The Forum for Partners in Iran's Marketplace

November 2020, No. 95


Tehran Cannot Stand It Any Longer!

The main problem of Tehran is that its population should be reduced. Environmental capacity, water and infrastructure issues in this city are weak.

Gholamhossein Karbaschi (former Tehran mayor) talks about the effect of politiciansí contingent decisions on vital resources and the environment.

The effects of the one-time decisions that politicians make to restore balance to the housing market in big cities can last for centuries. Most of Tehranís towns were once orchards when yesterdayís politicians ordered their demolition. Destroying gardens or disrupting the order of nature may take a year or even a month, but it may take decades for a garden to grow, and it may take centuries for an ecosystem to form in nature. Unfortunately, politicians act quite contingently and make decisions to temporarily solve problems that affect the next few generations. Karbaschi talks about the effect of politiciansí contingent decisions on vital resources and the environment. 

How do you assess the effects of politiciansí sudden and contingent decisions on the environment? What about the effects of the presidential decision to give land to mass builders on the environment? Have they taken into account the side effects of this sudden order?

It is the last year of the incumbent government and it seems that in the tradition of other governments, it intends to finish its backlog or unfinished businesses. Like a traveler who in the last minutes of his trip has to do his backlog immediately. Naturally, many decisions are not taken into account. As you mentioned, the nature of these works is contingent and has the potential to become bigger problems in the future, with the difference that its troubles must be borne by the next government. The order of the President to the minister of roads and urban development will definitely have many economic and environmental consequences.

An important question arises in this regard; From where will the land be provided? If the incumbent government wants to repeat Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejadís policy of handing over deserts and natural resources, there is no room for debate. The ceded areas had no water, no electricity, no gas, no infrastructure, no environmental studies, and their side effects were not considered. Most of these divestitures are without environmental assessments and studies and lead to irreparable damage. Such actions can have irreversible effects because their side effects have not been studied.

If such approaches are intended by Mr. Hassan Rouhaniís government, it is in fact repeating the same path of Mr. Ahmadinejad. I think that in general, the housing problem in the country is not the housing problem itself. Housing is a secondary problem that arises from lack of land management and lack of planning in other sectors of the economy. The main issue of housing belongs to Tehran. In the whole Tehran Province and its surroundings make up for 25% of the countryís population. This is because of the centralism that has taken place over the years, and this government has not done anything about it. 

Doesnít the governmentís strategy to transfer land to the mass builders multiply the problem?

The main problem of Tehran is that its population should be reduced. Environmental capacity, water and infrastructure issues in this city are weak. The weather in Tehran is in a very bad condition. Tehranís capacity has been limited to a certain population. Look at air pollution in Tehran. As soon as there is a holiday and people leave the city, only a few percent of the cityís population is reduced, but the problem of pollution is eliminated. The traffic problem in Tehran will be solved by reducing the population. The same applies to housing. When a population enters the city of Tehran, they form a family on their own and birth occurs. This population wants facilities. This population is attracted to Tehran for work, trade, sales, health, education, etc., and this population needs school, teacher, doctor, baker, grocer, and so on.

Therefore, this population is constantly increasing. This is centralism. Unfortunately, because the government is concentrated only in Tehran, it is attracting the population of Iran. There is a kind of totalitarian state in the administrative system of the country. The problem of housing is spontaneously in Tehran and cities with a population of over 500,000 to one million. There is no such problem in small towns. The issue of population and its increase in big cities has caused a housing crisis. In small towns, the price of construction materials is an issue. Naturally, things like this happen when they do not see housing in a principled way. If the minister of roads and urban development wants to act on the orders of the President, something similar to what happened under Mr. Ahmadinejad will occur again. If he does not want to act on the orders of the President, he cannot do so. One has to see where the land of this housing is to be provided. It remains to be seen what land is available for transfer in Tehran? Where is it going to be handed over? Do they want to cede the top of the mountain? For example, the road to Qom or Damavand... 

The order of the President to the minister of roads and urban development will definitely have many economic and environmental consequences.

What is the way to reduce the population of Tehran and counter centralism as a result of increasing environmental indicators? What should be done to counter transfer of land, creation of new structures and destruction of the environment?

 The solution is to control the entry of people into a city like Tehran, but it is not possible to issue visa to control the entry and exit of people. The solution is to distribute the economic sectors in the country. There are large parts of the country where the population is being evacuated and on the other hand the population is overflowing towards cities like Tehran. While there are environmental facilities, water, air, land, etc. in those areas for this population. But if governments were to implement land management programs in a way that would eliminate this focus, naturally the problem of the environment and infrastructure problems such as water, electricity, gas, etc. would be reduced, and the housing problem would not become so acute by itself.  

What is the root of politiciansí sudden decisions to ďrestore balance to the housing marketĒ and have such decisions undergone pre-requisite studies (especially from an environmental perspective)? You mentioned that the Rouhani governmentís decision is no different from Ahmadinejadís decision to cede the mountains and natural areas!

Mr. Rouhaniís government had rightly seen the countryís problems in resolving the problems of sanctions, UN resolutions, and the nuclear crisis, and then the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (also known as Iran Nuclear Agreement). We had serious economic problems then as we do today. The government made an effort to resolve the issue by striking the JCPOA deal. The agreement was to some extent successful and, in a way, promising and could have reached good results.

But with the problems that arose both internally and for the most part the US government created for us in opposition to the policies of the previous US administration, we practically could not see the results of the JCPOA. The government was shaken after the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA. That state of planning and thinking that was far from emotional debates and populist - if not demagogic Ė slogans could have solved the problems. But the point is that without thought and planning you cannot solve the problems of the country and order overnight to increase or decrease the price of gasoline or transfer land to build housing and decisions that have been taken without examination of the implications, and they do not know how to implement them.

I do not think that the Presidentís order to transfer land will solve the housing problem of the people in Tehran and in the big cities. If the government wants to solve the problems today, it must take a step that will cause the least damage to the country. I have said this many times that there are so many public firms located in Tehran that have nothing to do in the capital city. All over the world, the location of industries and companies is based on capacity and need. For example, the center of the countryís industry and steel is in a certain region. So if anyone wants to work in the steel industry, they go there. Therefore, if the transportation industry is to be established somewhere, all matters related to the transportation industry will be established in that province.

Imagine what the countryís shipping is doing in Tehran. Tehran that has no sea. There is not even a river in Tehran. So why should a large and long organization related to shipping and ports with all its affiliates be based in Tehran? From Chabahar to the Caspian Sea why anyone who has some work to do should travel to Tehran? This is the situation in all areas and all the surplus administrative systems are located in Tehran and the same situation exists in the big cities and metropolises of the country.

These administrative structures related to industries, etc. should be distributed in all cities of the country. So, for example, the shipping and port industries should return to the center of this industry. For example, settle in Hormozgan or Chabahar. This proportion of the situation of industries and geography can reduce the population burden on Tehran and reduce the cost of governing this city and solve problems such as housing, traffic and air pollution, and on the other hand lead to the development of deprived areas and cities.

Therefore, the creation of jobs and businesses in other provinces will be solved and the burden and pressure will be removed from Tehran, and the employee of the shipping office in Tehran will not have a housing problem. If this does not happen, day by day, Tehran must move towards changes in the height and city level, and as a result, will face rising cost of housing and the many urban and environmental, educational, etc. problems.

Most of those who have come to Tehran over the past 50 years have done so due to the countryís continued educational policies and the unfair distribution of educational environments. Many families were forced to come to Tehran because their children came to Tehran to study, and this increase in population and intercity migration have created new needs in Tehran and, as a result, further population growth.

During the time of Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, it was approved that educational spaces not be expanded in Tehran. If educational spaces did not expand, a significant part of the population would not enter Tehran. From the time of Mr. Mousaviís government until now, educational spaces in Tehran have increased from the private sector to the public sector. Expansion of educational spaces could be developed in other parts of the country according to the same policy and prevent population migration. The government should have taken steps to reduce centralization but this did not happen.

Most of those who have come to Tehran over the past 50 years have done so due to governmentís educational policies and the unfair distribution of educational concessions. Many families were forced to come to Tehran because their children came to Tehran to study, and this increase in population and intercity migration have created new needs in Tehran and, as a result, further population growth.  

During the period when you were the mayor of Tehran, you tried to expand the urban green space. The balance between population and green space is now distorted and of little standard. To what extent can Tehran tolerate such conditions?

Tehran can no longer tolerate this situation. The burden and pressure imposed on Tehran in terms of population settlement has made the situation in this region of Iran critical. At the time we were focusing on green space, it was planned for the population that was in Tehran. It was definitely planned for existing people at that time, not for capacity building for new people. At that time, in the first government of Mr. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in which Mr. Abdollah Nouri was the minister of interior, a commission was formed in the Ministry of Interior and many responsible governmental and state institutions were members in it. The Tehran municipality suggested that the immigration status of this city should be changed and new migration should be avoided to solve the problems of this metropolis, and more importantly, migration in Tehran should be reversed.

I remember that about 170 large government institutions at that time could leave Tehran. Private companies had their own story. The solution was that when these companies left Tehran, a large number of their personnel would leave Tehran on their own. At that time, I remember that if these companies were transferred with their personnel, a large number of service personnel would also be transferred with them. However, if a person is transferred from Tehran, there are many others who must be transferred next to him. The calculation at the time was that if these companies and their affiliates left Tehran at that time, there would be a major shift in Tehranís management.

Consider that the armed forces in Tehran are so large that it is unbelievable. The army, the IRGC, the police, the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense are concentrated in Tehran. Some of these forces are enough to protect Tehran and security issues. But a large part of these forces can be distributed in the rest of the country. It is not necessary for the navy and air force to be based in Tehran, for example. The personnel associated with these forces, soldiers and service forces are so large that it is worth considering. At that time, Mr. Hashemiís government planned for this transfer. But the problems that arise for governments call into question the ability of the state, and sometimes governments have no authority in these areas. This work remained incomplete. But it was not resolved in later governments. However, if this relocation takes place, many of the needs of other cities will be met. Transportation development, construction of intercity roads, completion of the countryís rail and air fleet will occur. Telecommunications expands and the quality of Internet services increases throughout the country. If the government moves to relocate part of its subsidiary, the private sector will also want to leave Tehran to improve its quality and reduce costs, and no doubt an important part of urban problems like Tehran will be solved. 

This requires the establishment of sustainable development to be managed in Iran on the basis of a balanced development and ecological potential.

Yes. Thatís right. Sustainable development occurs in Iran when land management takes place and is implemented well. The location of industries should be done properly and the use of areas should be divided according to ecological potential. Therefore, population concentration in certain areas such as Tehran will disappear and by itself with proportional distribution, land management will be more sustainable and human life in it will be of better quality.           


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  November 2020
No. 95