… response to rezwan’s comment

12 06 2007

[By Shawhin] Rezwan – thanks so much for the comment (see Rezwan’s comment under the ‘welcome’ tab). I didn’t know that you were working on the Fars regional plan. I can’t imagine anything better and more interesting to do in this world than to be one of people throughout its long history, who influence the planning of Fars. Tremendous! Do you have more info that you can share? How do you find the planning process there?
I had a look through DPZ’s website. I’m a big, big fan. Like you said though, Iran doesn’t have the same sprawl disease as they have in the states – thank god.
What I think is fundamental in Iran is the recognition and preservation of our historic elements and buildings. Plans like putting a highway artery straight through Esfahan or running a heavy rail line adjacent to Takhteh Rostam for example would be devastating; and I think alternatives should be found at any cost.
I have to read more about DPZ’s smartcode to see what they say about public transit in a historic mega-city like Tehran. I feel most of Tehran is pedestrian friendly (except for some dense high-rise residential developments on the outskirts of the city, and others?), but do you think there are any measures/strategies within Tehran that could make the city function better in terms of transportation, pollution, or congestion, given the population and influx rate? It seems we would need to look to more than a regional plan for Tehran, no? Something more like a national plan, where Tehran could share some of its load elsewhere.
What do you think?

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3 responses

26 06 2007
Rezwan

Glad you liked the reference. To me, Iran is like a “black box”. I’m not clear about the rules or how things actually work. I’m just starting to get the jargon down.

All of this is a disclaimer up front to say that these are just my crude impressions of the character and identity of Iranians that shapes city planning.

So, disclaimer in mind, here are my impressions: America’s “sprawl” problem is rooted in urban policy that reinforces the underlying character of Americans. It is said that the “American utopia” is a reaction to feudalism – the need for each person to have their own castle/farm/suburban set back house and to show off their achievements as individuals. At the same time, there is a strong corporate ethic in America. Individual success depends on leveraging the labor of other individuals. So they work together in large, hierarchical companies that build big impressive buildings as monuments to their capitalistic genius. The business folk need to gather together for their economies of agglomeration in a downtown, and then, after work, the individuals within the company seek to scatter as far away to their own space as possible. The two spaces are linked with individualistic-friendly cars (rather than socialistic-friendly public transit).

Iran seems to operate on a very different character/ethic. It’s family centric rather than individual centric (even though there is a strong sense of individualism that seems to express itself as anarchy – in their driving, for example ;-)). Also, there isn’t a strong corporate sense. More of a corporate suspicion. There is a sense of fatality about this as well. People here keep telling me that “Iranians don’t work well together” or “we only do well in individual sports, not team sports” and so forth. So, family above individual, and both above corporation gives rise to the sense that things here get done by nepotism and such connections rather than by…rules?

That factor, plus the privacy thing really seem to shape the city planning process. The private vs. public space thing is key here. The American house likes to show itself off, little white picket fences around the front yard, porches to sit on and gawk at neighbors. Keep up with the joneses and show off your Christmas lights and so forth. In contrast, Iranian houses have the courtyard inside, and walls to the outside (but some really distinct design patterns showing up – very cool). Here, when you build your home you build your walls all the way out to the property line and you top off your walls with metal barriers to dissuade thieves. This doesn’t mean that Iranians are purely private and anti-social, in fact, they are huge users of public space, strolling in parks, picnicking on every available space, and camping outdoors en masse during Nowruz.

The upshot is that I still don’t have a clear idea of what the ideal urban space in Iran should LOOK like. There seem to be some deep conflicts and contradictions that need to be reconciled in both space and planning process.

To start with, I think we need a strong, compelling vision that can bring people together. This is why I find the “form-based” approach so interesting. It starts with the objective of finding out what people want their space to look like, and not in a superficial way – in a functional, identity-defining way.

As to form, I have asked people here what they think of as a great neighborhood – asked them to nominate candidate areas, but haven’t had many nominees (there must be some, I have to start looking in earnest! What are your nominees?).

As to process, for the most part, I get the impression that the anarchy of haphazard leveraging of connections is what works to shape neighborhoods (bypassing any plan), and that few people have thought of the public space or how to knit it together (especially as so many of these urban zones have grown up so quickly). (Well, they’ve probably thought of it, but the idea of trying to get a bunch of cantankerous Iranians together to discuss ideal neighborhoods may be overwhelming.)

Thanks for mentioning transit – the other part of form-based planning that I like is the emphasis on the public and private frontage. How the public and private spaces relate to each other. I would love to sit down with a representative group of Iranians and brainstorm on the public/private interface. This is a big part of the DPZ process.

So…while sprawl isn’t the problem in Iran, I think the form-based process addresses some of the key concerns in planning in Iran.

Anyway, my bias is that I am a vision, goal and rule based planner. Tell me the goals, help me see your vision, and give me the parameters, and the plan should come out of that.

26 06 2007
Shawhin

Interesting, insightful, and educational – thank you!
Categorizing the social/habitat tendencies was especially interesting for me. And it makes sense for old societies such as those in Iran, which evolved from nomadic to … rural to … urban, would develop as you said. This in contrast to what is seen in the US, which is a multicultural country with competition and consumerism at the forefront for competitive immigrants and their descendents all seems to fit together… interesting.

You said:
“The upshot is that I still don’t have a clear idea of what the ideal urban space in Iran should LOOK like. There seem to be some deep conflicts and contradictions that need to be reconciled in both space and planning process.”

I guess I didn’t quite follow this. Do you see conflicts in the form of planning (or lack thereof) that created the traditional urban forms, or do you see conflicts in the forms themselves? For example (and as my nominees for coolest neighborhoods) I think Maghsood Beik in northern Tehran, Oud Lajan in central Tehran, and Punak in northwest Tehran were pleasing to the casual observer (I was a teenager when I saw them last).

Unfortunately I haven’t been exploring enough around Tehran to give a more certain answer, but I know these places were at once very beautiful to me. Have you been to either of these places? In any case, I was curious if you meant there were deep conflicts in the layout, form, and content of neighborhoods such as these.

On a separate note, I’m trying to learn more about form-based planning. I read what was on http://www.dpz.com, but do you have any other good references in mind? Or do you have a cliff notes spiel you could share?

17 01 2008
Faxia

hmmmm…very interesting!
Thanks google

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