Spatiotemporal analysis of landscape dynamics is crucial in formulating an appropriate set of actions in landscape management. This paper presents a large scale analysis of the spatiotemporal structure of Istanbul, a highly urbanized city in Turkey, from 1971 to 2002 using forest cover type maps analysed with geographical information systems (GIS) and a spatial statistics programme. The quantitative evidence indicated that increasing population and expanding urbanization caused drastic changes to the temporal and spatial dynamics of land use/land cover pattern in Istanbul. There was a net increase of 5387.3ha in total forested areas (1.0 per cent) due to mainly reforestation activities even though the population increased three times over a 31-year period. Increase in number of patches and decrease in mean patch size together demonstrated that the landscape developed into a more fragmented structure that would negatively affect biodiversity and the resilience of the ecosystems. In conclusion, plain increase in forest areas may not always be a favourable situation. The quality, composition and the configuration of forest landscape should also be analysed to present the dynamics of ecosystem in terms of ecological and economical sustainability over a longer time and larger area. Copyright (C) 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.