Reclaiming the City: Towards the Rights-Based Environmental Activism

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.