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Uneven Development Patterns of Urban Spaces in Tehran

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What kind of cities have we built over past decades particularly when we look at unjust urban spaces? The uneven development of many public spaces is a classic case of spatial injustice in Iran, mainly in the inner city of Tehran. Most of the practices and interventions in Tehran redevelopment processes have resulted in uneven development patterns of urban spaces causing spatial injustices and spatial degradation. Last week, I planned a walk around the urban heritage part of old Tehran, through some old neighborhoods. It was unbelievable for me, notions such as inequality, unfairness, injustice would be the first ones come to my mind. The tragic living condition of citizens in these neighborhoods has narrated the ignorance of historical communities by urban management (Tehran municipality) and policymakers (governmental organizations). If I want to be fair, I should maintain that in recent years, Tehran municipality has started to revitalize the inner city. However, such focus does not go far beyond Historic venues, buildings and captivating visuals in some public spaces. The revitalization of social fabrics of the inner city such as investing in neighborhood organization and socio-economic development in communities have not been considered rationally and effectively in the redevelopment processes.

Today, we all agree that we cannot look forward, without considering the past. Furthermore, urban centers with historical and cultural significance are being seen as cultural assets with high potential to produce power and assist local development. Though, for a long period of time, there has been a traditional approach which gives all credits to the physical heritage of the inner city and considers it as a main priority and end in itself. As many urban thinkers have stressed, the real emphasis should be on the power of continuous human settlement and social structure of space. Namely, to revive the historical part of Tehran, urban policymakers have to consider communities. Based on the experiences of many cities in the world which collaborate successfully with their historical parts; participation, flexibility, partnership, and fundraising are four key factors in working with communities for regeneration of the inner city.

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Where power sits and how makes decisions are critical. Accordingly, we need to work on the democratization of our politics. Participatory and deliberative democracy has the potential to include rather than alienate, to create interdependence rather than dependence, to empower citizens to act together. It’s about learning by doing and is concerned with addressing day-to-day needs and issues, such as housing and access to basic services with residents developing new capacities as collaborative decision-makers.

Therefore, the legislative bodies shouldn’t interfere directly. They should act as regulators and give power to the local government which in collaboration with other actors such as facilitators, developers, and funders working on community regeneration and wealth building. An innovative form of co-ownership and distributed governance that puts real democratic decision making in the hands of a citizen-consumer-owner cooperative. In parallel, we have to renew our planning system. Urban planning project in Iran has to renew fundamentally. Re-designing of democracy in our urban planning system is needed to happen. We will never properly address issues like injustice and uneven development unless we address the underlying issues of dominance and hierarchy. In order to heal inequity in our society, we have to open up spaces and redistribute power based on principles of democracy, participation, and equity. Otherwise, the future of our cities would be in a shadow of uncertainty and chaos.

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