Tehran Exhausted  by Construction Frenzy

Tehran Exhausted by Construction Frenzy

T o observe the rapid changes taking place in Tehran, one doesn’t need to climb rooftops of buildings. Landscape changes in the city are too glaring to escape notice. Since two decades ago, thanks to the municipality’s appetite for alternative means of revenue, Tehran has been turned into a gigantic construction zone, with high-rises coming up one after the other in place of older buildings bulldozed overnight.
The rush for real estate projects began after the eight-year Iran-Iraq conflict ended in 1998, and has not seen a slump since. In what was a major transformation from its earlier mission to rebuild the country, real estate development became a bonanza for investors and often a breeding ground for unscrupulous developers who reaped huge gains in the lucrative business.

Urban lands have long been closely tied with socio-economic privileges and the distribution of wealth in society. They have been a source of contention along with the burgeoning trend in urbanization. In order to protect urban lands from aggression or illegal takeover, a constitutional amendment was passed to appropriate unclaimed lands by the state.  
But in the post-war years the laws underwent change to adapt to the economic boom and demand for growth. Civic bodies became independent and therefore needed to become self-sufficient. Thus emerged the practice for municipalities to issue construction permits on urban lands to generate revenue; gradually leading to huge chunks of land being sold over a period of time. The inevitable outcome was huge windfall in the hands of land-owners and real estate developers.
Tehran Municipality (TM) in particular, had no inhibitions in amassing revenue by ‘’allowing the city to expand vertically.’’ Regulations were eased, and the phenomenon known as ‘permit selling’ began during the incumbency of Gholamhossein Karbaschi with 60 to 120% of the land up for permits. It has now reached a peak under the current mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, to 1000% - 2000%, according to Persian Shargh daily. Almost 80% of municipal revenues come from ‘sale’ of construction permits.

  Rules Ignored
The government also gave its green light by discarding many rules that tied the mayoral hands at one time. For instance, Tehran as a mega polis did not follow a set of comprehensive rules till a few years ago. Instead, it was governed by occasional ordinances issued by municipalities. Even after the Comprehensive Tehran Act was ratified - a process which took nearly 10 years, the municipality put off its implementation for two years – until 2012. But even after the law took effect, the TM did not stop or slow its practice of ‘permit selling’. The life span of Tehran buildings, many of which face safety lapses, according to experts, is barely 20 years.
Notwithstanding importunate requests from Tehran City Council to the TM to present statistics on the number of permits issued, the municipality has so far dodged the demands. The TM used revenues from construction permits to pay off its contactors and even set up a company for the sole purpose of ‘’selling permits’’ – a company whose financial status is still wrapped in mystery.

One result of such practices - apart from other social and political ramifications - was the price of land skyrocketing within a short time. Property prices in Tehran almost quadrupled in the past four years: state-owned properties were sold, not to the people’s benefit, but to bring more revenue to state and municipal coffers.
The soaring property value is one aspect of the damage; long traffic jams, air pollution, health risks, city eyesores and poverty, and above all the destruction of the historic heritage of Tehran has made it a “faceless city.”
The city’s memory of yesteryears is buried in a jungle of concrete and steel bars – which to quote the interior minister, ‘’ will take at least more than a decade’’ to dig into and revive.

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