'The Right to the City' and the Problem of Tehran


'The Right to the City' and the Problem of Tehran

Published in AMPS Proceedings Series 24.2 (chapter 23, p. 233-243)

I presented this piece as part of the panel: Political Economy and the City, in the ‘Cities in a Changing World: Questions of Culture, Climate and Design’ conference, jointly hosted by AMPS and City Tech, City University of New York, 16-18 June 2021.


‘The right to the city is like a cry and a demand’, wrote Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book Le droit à la ville. In the noted urban scholar Peter Marcuse’s words, Lefebvre’s right is ‘a cry out of necessity and a demand for something more’.

Despite rather astonishing efforts of former IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) Commander turned mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, to portray a deceptive picture of Tehran on a global stage – either by inviting world-renowned urban thinkers such as Setha Low, David Harvey and Saskia Sassen, or by being invited as a key-note speaker by world-renowned institutions such as LSE, the Iranian capital fails to respond to the fundamental demand; and the demand, as Marcuse once wrote: 

"comes from those directly in want, directly oppressed, those for whom even their most immediate needs are not fulfilled: the homeless, the hungry, the imprisoned, the prosecuted on gender, religious, racial [and political] grounds. It is a demand of […] those whose income is below subsistence, those excluded from the benefits of urban life. The aspiration comes rather from those superficially integrated into the system and sharing in its materials benefits, but constrained in their opportunities for creative activity, oppressed in their social relationships, guilty perhaps about an undeserved prosperity, unfulfilled in their lives’ hopes."

 In this paper, through a critical reading of Tehran, both as a physical, as well as a sociopolitical entity, I would argue that what we see today, is, indeed, a city of oppression, discrimination, hypocrisy and despair which predominantly failed to serve its citizenry. I would also argue that there is no such thing as citizen in the Iranian city while an institutionalised discriminatory system driven by a corrupt, dysfunctional theocratic sovereignty dominates not only the urban managerial structures, but also all aspects of city life.

PS. Graffiti used in the image above is by an anonymous artist (IranWire, 2014). The mural reads: “Hello Mr. Mayor! I am Noghteh”. Noghteh (dot, point, or full stop in Persian) might have been referring to the artist’s pseudonym. It depicts Noghteh urinating on the official seal of Tehran Municipality!

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