Envisioning Istanbul

Sometime in the not-so-distant future, visitors to Istanbul will be able to soar above the Bosphorus, crossing the famous strait on an intercontinental aerial tramway, the city’s mayor, Kadir Topbaş, announced last month.

With Istanbul in the throes of a building boom, it’s not the only seemingly fanciful idea that’s been floated recently by a public official. During the 2011 election season, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unveiled his self-described "crazy project" to build a second, man-made strait parallel to the Bosphorus.

Neither idea has yet reached the actual planning stage, but there's at least one reason not to doubt them: Both Topbaş’s cable car and Erdoğan’s canal were first envisioned by architects and engineers in Ottoman times, along with other equally ambitious building projects­ -- some of which have actually been carried out....

Amid rapid "urban transformation" in Istanbul, it was fascinating to come across a book released in Turkish last year that details some three dozen "Crazy Projects of the Ottoman Empire" -- and discover how many of today's building schemes actually date (at least in concept) back to the late 19th and early 20th century. Using the book as a basis, I put together a slideshow for The Atlantic's CityLab (formerly The Atlantic Cities) about some of those Ottoman-era plans -- the ones that have actually been carried out, the ones that have been relegated to history, and the ones that might yet alter the modern cityscape.

Read my piece on the CityLab website: "The Istanbul That Might Have Been, and Might Still Be."