Skyscrapers and Evil Paradises

Tehran International Tower (center) viewed from an overpass - By: Kaveh Seyyedahmadian on google images
Tehran International Tower (center) viewed from an overpass - By: Kaveh Seyyedahmadian on google images

           One of the most polarizing aspects of the twenty first century is the creation of many glamorized business and housing zones around the world in almost every global city. Everyone would love to live in a mansion, have a good job in a modern skyscraper, and be able to splurge lots of money in a high end shopping mall but the reality is that most people are very far from enjoying such amenities. Shopping malls, skyscrapers, and other glamorized zones are supported by a base of low income workers that will probably never get to enjoy the amenities which they have worked hard to service. Globalization has been booming ever since the 1990’s in most global cities and shows no sign of slowing in the near future. The question of who has the right to the city is starting to be raised more and more. I have a feeling many of the urban poor will be aware of the answer in the near future. 


           One of the best examples of new neoliberal settlements in Iran is Arg-e Jadid, a modern California style town about 750 miles from Tehran and 120 miles away from Kerman.  The settlement was created out of new neoliberal policy reforms implemented in the early 1990’s by president Rafsanjani after the devastation of the Iran-Iraq war. Among the businesses taking advantage of the Arg-e Jadid area with the new laws permitting unproductive public land to be donated to development projects was Kerman Automotive Industries, a company that mainly sells the Daewoo brand cars in a co-op with Korean manufacturers which is largely the base for Arg-e Jadids operations. Kerman and other businesses in Arg-e Jadid are supported by a base of low income workers that are either transported in from rural areas or based in tehran for networking and other purposes. The huge amount of funding which permitted Kerman Automotive to grow was from an Islamic foundation called Mol-Al Movahedin. The funds were given for the project through one of Islam’s traditional economic institutions called Bonyads; a sort of halfway house between charities and religious trusts whose funds were mostly taken from the shah’s clients after the 1979 revolution when they fled the country.


           The purpose of the Bonyads was to provide welfare as well as to administer funds and economic activities to assure a general redistribution of wealth but are now used by the supreme guide as a source of income for the clerical establishment and as a slush fund for paramilitary groups responsible for repressing students and social movements. They now only provide a means of economic advancement for the elite and the revolutionary guard after active duty in which they are slowly given pensions through the foundations. Not only have these Bonyads been unfairly distributed over time they have become empires employing hundreds of thousands of people all while having tax exemption status not subject to the control of the court of accounts.


          The town or Arg-e Jadid was meant to be an offshoot of a previously booming settlement called Arg-e Bam, which was largely destroyed by an earthquake in December of 2003. Surprisingly the quake was a godsend for Arg-e Jadid as droves of humanitarian workers and agencies flooded the settlement looking for a nice place to live while they were working in the area. To the amazement of the foreign humanitarian worker Arg-e Jadid had none of the internet restrictions that plagued the rest of Iran which shows how exclusive the area is compared to normal Iranian cities. Though the area can be described as California suburbs refracted through the prism of Dubai and Kish, developers in Arg-e Jadid are starting to worry about the conservatism of the new president Ahmadinejad and his reluctance towards neoliberal economics. Many investors have in turn started pulling their investment out of iran and started looking for opportunities in other counties however, today the economic free zone of Arg-e Jadid houses over fifty companies and as of 2005 they declared a turnover of 200 million dollars. Although Arg-e Jadid is very far away from the city many of the same themes can be seen in Tehran as well in which many charities and religious institutions are taken advantage of by businesses and the government. (Skyscrapers and Evil Paradises, Mike Davis., p.39)


           There is a stark contrast between the north and south Tehran when it comes to culture and economics. The south is very conservative in its religious tone and very strict when it comes to its traditional culture. Most women are required to wear the traditional gown called chadhurs which cover them from head to toe and most people embrace only the traditional architecture and only use domestic products. The north in contrast has quickly become a zone contradicting the old traditional belief in which there is little restriction on the type of clothes that women wear or the obvious mingling of sexes in shopping centers that sell designer clothes and accessories that are restricted in the south. Many of the new elite that did well from the Islamic revolution are the part of the country’s ruling religious establishment and have been dubbed the “mullah millionaires”. Most all of them live in the north where this globalize atmosphere is rampant and enjoy the same amenities yet they hypocritically advocate the strict and impoverished religious lifestyle seen in the south (Sarsalari 2004).