Related post: Part 1.

Part 2. The ambiguity of Post-revolution Development Policies

In 1979, the new Iranian government was trying to adjust to a democratic society aiming to place the country among the leading developing nations in the region. However, the sudden war in the early post-revolution years, as well as the instability of post-revolution socio-economic situation on one side, and under-experienced governing body on the other, could not fully address the shortcomings of the policies that aimed at the lower class. It was throughout this era (1979-1997) that the second significant wave of migration happened. The push factor caused by the war (Iran-Iraq war) and the following pull-factor caused by the boom in construction of cities and urban infrastructure and accumulation of services in major cities, moved even more people towards cities.

Throughout this time, alongside a high rate of population growth, a much-supported policy to privatize industry and housing emerged. Contingent on the latter, the urban land and infrastructures were put on a price-rise, and no major decision was taken to stop the informal growth occurring in cities. Many villages and rural settlements close to the vicinity of the cities merged into an urban fabric housing irregular sub-standard living style. At the same time, the lack of proper development strategies (1) was putting the weight of industrial construction of the peripheries on the inner core city fabrics causing them to dilapidate even further. The uneven political economic development of the state translated into cities, which created trouble for the policy makers who had already promised change.


Figure 3 Farahzad, once a village in one of the valleys outside of Tehran, now has merged into the city fabric and is growing informally. Image Credit: Sepehr Zhand, 2013

With informality and dilapidated fabrics as significant features of urban irregularity in Iran, the modernizing programmes that aimed to change the face of the country confronted major discrepancy with the initial goals set. In this manner housing and informality dynamics (2), becomes a major measure to evaluate the success of undergoing policies. Furthermore, similar to other developing nations, informality was initially perceived as a parasite to the urban whole, and was to be eradicated. While the post-revolution governments seemingly sought to reach out to everyone providing equal access to funds and services, the policies implemented to do so, did not only fail to address the issues but also, in many ways, led the urbanisation in the very opposite direction. The policies at the time aimed to increase the birth rate and –in spite of advocating for privatization- the state was directly involved in housing production and processes which led to major inflation (3). It was only until 2005 that a populist government rose to power with certain mottos referring to the existing urban population that had grown relatively dependent and vulnerable.

Part 3. Social housing and the loss of scale

Throughout the past one and a half decades, and the rise of a populist government, the state of informality in Iran has reached its peak, reflecting the consequence of the complexity of urban growth, the economic international sanctions imposed on the country, the water crisis and the adaptation of an ambitious housing programme.

Since 2005 and following the rise of a populist government, a series of policies aiming to reach out to the growing lower class took place. Through this time, with the failure of a state led foreign policy, the imposition of heavy international sanctions were imposed further paralyzing a struggling economy, causing the industry to suffer. On another hand, the water crisis in the region strengthened the push factor within the labour-intense rural economy based on agriculture and put an even bigger influx to move towards the urban areas, seeking their economic desires.


Figure 4 Mehr Housing programme has been an ambitious housing programme aiming to provide every family in Iran with a housing unit. Image Credit: Sepehr Zhand, Mehr housing project in Kerman. 2014

While the government had plans to eradicate poverty, the biggest public housing programme in the region planned to deliver 1,200,000 housing units throughout the country within 8 years. The programme entailed financial support and land allocation to individuals and syndicates. While causing a major lift in the construction industry, the scope of the programme involved many other economic processes including the boom in the related construction-related industry. While delivering low-quality housing, Mehr housing programme faced a major failure(4). As a way to sustain the programme the government injected cash into construction causing the highest inflation rate since its modernization began in the country. Informality thus became the favourable alternative, and substandard construction became mainstream, for the unstable economy urged anyone with a little money to invest in rapid construction (and enjoying the rapid return of the income) rather than productive processes that could actually result in long term empowerment of the lower and middle class.

Concluding, it can be argued that the urban condition in Iran reflects the state of a society that has been, and still is, going through immense peaks of political and economic instability. Taking the informal growth of the city as the outcome of modernizing policies, the Iranian cities now accommodate more than they were anticipated or planned for. Failing to address the surplus of the urban dwellers, the government is yet to figure a way to understand the existing informality, which has been compensating the shortcomings of the planned city. Either providing alternatives for the design typologies, construction methods or the way land is developed, informality has provided certain solutions to the cities that can pay off the failures of modernizing policies in various ways.

With this intro of the historical account for the expansion of informality in Iran, I will be elaborating in the next posts on the state of informality from the view point of city making logic and architectural typology as well as the policies and processes that drive the expansion. I will also be trying to explain how the informal sector is promoting the urbanization on various scales, and how socio-politically the informal sector is becoming an inevitable part of urban life in Iran….Stay tuned for more!


  1. The urge to modernize the country at the time was supported with gentrification programmes that evolved around promotion of industrial construction in the peripheries, developing cities outwards.
  2. The linear relationship between the housing production and the expansion of the informal settlements, has often been recognized as a measure to evaluate the success of a development policy.
  3. Being directly involved in the production of housing, the governments used direct funding into the process which in return causes major inflation
  4. Mehr Housing programme was benefiting from the free land allocated to it outside of the cities which was unable to attract those who it was planned for as well as money being directly injected to the production process by the government. On another hand, those who entitled to the housing units, preferred to sell out their units unfinished to those who already were house owners, and therefore, many of those who would have benefitted the programme began to squat the peripheries, using the money they acquired out of the cheap sale, and a significant part of the project remained either unfinished or unused.

DSC_0488Sepehr Zhand

Sepehr is an Iranian architect and urbanist with a master’s degree from the Architectural Association, School of Architecture in London. He has worked on urban development projects in Iran, India, Netherlands and Taiwan. Currently based in Tehran, his work as a practitioner involves upgrading strategies for the informal settlements and dilapidated urban fabrics in Iran. His research focuses on the relationship between design, planning  and the emergence of irregular urban form. More specifically, Sepehr has been analyzing Iran’s housing process and its effect on the propagation of informal settlements in Tehran.

Previously he has been a design studio instructor at the IAU and a visiting research scholar with Iran’s Ministry of Road and Urban Development.

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