Urban Sprawl, Shanties & Modern Slums

Urban Sprawl, Shanties & Modern Slums Urban Sprawl, Shanties & Modern Slums

Eleven million people live in nearly 2.6 million units in informal settlements in the metropolises and big cities and towns in the country, said Majid Roosta, director general of the National Task Force for Upgrading Informal Settlements.

“Most people believe that informal settlements are located in the outlying areas, but according to a recent survey in 97 cities countrywide, 85% of the shanties are located within cities,” the Persian language weekly ‘Tejarat-e-Farda,’ a sister publication of the Financial Tribune, quoted Roosta as saying.  

Squatter towns usually emerge and expand in and around cities with a population of over 100,000 as land prices start rising due to disorganized urbanization.  

As an example, 1.2 million people are currently living in informal settlements in and around Mashhad, the second most populous city in Iran (population 3 million), and capital of Khorasan Razavi Province in the northeast of the country --  home to the mausoleum of the eighth Shia imam, Imam Reza (AS) . Furthermore, 87% of the informal settlements are more than 15 year old, and some are over 40 years old.

Informal settlements and slums are caused by a range of interrelated factors, including population growth and rural-urban migration, lack of affordable housing for the urban poor, poor governance (particularly in the areas of policy, planning, land and urban management leading to land speculation and grabbing), economic vulnerability and underpaid work, discrimination and marginalization, and displacement caused by conflict, natural disasters and climate change, according to

In Iran a combination of all these factors plus draught, growing joblessness and the search for greener pastures have rendered thousands of villages and towns literally uninhabitable as young men flood into the big cities.

 Social Exclusion

Compared to other urban dwellers, people living in informal settlements, particularly in slums, suffer more spatial, social and economic exclusion from the benefits and opportunities of the broader urban environment. They experience discrimination and an extreme disadvantage characterized by geographical marginalization, basic service deficits, poor governance frameworks, limited access to land and property, precarious livelihoods and, due to their location, high vulnerability to the adverse impacts of poor and exposed environments, climate change and natural disasters. One quarter of the world’s urban population lives in slums.

In Iran, informal settlements have grown as a result of the large and growing influx of rural people to the cities in search of better livelihoods. Centralization of facilities and services, particularly in the capital and other metropolises, has led to large-scale urbanization and in turn the growth of spontaneous settlements.

“However, all slum dwellers are not the consequence of rural people migrating to the urban areas; many of them also comprise a large number of the urban poor,” Roosta said.

Pointing to the controversial multi-billion-dollar Mehr Housing Scheme for the poor, he said “Replacement of unofficial settlements with new apartments won’t solve the problem simply because the social needs of slum dwellers should be also met.”

In 2007, the former administration started providing free government land and almost zero interest loan to major builders and land developers to build homes for two million Iranians at the lower-end of the economic ladder.

 Ghosts of the Past

Steel skeleton monsters and excavated construction sites abandoned by the developers years ago around cities today are ghosts of the apparently irresponsible construction project launched by the former populist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Many completed units are not habitable as they are devoid of basic facilities. Most of the housing projects also lack primary infrastructure, namely health centers, schools and paved roads.

According to the Tabnak news agency, currently 220,338 units are not connected to the wastewater system. Around 136,737 units lack water supply, 147,408 are minus electricity and 212,341 are not linked to the piped gas network.

Authorities of the ministries of roads and urban development and energy say the Rouhani government has coughed up $27.7 million so far to complete the huge project that many senior officials now say hurled the GDP growth rates deep  into negative territory in the last years of the former administration (2012-13).

But the plight of the residential units is not much better than slums. Many experts dismiss the venture as “modern slums” while others say it is another version of “students’ hostels.”