Walking in the City

A streetside view in Tehran; from jamesgiantbikeride.blogspot.com
A streetside view in Tehran; from jamesgiantbikeride.blogspot.com

             It only takes a walk in the grey zones between rich and poor neighborhoods to realize the middle class is slowly shrinking as time goes on in most cities around the world. The right to the city is always being shifted more and more towards the wealthy in neoliberal cities and the urban poor are stuck with commuting to wealthier areas in search of work. The feelings between the two ever more polarized classes are usually not mutual. The rich usually greet the poor with a mixture of indifference and superiority towards the poor while the poor usually have a feeling that the rich are arrogant and greedy, sometimes even elitist.  Central urban areas are slowly being gentrified by the city in hopes that this will calm the atmosphere of exclusion that might otherwise lead to civil unrest and a sharp rise in crime. Many have speculated that these growing feelings of distrust between social classes could lead to economic unrest and revolution in the long run. indeed, many people in Tehran protested in 2009 led by many disenfranchised middle class youth after learning that the outcome of their elections appeared to be fraudulent; they then tried to reclaim the right to the city from elite forces led by the new president Ahmadinejad.

 

              In a book titled Walking Between Slums and Skyscrapers author Huang talks about what she calls a dual compression that occurs in global cities. The first is global compression; a collapsing of space to serve the purpose of global capital accumulation, expressed by the spatial emergence of skyscrapers and glamour zones. the other is local compression, which is the collapsing of space alloted to serve the growing urban densities created by the global compression. The way the author describes the impacts of dual compression is by a process of eliminating our sense of local vernacular history and creating a fantasy world characterized by global dreamworlds, new technology and a fast turnover of profits by a small minority of urban elite at the expense of the majority of working class people. The author describes the goal of the urban elites as a glamorization of the city by compressing the space of the city into top-of-the-line hotels, restaurants, and business districts as well as glorified airports and other infrastructure for global mass transit. it is envisioned as a place in which everyone is subscribed to economic liberalism (Huang, 2004).

 

            Another intriguing point that Huang makes is that the implementation of major plans for infrastructure and urban renewal as well as the construction of major international nodal points like airports, have massive factors of spatial compression involved with their creation. Not only is there a huge need for space to implement these plans but it is usually on previously developed land, which results in the displacement of thousands of people. Such plans are usually designed to help with a city's overall population and growth problems but most times they necessitate local compressions that have negative effects on urban communities that cannot afford to be displaced in such ways let alone afford the new amenities the plans intend to create. As for Tehran, many of the same problems have arisen from infrastructure plans. The roads and freeways have shaped the way the city grows but as can be seen from the picture a general lack of master planning has created many different neighborhoods leading off at odd angles rather than the usual systematic grid pattern.

A sattelite image of Tehran from Google Earth
A sattelite image of Tehran from Google Earth