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Uneven urbanization in Iran/ Globalization

Uneven urbanization in Iran/ Globalization

By Morteza Aminmansour

There have been very little systematic studies of cities in less developed countries where the benefits of globalization are less obvious or are absent despite two decades of economic reform programs by developing countries in an effort to integrate them better to the world economy. Iranian cities have occupied an important role in national development. Cities are powerful engines of growth, in many cases more powerful than national economies. Cities are centers of innovation by the very fact that they are home to the very forces that shape or drive globalization” finance, production, marketing, information, and knowledge production.

Economic globalization affects many regions in middle east( Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Yemen ,Iraq) differently depending on a range of factors, including the level of integration of the local economy into the global economy, the national and local policy context and degree of decentralization of power.

In general two types of urbanization processes can be observed in Iran : 'urbanization with development' and 'urbanization without development' (or limited development). Urbanization with development occurs when national economic growth and development are present at the same time, including a national policy that integrates economic and spatial planning; a productive agricultural sector; growth of secondary cities and market towns to facilitate rural urban interactions; thus leading to a manageable levels of rural-urban migration. Urbanization with development probably occurs in metropolitan cities in Iran(Tehran, Shiraz, Mashad, Isfahan) , whereas Urbanization without development (or limited development), on the other hand, occurs when overall national economic growth and development are inadequate to meet the needs of a growing population. In this case we have to look for smaller cities to find limited development , even so the government trays to consolidate and to manage this development. Mismanagement is the major factor for any kind of planning in Iran.

Many regions in Iran are confronted with the challenge of rapid urbanization in the context of economic stagnation, poor governance, and fragile public institutions (small cities in the provinces such as: Hormozgan, Sistan and Baluchestan, Kerman).

The rapid expansion in urban population in Iran Between 1980-1990 has occurred without the needed expansion in basic services and productive employment opportunities. The problem was compounded by weak urban government structures with very limited capacity to stimulate economic growth, mobilize resources and provide the most basic services(The war between Iraq-Iran caused a delay in planning and preparing a long term Master plan).Investing in urban areas does not mean to undermine rural development.

Urbanization has been found to have positive impacts on fertility, mortality, and other demographic trends. The current resurgence of interest in and attention to urban management, and the view that cities are the engines of national economic growth and development in general, is in part, based on this pro-urban perspective. This is particularly true today in knowledge-intensive gloabalizing economy where cities have played a central role as agents of innovation diffusion and socio-economic transformation. Most obviously, poverty, mass unemployment, and inequality have mushroomed alongside recent advancement in technological developments and the rapid expansion of trade and investment.

In Iran, there are sharp disparities between the urban and rural areas . The rural areas have become marginalized from the mainstream of national development. Low levels of agricultural production, the lack of non-farm employment opportunities, and the absence of vibrant small and medium-size urban centers facilitating interaction between rural areas and major cities (like Tehran, Shiraz, Bandar Abbas, Kerman). Low agricultural productivity in turn leads to poor conditions of life in rural areas, further compelling people to migrate to bigger cities such as Tehran , Mashad, Tabriz, Isfahan and other major cities.

In most Iranian small cities , the urban poor are over exposed to environmental risk and life threatening diseases that are preventable. Existing environmental infrastructure is woefully inadequate of providing clean drinking water or hygienically treating household liquid and solid wastes. (for example Sistan va Baluchestan province has a deserted climate, The average annual rainfall in the province is 120 millimeters. The town of Zabol has the lowest average annual rainfall of 51 millimeters. On the whole, Sistan va Baluchestan is the driest province of the country and one of its basic problems is always water shortage). In cities and neighborhoods with inadequate provision of water and sanitation, mortality rates are commonly higher than neighborhoods well served by piped water and sanitation.

In Iran and other neighboring countries the resources that municipalities need to provide minimum acceptable levels of basic services, maintain water supply systems and existing fleet of garbage trucks are severely limited. This can be particularly severe when responsibility for water and sanitation service delivery is decentralized to local administration without the corresponding devolution of financial authority. The globalization is defined as the marginal impacts of an international economy relative to those of a closed economy. If globalization encourages growth, lowers poverty, and reduces income gaps among countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan Tajikistan, why do so many advocates for the poor stridently oppose liberalizing trade, investment, and immigration? One possibility is globalization might increase inequality within countries. More surprising than the declines in poverty are the reductions in inequality. With the 1980s and 1990s viewed as the "lost decade" for many developing countries, especially in Middle East and Central Asia, we might have expected a sharp rise in world inequality. Distinguishing the effects of globalization from other economic, political, and social developments is difficult no matter if in the case of Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, or Afghanistan.

Globalization of economies is forcing developing countries including Iran to restructure their economies to make them more competitive in the global market by "right-sizing government, and reducing or eliminating subsidies (like subsidies on imported products, oil, Gas, Bread, Sugar and others), and by privatizing government-owned firms and enterprises(see article 44 , the law was passed to transfer the government owned entities to private sector to attract and diversify more the economy and to encourage private investors to invest in Iranian economy). Government budget cuts, particularly in areas such as education and health, have reduced the level of services available to some of the poor.

There are two fundamental and interrelated globalization trends sweeping the region at present: globalization of economies and globalization of information. Both these trends are fundamentally changing not only the economies of the countries of Central Asia and the Middle east countries such as (Iran, Syria, Bahrain, Turkey, Armenia, Iraq) but also their environments, cultures and societies. These trends are likely to affect the urban poor adversely as they threaten to widen the gap between the "haves and the "have-nots in society. Those with capital and access to information and the ability to translate that information into economic, political, and social gain will benefit from globalization. Since the poor do not have capital and are often unable to access information, they are likely to be further impoverished and marginalized.

Poverty essentially has three closely interrelated aspects: "poverty of money, "poverty of access and "poverty of power. These make the working, living, and social environments of the poor extremely insecure and severely limit the options available to them to improve their lives. Without choices and security, breaking the cycle of poverty becomes virtually impossible and leads to the marginalization and alienation of the poor from society.

Two basic "levels or "types" of poverty are identified in the development literature: absolute poverty and relative poverty. Simply put, absolute poverty is defined as the cost of the minimum necessities needed to sustain human life. The World Bank currently regards people earning less than US$ 1 a day (in 1993 purchasing power parity) to be absolutely poor. In Iran the minimum wage is not supporting the daily life of million Iranian. They are million of Iranian living under the poverty line. Relative poverty is defined as the minimum economic, social, political and cultural goods needed to maintain an acceptable way of life in a particular society Globalization of information also means greater exposure to consumerism and higher expectations among urban populations, which, given the above trends, are unlikely to be met for a majority of the urban poor. Higher expectations that remain unachievable can become causes for social, ethnic, and religious violence.


Fantu Cheru , American University Globalization and Poverty, James Levinsohn Globalization and the Fight Against Poverty, Robert Lermann


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