Slums are not only a characteristic of Iran or of third world countries. In reality they are part of a global network of urban poverty in each and every country in the world that has spiraled out of control ever since neoliberal economic policies have uprooted older rural based and more regulated economies since the 1970’s. International Monetary fund and World Bank structural adjustment programs have since deregulated many once stable economies and made millions of people flock to urban areas even when those cities have long ceased to be engines of job creation. This is because the SAP’s (structural adjustment programs) have deregulated subsidies, devalued currencies, and raised market prices as well as financed debt for the people displaced by these changes in economic policy which they will probably never be able to pay back. Yet these SAP’s have not accommodated the growth of these urban centers leaving millions of people without jobs, adequate housing or any kind of basic services.
In Mike Davis’s book Planet of Slums he points out that in Iran, as of 2003, 44.2 percent of the urban population live in slums. This percent amounts to about 20.4 million people in Iran. Tehran. Informal settlement started to become a problem in Tehran in the 1960’s due to a popularization of capitalist movements in which major agribusiness companies and industrialization outcompeted local businesses. (Planet of Slums, Mike Davis.,p.24) The response of this rural impoverishment was to move to informal settlements on the fringes of Tehran to find work. Many residents would commute 20 or more miles to try and sell items as street vendors. Many men are forced to smuggle an array of items and women are often forced to prostitute themselves just to make it from day to day because they have no alternative. There have been many protests in the wake of this lack of opportunity and a handful of government action plans to try and settle the growing unrest. One plan in which the Iranian government set out to modernize the city as well as to provide housing for the urban poor. however the plan largely lacked accurate demographic information and disagreed with the past styles of planning leading to the mismanagement of resources and services. Sometimes it did not afford services to hundreds of people at all after bulldozing their informal settlements.
The anger over the lack of equality the Shah had created with his plans of modernization and economic liberalization finally reached its peak with the outbreak of the Iranian revolution in 1979 in which Iran became an Islamic Republic after overthrowing the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and becoming a more conservative clerical force with a theocratic system of government. During the revolution many of the urban poor took over many of the homes and businesses of the old regime and increased the number of informal settlement because there was no government forces to stop them from settling more land. (Esfandiar Zebardast, The Housing Domain of Quality of Life and Life Satisfaction in the Spontaneous Settlements on the Tehran Metropolitan Fringe)
After the revolution however, the government implemented an urban land policy to improve low income housing provisions in which the government would proactively intervene in the market to control housing prices and provide public land banks to reduce privatization of housing markets. The policy helped to prevent land speculation and controlled urban growth to a manageable level. Many people have begun to wonder what the positive impacts these policies have had in terms of their demographics but because the government is so conservative with its demographic info and so many people are unaccounted for because they live on the fringes of Tehran like the nomadic gypsies and other informal workers and settlers, there is no currently accurate demographic info for Tehran’s population.