Politics of Public Space: A Study of Valiasr-Enghelab Underpass in Tehran, Iran
What are the driving forces in changing public squares and how do different state ideologies shape them? Do neoliberal trends of capitalism, assumed as universal according to Harvey (2013), affect the structure of a public space located in Global South as well? I situate these questions via an examination of the redevelopment of the ValiasrEnghelab intersection, one of the most critical and important public spaces, located in Tehran, Iran. Studying different aspects of recent changes in the Valiasr-Enghelab intersection in Tehran is a great opportunity to investigate Iran’s urban and social structure. Accordingly, I apply the classic political economic framework of urban geography as a model to study how built environments in Tehran have changed over time and transformed public spaces into more commodified areas. While applying the political economic framework is operational in the Valiasr-Enghelab intersection, ignoring the role of the specific socio-cultural context is impossible. Hence, in another section of this major paper, I shift from my previous analysis of the urban development process by de-economizing the theoretical framework and taking into account the social aspects with a particular focus on the impact of security, as an extra-economic element, in shaping the Valiasr-Enghelab intersection. I investigate different controlling measures against public space, which go beyond systematic exclusion and universal approach. Finally, the examination of economic and extra-economic elements in the redevelopment of the Valiasr-Enghelab intersection provides a sufficient ground for questioning how this project relates to the right to the city. Two central arguments direct this major paper. First, besides all the incitements of the capital market, assurance of people’s devotion to the Islamic and revolutionary values shapes an inherent tendency for rulers toward controlling bodies, behaviors, and finally minds. Second, in the context of a city like Tehran and an important public space like the Valiasr-Enghelab intersection, the government seeks to cut the vital relationship between residents and the city. Disrupting citizens’ right to the city, the government could shape the making of people and social relations it intended.