patterns like Tunal1hilmi in the Kavakl1dere district and Çankaya Streets to the south are important examples of the changing commercial activities and living patterns in the urban context.

The other significant shopping mall of the era was Karum, which was built as a part of the Sheraton Hotel complex in 1991 (Fig. 2). The location of the complex is very significant in terms of its unique urban qualities. Particularly, the relation of the site to the two significant public parks in Ankara (Kugulu Park and Seymenler Park), and also to the newly developed shopping street of Tunal1hilmi, were the unique and popular characteristics of the shopping complex (Fig. 3). While sharing the emphasis on enhancing the public realm in a growing sensitivity to the urban environment, Atakule and Karum also introduced the new concept of acclimatized and furnished "urban interior", which offers attractive places where people can relax and have fun in the company of family and friends.

Towards the end of the 1990s, because of the attractive force of Tunal1hilmi Street and Karum, new commercial activities emerged in the neighborhood. Arjantin Street, in particular, faced a significant transformation in that sense. The residential characteristics of the street were completely transformed to commercial activities, particularly the showcase of international brands, expensive shops, cafes, and bars and elite restaurants.

In a single decade, both of these shopping malls, Karum and Atakule, changed their surrounding areas' residential characteristics with commercial features. Their neighborhoods began to become decorated not only with shops and gastronomic activities, but also with cultural activities, such as cinemas, theaters and art galleries.


New urban patterns

This spatial restructuring of the city with the changing economic, political and social policies after the 1980s, also accelerated the emergence of a new popular public life in the dense and concentrated center. A significant popular decision of the municipality towards the end of the 1980s was the introduction of pedestrian streets in the inner city. Popular pedestrian paths of that era were Karanfil Street and Konur Street, both of which introduced popular gathering places, especially for the young population of Ankara. At the edges of those streets bars, cafes, bookstores, art galleries, and other cultural institutions were opened to feed the youth culture and intellectuals in this city of education (Ankara has 8 universities, 4 government-run and 4 private). This new culture industry started to shape the inner city, developing its own sense of place and public culture. The continuous production of symbols and spaces initiated new social practices that framed and gave meaning to environmental renewal and decay. In that era, cultural consumption played a key role in framing modern identities.


Decentralized commercial activities

A new public world of entertainment opened its doors at the end of the 1990s, as large shopping malls with impressive food courts, cinema centers, sports clubs, and music halls were built. Also, the shopping streets of Ankara introduced a new leisure life on their sidewalks. Small pubs and cafes, restaurants and fast food chains like Mc Donald's, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken developed popular images and new lifestyles.

Demographic increase in car ownership and the development of a rapid public transport system also increased the mobility on (and under) the urban land. Thus, the mega-structures of new shopping malls were increasingly located outside the city center, close to the new residential suburban quarters of the city. After the 1990s, the decentralization of commercial activities from the center to the south, initiated a shift in spatial patterns of the urban context. While the traditional spatial patterns at the old city center, with its conventional commercial culture and the public life, was still preserving its identity and existence, the new urban quarters were offering different identities, emphasizing a popular public life with new spatial patterns.

Although the development patterns of these activities center around the macro-form of the city, which is mainly distributed on its western axis, they carry significant differences due to the spatial patterns of different social and economic status groups. As we can see from Güvenç's "Ankara Local Population Status-Income Map", the residential quarters of low and mid to low income groups are mainly located in the north side of the city (cf. 2001: 24) (Fig. 4). Close to these residential quarters, huge shopping malls and outlet centers have been distributed along the highway towards the west. (Like Carrefour, Payless etc.) The architectural forms and interior designs of these buildings carry simple, minimalist, box-like architectonic qualities without any reference to their environmental urban settings (Fig. 5). In these malls, as opposed to the diversity of the goods the quantity is more important and more impressive. In that sense, they look like cheap outlet centers of factories.

The communities of the well-off and high-income groups are located in the southern part of the city (cf. Güvenç 2001: 25). These gated communities are generally separated physically, sometimes visually, from their hinterland by a wall. These suburban dwellers located far from the inner-city zones also prefer their residential quarters for new leisure activities. This consumer society also has its impressive shopping malls with food courts, cinemas, theaters, bowling halls, large parking places and children playgrounds close to its residential quarters, on the western axis of the city. In these activity centers, although we see a mixture of users from different social status groups (a mixed leisure society), mainly middle and high-income groups dominate the shopping activities. Universal names and brands are sold in the market and generally they define the characteristics of the consumer groups. In these malls, as opposed to quantity, the diversity of consumer goods is essential. Migros Shopping Center, Armada Center, Bilkent Center, Galleria, Arkadium and Mesa Plaza are significant examples built during this era. The Migros and Armada Shopping Centers, with their new architectural programs, design concepts, metropolitan scale, and location - holding the main transportation network of the city - are significant urban landmarks allowing radically contemporary aspects of today's global culture (Figs. 6 & 7).

After the transfer of the shopping activity from urban space into a building, besides meeting some personal needs, shopping became a leisure time activity. Thus, shopping centers are visited not only for shopping activities, but also for multi-purpose activities that are designed to meet the cultural, social and spatial needs of the citizens. Their atrium spaces especially create attractive interiors for public gatherings (Figs. 8 & 9). Some temporary activities like exhibitions, musical performances, fashion shows and antique bazaars are significant performances that maintain the potential popularity of those spaces (Fig. 10). The media has also reinforced an increased public interest in these activity centers.



Like in literature interpretation, landscape interpretation also moves away from cultural interpretation and historical analysis. It does not seem to emanate only from the historical background of the space itself, but also from the daily life that passes on that space. As Barthes argues, the urban landscape is a text in which signifiers become signifieds in an endless chain of metaphors. Therefore, one can never achieve a satisfactory, much less definitive, interpretation of a landscape. All participants in the urban drama write landscape poetry as they wend their own particular paths through the city streets (cf. Duncan/Duncan 1992: 26).

Before the 1970s, Ankara was a city of parks and open spaces. Significant public places of the leisure society were shopping streets, bazaars, parks, benches and trees. The 1980s, with its liberal economic system, created an attractive consumer culture and an emerging new consumer society, which increased the gap between reality and representation in the urban sphere. Introducing the concept of a shopping center was a new attempt in the urban milieu but it also was a new attempt at experiencing a different sociability for the development of a new public culture in Ankara.

In the city of the 2000s, the transformation of the urban landscape with new urban and cultural challenges, the dense use of inner city lands and public-private collaborations has generated new spatial organizations and new public relations in the city. Today, popular public activities have found their place in enclosed spaces - mega-stores, large restaurants and food courts, retail outlets, chain stores and fast food centers, amusement complexes and private sports clubs. Rapid public transport systems and large parking areas have also encouraged the citizens to prefer these centers at the periphery, away from the heavy traffic load of the center. This shift in the use of the urban land can be defined as centralization of the periphery and peripherization of the center. This expansion of the postmodern culture stresses the merging of a new public life, and a search for design processes and solutions with a new "sense of space". Today the urban land has become the expression of new images and a new urban culture. As Zukin says, "[c]reating a public culture involves both shaping public space for social interaction and constructing a visual representation of the city" (1997: 24).

© Zeynep Uludag (Ankara)


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Fig. 1: Atakule Shopping Center (enlarge)

Fig. 2: Karum and Sheraton Complex (enlarge)

Fig. 3: Tunalihilmi Street (enlarge)
(photo by Zeynep Uludag)

Fig. 4: Ankara Local Population Status-Income Map (enlarge)
(Güvenç 2001: 25)

Fig. 5: Carrefour (enlarge)
(photo by Melike Bilgin)

Fig. 6: Migros Shopping Center (enlarge)
(Migros brochure)

Fig. 7: Armada Shopping and Commercial Center (enlarge)

Fig. 8: Migros interior (enlarge)
(Migros brochure)

Fig. 9: Migros atrium (enlarge)
(Migros brochure)

Fig. 10: Armada open air concert (enlarge)
(Armada magazine no. 3)

Grundlagen/Fundamentals Teil 1/Part 1:
Teil 2/Part 2:
Teil 3/Part 3:
Teil 4/Part 4:
Nonverbale Zeichen/Non-verbal Signs
Moderation / Chair: Renée Gadsden

1.2. Signs, Texts, Cultures. Conviviality from a Semiotic Point of View /
Zeichen, Texte, Kulturen. Konvivialität aus semiotischer Perspektive"

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Zeynep Uludag (Ankara): The Evolution of Popular Culture and Transformation of the Urban Landscape of Ankara. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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