Claims and Agency: The Contested Urban Landscape in Contemporary Iran

Sociology of space in the twenty-first century is still informed by the basic Lefebvrian insight that the dialectics of material and socially constructed spaces both confine and empower human agency. Contested space here is understood as the physical space at the centre of conflicting interests as defined by different social actors. Examining the local neighborhoods, this panel will focus on (a) the legal, moral, economic, and political claims that conflicting urban actors in different cities in Iran may advance to control ownership, access, and uses of urban spaces, and (b) their opportunities, resources and strategies to realize or renegotiate these claims.
➢ What are the needs and means, economic interests and cultural claims fueling contestation between different claims over the use of urban space?
➢ What are the power dynamics over contested spaces?
➢ What are the legal frameworks, political frames, (municipalities, civil society, political parties etc.) in governing contested spaces?
➢ What modes of symbolic appropriation of urban space do we observe?

Personal Information (Panel Organizer)

Azam Khatam and Mohammad Eskandari
York University & Clark University


Kaveh Ehsani
DePaul University


Room 26
Wed, 2016-08-03 14:15 - Thu, 2016-08-04 15:45


by Azam Khatam / York University

The concept of a spatiality of discontents refers to the loading and reloading of public spaces with memories and histories of agency for change. This phenomenon has been in evidence across the region in the wake of the Arab uprisings, as spaces like Tahrir Square in Cairo and Taksim Square in Istanbul were transformed into highly politicized platforms of collective actions and thereby re-signified as spaces of political mobilization and change. Tehran is no exception: like other insurgent cities of the Middle East, it has expanded its spatiality of discontents through recent protests–specifically, the Green Movement of 2009. The Movement once again highlighted the political importance of Revolution (Enqelab) Street in building and representing spaces of protest in Iran, but it also imbued other spaces with political significance as well– in particular, Valiasr Street, which emerged as a new ground on which to stage a more heterogeneous and disobedient citizenship. This essay explores these spatial dimensions of the political life of the city, and in so doing examines the ways in which the Green Movement bonded and broke with the past–in particular the Revolution of 1979.

by Mina Saidi / ENSAPLV/ Mosaique-Le LAVUE-CNRS

With metropolisation and the scale change, Tehran undergoes physical and social structural change. Mobility is placed at the heart of problems and new spaces are created and claimed by citizens as women that their presence is increasingly greater in urban public space. This paper describes the relationship between men and women with spaces transformation and analyzes the tensions and competitions around their access to the city.
I rely on the results of quantitative and qualitative surveys in Iran collaboration with the University of Tehran. I focus particularly on public spaces and daily mobility, which are the nuclei of new urban centers, out with the old city as it was defined before the 1990s. Men and women are not touched and affected in the same way by these changes and I will seek to demonstrate these differences through their practices, but also of their way to claim the right to the city.

by Nastran Saremi / Islamic Azad University

Iran’s vast environmental degradation affects urban life quality, more explicit that ever, now. On the other hand, urbanization of capital, increasing investments in building house and commercialization of public urban spaces, irregular land use changes have led to public land and gardens encroachment. Moreover, urban management not only has failed to solve pollution and environmental problems, but it gets worse due to the climate, drought and warming issues.
Despite all the destruction, city dwellers show some responses to this problematic situation. In fact, we face a new type of environmental activism, which is directly addressing the wrecking role of urban governance authorities in environmental destruction.
During last few years, there have been many types of micro-environmental activism, from “cleaning up” volunteer grassroots, to the street protests and rights-based activism. These various groups are able to form social campaign in some cases, which lead to public debates which the rights-based discourse has emerged from, and it seems in progress.
In this study I will attempt to describe these recent forms of urban environmental activism, and try to figure their impact factors. Although online social network play an important role in publicize these demands, this study is limited to explore Off-line network activism, includes local communities, civic environmental NGOs, and elites who work together in a more long-term participatory activities.
These circles, despite their narrow action domain, could shape and conduct widespread public campaign’s demands into a rights-based language, legally call into question the current pattern of urban development, and reclaim environmental justice.
In this respect, I will discuss mostly the cases of civic resistance against urban land use change (such as “Boostan-e-Madar”, and “Shahrake-Ekbataan”), and describe how these offline networks shape their demands in a rights-based language. In these cases people gathered against the illegal proceedings of urban authorities, insisting on existent urban laws and policies enforcement. The activists claims that Municipality and other authorities facilitate these increasing land use changes, means, destruction of private and public green spaces, which is mostly the result of weak policies or authorities’ illegal operations. Activist protests have various features; street protests, making petitions, negotiating with local authorities, using media to publicize the case and finally advocacy tools. Analyzing these micro-urban activism could help us to develop a better insight into Iran’s (especially Tehran) recent pattern of urbanization and citizen’s participation.

by Farshid Moqadam Salimi / Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies

Kaboud Mosque, a prominent historical heritage from 15th century is subject to dramatic changes in the immediate surrounding neighborhood since 1990. In 1997, new excavations found an ancient cemetery adjacent to the Mosque. This is the time of booming construction in the central neighborhoods of the city, after two decades of decentralized urbanism and peripheral residential constructions in Tabriz. While the Mosque itself is protected and restorated as a national icon, now the entrance to the ancient cemetery opens up to a commercial mall recently built in the city.

My paper examines the transformation of the Kaboud Mosque site in the last two decades. The site’s modern planning history starts fifty-five years ago, when the first Master Plan for Tabriz was drafted in 1961. Proposing the area to be the host to a large complex of greenery and leisure amenities surrounding the historical icon, the 1961 Master Plan recognizes the cultural and economic significance of the site. However, the touristic amenities proposed by the plan require large investments, which never materialized. The neighborhood surrounding the Kaboud Mosque remains deteriorated, where most of the lots are abandoned, left to land use change from residential to storehouses

The focus of this paper is on the transformation of the site since 1990, when the efforts to create a more disciplined urbanity through the incorporation of an economic logic into urban planning marked all local proposals for urban projects. Fixing the commercial and administrative zoning for the area, Tabriz Second Master Plan triggers the intensification of the commercial and residential land uses and encourages a boom in the real estate market in the area at times of limited access to undeveloped land in the city.
This paper draws from my fieldwork in 2014, including the study of all official planning documents, and interviewing some of the main actors who shaped the governance on the ground. I focus on how different social actors, including the local director of the Cultural Heritage Organization, the members of Master Plan team, the households living in the area, and owners and investors in the new commercial units have interacted in this site and how they perceive and conceive the site and its changes.