A Garden Blooms Inside a Concrete Cloverleaf

istanbul botanical garden freeway photo

In the loop: a botanical garden inside a highway interchange (inset). Photos via Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden (inset) and the Istanbul Governor's Office.

A botanical garden inside an "urban void" -- the loop of a busy highway's cloverleaf interchange -- has been recognized by Deutsche Bank as a creative solution to the problems facing residents of Turkey's largest city, and those of other metropolitan areas around the world.

In connection with the Urban Age conference hosted this week in Istanbul, the German bank for the third time issued an open call for entries of projects that "benefit communities and local residents by improving their urban environments." Out of 87 entries received, a jury shortlisted five -- including the Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden.

A Sanctuary For Plants and People
"Located improbably in the 'urban voids' created by a vast motorway spaghetti-junction on the Asian side of Istanbul, the Ali Nihat Gökyiğit Foundation has created a series of landscaped spaces that provide sanctuary for plants and people in the middle of a dystopian urban setting," the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award jury announced.

"The open spaces have been designed as botanical garden[s] with plant samples from regions across Turkey, providing an educational resource for children of all ages and a place for picnics and informal gatherings for people living in the heart of the congested city."

Composting, Recycling, And Educational Programs
Established in 1995, the 125-acre botanical garden contains more than 17,000 species of plants and is the city's largest replanted green area. The facility includes a special children's garden where schoolkids learn how to grow and care for flowers and vegetables; an area devoted to drought-tolerant plants and those useful in combating soil erosion and desertification; and a section for medicinal plants.

Garden staff compost to create natural organic fertilizer for the soil and have planted selected species in raised beds made from old railway cars. Successful educational projects conducted at the facility include a training program for young botanical artists, who are now teaching students in other parts of Turkey.

Though the garden didn't end up winning the $100,000 award -- that went to a music program for disadvantaged schoolchildren -- it's a stellar example of how blighted urban spaces can be used for both the environmental and social good. As is the co-winner of the first award given by Deutsche Bank, in Mumbai in 2007: a project to turn a former garbage dump into lively waterfront public spaces.

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