Assessing social and cultural impacts of the Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project, 18th Municipal District of Tehran
*Ph.D. student of economic sociology, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad
The present study seeks to assess the social and cultural impacts of implementing the Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project in the 18th Municipal District of Tehran. The current physical, social, and economic status of the area is highly unfitting and various issues such as unorganized operation of street vendors and conflicts of interest have highlighted the need for the said project. The study was carried out in a qualitative fashion via the analysis of qualitative content. The study population comprises of all stakeholders in Shariati Street (all individuals who in some way come into contact with the street as part of their daily activities). Targeted sampling was used to interview 32 individuals from various fields including municipal experts, residents, drivers, shop keepers, street vendors, and customers. The data were analyzed using Grasel and Strauss’s Three Stage Coding approach. As shown by the results, the social and cultural impacts of the project fall within 6 main categories of: impacts on visual/symblic texture, impacts on social texture, impacts on economic texture, impacts on aesthetic texture, impacts on environmental texture, and impacts on pedestrian-driven texture. Together, these impacts comprise the main social and cultural impacts of the Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project.
Keywords: Social and cultural impacts, Shariati Street, 18th Municipal District of Tehran, Urban space
1- Problem statement
Humans have long sought to better their lives by making endeavors to create and bring into reality their innovative ideas. Ideas which when brought to life succeeded in remodeling the social foundations of human lives and at times altering the course of history. One need only glance back at inventions such as the printing machine, automobiles, televisions and computers to appreciate the gravity of such originations in altering the social lives of human beings. In the thick of these inventions, the automobile appears to have had the most substantial impact on the morphology of human settlements on earth; for automobiles are not merely simple products of civilization, but are themselves so powerful to the extent that they have modified the formation cities, villages, houses, roadways, and ultimately the entire earth (Mehdizadeh, 2008: 8). It was till after the industrial revolution and the invasion of cars in the 20th century that cities, rather than being functions of nature; where roads were built in accordance with the river routes and pedestrianism quadrupedalism dominated urbanism, became the targets of massive modifications induced by the invasion of cars including changes in the structure of streets and neighborhoods and the manner in which people lived and commuted and in an integral sense changes in public culture and lifestyle. The new reign of capitalism and industrial economy brought forth the expansion of the car industry as one of the most pivotal elements of economic development, dictating the terms for modern urbanism. The results of this dominance are clearly visible in the expanded boulevards, highways, autobahns, and freeways which now govern the world.
Modernism together with industrialism and the undeniable advantages therein, have fundamentally altered the human-driven quality of cities and urban environments. Nowadays, instead of encountering social and more humane environments when strolling through a city, one witnesses the dominance of the mechanical world of cars. Nevertheless, recent decades have acted, to some extent, upon endeavors to return the social humans and human relationships to urban environments. Accordingly, homogenous urban design is considered the primary element for restoring and revitalizing the human quality of cities and making the robust against the now governing alien processes by means of dividing distances among various sectors of the city. Numerous helpful policies, proceedings, and interventions exist in which the designer plays a key role. These proceedings include on one level: modifying urban design to maintain and protect streets, town-squares, sidewalks and other main routes as the connecting loops in an urban network, renovating debilitated urban textures as well as textures based on inhuman (non-human) systems; proceedings for facilitating individual interactions and creating opportunities for leisure and recreational activities; measures towards ensuring a sense of individual and group security – which is the main factor for supplying urban welfare;- efforts to create memorable urban environments with specific indelible features and therefore improve urban diversity and nature, while maintaining aesthetic superiority in all urban networks and finally preserving all important aspects of cultural and natural heritage via proper planning.
Sidewalk construction has been one of the most fundamental of these efforts. Sidewalks have the highest social impression wherein the pedestrian is the authoritative figure and motor vehicles merely act as service providers. Sidewalks are a tool for collective activities, especially in regards to urban economy, spatial quality, and social health (Pakzad, 2005: 274). Major practical instances of recognizing the importance of pedestrians and sidewalks dates back more than half a century to 1950 Germany, Netherlands, and Denmark, where the first sidewalks were built as part of restoring the demolished cities of the second world war and renovating historical city centers with the objective of separating pedestrian walkways from driving routes. Until 1966, sidewalks were only exclusive to some European cities as well as a few pedestrian walkways in certain cities of America (Gozarrah Consulting Engineers Company, 1996: 200 quoted from Poursartip, 2010: 29). The importance of human presence and pedestrianism came to light following the intensified degradations of urban quality of life in Europe towards the end of the 1950s. Accordingly, several general solutions and interventions were proposed, which primarily included the construction of special sites and areas (mostly in city centers) for pedestrianism or the complete elimination of motorists or the introduction of time and speed limits for motorists in the form of woonerfs (Jadali, 2003: 112 quoted from Jadali, 2003: 112). Sidewalk construction is accompanied by many advantages.
Similarly, Iran has also been subject to the invasion of cars and their dominance over urban roadways and environments as well as urban design and planning, which has ultimately led to evanesce of pedestrian needs and therefore reductions in social and cultural value and appeal of urban spaces. As a consequence, the patterns and concepts of desirable urban functions such as neighborhoods, streets, squares, pathways, alleys, and ... have undergone substantial changes in quality and nature and lost their rich human essence. One of the most valuable and notable proceedings in recent years with respect to promoting quality of pedestrianism is the construction of several sidewalks in different cities including Tabriz, Tehran, Mashhad, and Bushehr. Urban designers, as the organizing agents, must investigate new methods and approaches for restoring the human quality to urban spaces and creating a safe and accepted environment for people to live in. Although western countries have become aware of the importance of pedestrianism since almost 5 decades ago, reconsideration of pedestrianism in Iran has only begun to take place in the past few decades (Poursartip, 2010: 29). Anyhow, the invasion of cars in Iran, especially in the capital city of Tehran, has to a great extent become commonplace. However, this car-driven development of urban spaces will ultimately and gradually lead to the annihilation of urban identity and even the destruction of urban spaces, especially in metropolises such as Tehran. As explained by the literature in the following sections, Tehran Municipality has recently focused on the issue of cars and car-oriented developments and has considered pedestrianism as one of its primary objectives.
Based on the findings of initial document analyses, observations, discussions and interviews with the stakeholders in the study area, it is highly agreed that Shariati Street – the main street of the first sector of the 18th Municipal District of Tehran – has recently experienced gradual changes, which on various levels effect the living environments of residents of the area. Put another way, in addition to recent modernistic changes including renovation of certain shops, operation of Saray-e Mahale (cultural centers), construction of a central square in the middle of the street, and the expansion of religious activities around mosques, the street has also witnessed certain deformations as well as junctions with Taleghani St, Bahrami St, Bazargan St, and ...; these changes were, first of all, not in accordance with the plans of urban designers and secondly have brought about unanticipated problems and in a way threatened the lives of the residents. On the other hand, given the social and economic centrality of Shariati Street, it has introduced certain beneficiaries to the previous members of the economic community in the area. In other words, the inclination to further increase economic resources (specifically street vendors) and the formation of numerous economic modalities in the area have led to the congestion of social relations or, more accurately put, a state of “intense social congestion”. This in turn has not only created disarray and chaos, but has also consolidated wayward reactions in residential areas. As the number of citizens increase to the point of overcoming the environment, we begin to witness the dominance of economic actions over social interactions (e.g. no more neighbor contacts nor hangouts or gatherings among the elderly, and ...). Put differently, economic activities in Shariati Street have begun to take over social and public spaces and have skillfully altered the previous order. Succumbing to this economic supremacy is just one of the consequences of deformations imposed on the civilians of Shariati Street. Hence, the present study seeks to investigate the social and cultural impacts of the Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project in the 18th Municipal District of Tehran.
2 – Previous studies
In a study titled: “Determining influential indicators for creating safe pedestrian-driven spaces for the promotion of social interaction (case study: Bahar-e Azadi Street, Khak-e Sefid district, Tehran)” Seifollahi-fakhr et al. (2013) assessed and prioritized the influential indicators for creating safe pedestrian walkways for the promotion of social interactions. They employed the descriptive-analytic and experimental-survey methods with the aim of attaining practical results. The required data were gathering using field methods and surveys were employed to investigate and identify the features and relations between indicators and library research methods were utilized to review previous literature. Accordingly, a 3-stage analytical model based on influential indicators was used, wherein the indicators were divided into 3 main indices and 15 sub-indices. Each index was then assessed using hierarchical fuzzy analysis. Finally, certain guidelines and modifications were proposed for creating safe pedestrian walkways based on each individual indicator. The results showed that among the studied indices, performance, had the highest influence in creating safe pedestrian walkways within the corresponding study area.
Nozandeh-Jani et al. (2014), in a study titled: “pedestrianism, a novel approach to restoring and sustaining Islamic city centers; case study: Jannat Street, Mashhad”, proposed to investigate and apprehend the spatial and temporal origins of sidewalks as the structural platform for civilization and social interactions and their role in establishing order and organizing city centers by means of document analysis and field surveys about Jannat Street, Mashhad. Their results were indicative of the role of organizational measures in helping the area to adapt to new policies of pedestrianism, and thereby bringing economic prosperity and acting as a promising sample of expansions in business and recreational environments as well as increasing quality of life and enrichening the urban environment through social acceptance.
In their study titled: “Social and Cultural Impact Assessment of Panzdah-e Khordad Street Sidewalk Project located in the 12th Municipal District of Tehran (phase 2)”, Mirzayi and Mohammadzaki (2016) sought to provide an answer for the basic question of what are the social and cultural impacts of constructing sidewalks as part of the Panzdah-e Khordad Street Sidewalk Project? And what are some proposed strategies for satisfying the needs of the beneficiaries and other stakeholders? The study was in the form of a descriptive research with practical results. The required data were gathered using field surveys and document analysis. A complete consensus was then carried out and a total of 880 residents and active business owners and visitors were selected to answer the corresponding study questionnaire. Local managers and beneficiaries were also interviewed in a targeted fashion, while public civilian groups were interviewed using snowball sampling techniques. The tools used in this study included information forms, expert-oriented questionnaires, semi-structure interviews and observations. According to the results, in addition to bringing about economic prosperity and expanding recreational environments and activities, sidewalks could also transfer environmental pollutions to other parts of the city as well as change the identity of the surrounding neighborhoods. Finally, the use of side stations for loading operations as well as urban furniture associated with the historical background of Tehran were recommended as complementary solutions in line with the study objectives.
Alikhah and Fazeli (2014), in their study titled: “opposing public and determined executive: social assessment of the Hefdah-e Sharivar Street Sidewalk Project” proposed to assess the social and cultural impacts of the Hefdah-e Shahrivar Street Sidewalk Project using the “fast assessment 3” approach. The real stakeholders of the project were the residents and business owners while the legal bodies included Islamic City Council of Tehran, Law Enforcement Forces, bankers, traffic police, and public services including electricity, water, communications and gas companies. The authors believe that the executive body of the project, i.e. Tehran Municipality, must account for all the stakeholders and formulate strategic plans for each one. Otherwise, each of the said stakeholders could influence the final outcome of the project to the extent of their authoritative power.
Alizadeh and Tamri (2012) set to investigate the sidewalks of Tabriz in their study titled: “assessment and analysis of influential factors on improving spatial quality of sidewalks with the objective of increasing social interaction, a case study: Tarbit and Valiasr streets of Tabriz”. They used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods including theoretical studies (qualitative) and case studies (quantitative) on Torbat and Vali-e Asr streets of Tabriz in order to extract the required theoretical framework (including influential factors on quality of sidewalks) and validate the qualitative results. Questionnaires were used to gather information on the relation between spatial quality of sidewalks and citizen’s satisfaction. The results indicated that out of the main components of urban spatial quality, vitality, clarity, security, safety and permeability had significant relations with social interaction and presence of citizens in pedestrian-oriented spaces of Tabriz.
In a study titled: “Conceptual model and analytic framework for pedestrianism with an emphasis on new urbanism (case study: Phase IV of Mehrshahr, Karaj)”, Tajik and Partovi (2013) pushed towards extracting and assessing influential factors on pedestrianism in Phase IV of Mehrshahr, Karaj. Their proposed strategy comprised of two main stages, 1) review of literature, theoretical framework, and relative global instances using comparative and inductive reasoning in order to codify the proposed conceptual and practical model of the research. The presiding strategy for this step was descriptive. 2) Assessing overall conditions of the area with respect to the defined criteria and sub-criteria of the proposed practical model, following initial tests and localization procedures. Field surveys illustrated that despite the significance of all components of the proposed model for Phase IV of Mehrshahr, Karaj, the following appeared bolder than the rest: spatial quality, safety, security, and efficient urban management. Ergo, relative executive policies and strategies must be defined in accordance with these criteria.
3. Conceptual framework
Marshall Berman, the famous American philosopher, elaborated in his book “The experience of modernity”, on the effects of modernism on urban environments, particularly New York City, by referring to the “Expressway World” concept; a metaphoric account of how expressways have begun to determine the fate of metropolitan cities, and consequently the lives of people all around the world. Berman believed that the earliest expressways were the first signs of a new and modern urban space as well as the gateway to the magical world of modernism, or as he liked to call it “the cities of tomorrow”. The modern city demands undertakings on a much different and larger scale than the former small cities and narrow allies. As Sigfried Giedion says: the subject of this phenomenon of change is the present urban structure. There is no longer any place for urban streets and so its perseverance is impermissible. Here we see how modernism takes on an entirely new approach: development of modernization, which has itself rendered the modern city obsolete. As this decisive dialectic unfolds, the city must be set aside, for it cannot go hand in hand with expressways (Berman, 2004: 376). Modernity brings with it inevitable changes in urban structure. New cities must undergo changes in order to adapt to the new social lifestyle of the world. One of the most prominent policies of pedestrianism is to decrease the number of expressways, while expanding sidewalks.
Sidewalks are urban elements with specific capacities that allow them to be entirely or partially allocated to pedestrian activities throughout the day (Kanooni, 2015: 53). Sidewalks are not only one of the most important urban public spaces, but are essential to the continuation of urban life; consequently, sidewalks are an integral part of cities today (Kashanijoo, 2006: 44). Sidewalks are essentially paths that run along the side of a road and are normally separated from the vehicular section, with the exception of emergency vehicles, which are allowed access to the sidewalk; cargo trucks are also allowed to drive through sidewalks at certain hours in order to load and unload their cargo (Kanooni and Valizadeh, 2006: 13).
Recent urban upheavals counting environmental pollution, difficulties in commuting, insecurity of roadways, decadence of urban historical centers, low quality of urban spaces, problems in purchasing goods and finding services, difficult situation of commute for the disabled, rising mental stresses, and decreases in visual efficacy have all catalyzed a widespread response to ongoing vehicular activities and low rate of pedestrianism throughout the world. Together, these responses form the basis of what is commonly known as the pedestrian movement; as a result, urban planners have been compelled to recognize pedestrians as citizens with certain needs and wants. On the whole, the pedestrian movement has not only effectuated numerous changes in urban structure, but has also contributed to new changes in urban life quality and the social and cultural ethics of the people; it has also engendered new patterns for resolving certain urban related issues, which has spawned in depth modifications in theories and approaches to urbanism, especially in regards to organizing urban spaces (Lynch, 2004: 48).
In her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, Jane Jacobs brings into light the key role of public spaces in fabricating social interaction. Jacobs defends that the most unforgettable element of a city are its public spaces, particularly its streets and sidewalks. Jacobs argues that the rise and decline and safety of sidewalks have a reverse impact on separation and racism. Therefore, in order to attract further participation of civilians, sidewalks must maintain their animate qualities (Pakzad, 2005: 93). Jacobs was also of the opinion maintaining vitality of a street calls for the presence of pedestrians in its sidewalks; although, it should be mentioned that high population density alone is not sufficient. Carmona (2009) also insists on the importance of vitality of sidewalks and mentions variety and activity as the two influential constituents in the vitality of urban sidewalks. One way to attain variety, states Carmona, is to employ urban symbols representing the existing framework and values of the area. These symbols also add to the clarity of pathways, turning them into symbols themselves. Another formula for maintaining vitality is to create diverse land-uses and buildings with different, but relevant functions for every sequence of sidewalks as well as establishment of services which extend the stay of pedestrians. Recreational uses, varied urban furniture, and coordinated illumination, particularly appropriate lighting of major buildings, are all among other effective measures for attracting the presence of pedestrians (Pakzad, 2007: 115). Colin frequently emphasized the importance of urban furniture and flooring in maintaining the peace and tranquility of sidewalks and believed that the presence of pedestrians is an essential part of all urban spaces, which grant a sense of vitality. He always portrayed people as real and interactive elements of daily activities as opposed to fractions of an abstract life. In his croquis, Colin not only seeks to display and measure space, but most importantly, tries to portray the sensations of a collective and urban life. People, according to Colin, are an essential part of cities which influence space with their varying tastes and presence (Gosling, 1996: 111).
Appleyard mentions in “Livable Streets”, how modern streets have lost their former human qualities in pursue of an alien environment with the sole purpose of commute. In his article “Streets can kill cities”, Appleyard denotes the destructive role of expressways and vehicular roads with zero presence of pedestrians. Appleyard is the pioneer of space analysis based on behavioral pattern (Appleyard, 2003). According to Lynch, animated objects and qualities of every city, particularly humans, greatly contribute to the image of a city, and since people can only sense the city while in motion, it is of utmost importance to make use of such qualities to promote the identity of cities; these qualities help the observer determine their direction and extent of motion, while also giving form to their sentiments (Lynch, 2004: 196).
The present study falls into the category of qualitative studies, employing qualitative content analysis as its research method. The objective of qualitative content analysis is to investigate the existing contents in order to extract meaning from texts, starting from main principles (Mohammadpoor, 2013: 100). The corresponding “analytic content” (Mayring, 1987 quoted from Mohammadpoor 2013: 100) are transcripts of interviews with beneficiaries of the Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project (including municipal experts, shopkeepers, street vendors, residents, etc.). The study population covered residents and other beneficiaries of the project in the 18th Municipal District of Tehran. Targeted sampling was employed to sample the data. A total of 32 semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted, out of which 11 of the respondents had Diploma degrees or lower, 17 were holders of bachelor degrees, and 4 were postgraduates. 26 of the respondents were male and the remaining 6 were female. “Summarization” was employed as the “analytical technique” (Mayring, 1988 quoted from Mohammadpoor, 2013: 100), wherein the main objective is to compress the content (transcripts of interviews) as much as possible without losing originality of the content in order to procure a meaningful representation of the initial content. For this purpose, the transcripts were initially paragraphed, condensed into abstract forms, generalized, and finally summarized. “Paragraphs” were used as the analytical units for this study in order to prevent too fine or coarse-grained analyses. Inductive analysis was employed as the analytical method due to its compatibility with the study objectives, which given the pragmatic approach of the study was to perform qualitative content analysis in order to define varying themes. Accordingly, exploratory and descriptive analyses were performed on the initial content in order to classify the data into various themes. Grasel and Strauss’s Three Stage Coding approach was used to analyze the data by first employing “open coding” to select the main themes (121 codes), then applying axial coding to refine and separate the data into more abstract themes (32 codes), and finally using selective coding to obtain the core analytical abstract themes based on semantic similarities between the axially coded themes (6 core themes). The analytical process of these abstract themes, are in a way an empirical revisit on the study population. Thus, the study moves from empirical themes to abstract themes and back to empirical themes once more. The following will proceed to analyze the chief qualitative findings of the study (impacts of the Shariate Street Pedestrian Sidewalk Project on social groups and their mentalities)
5. Data analysis and findings
A total of 6 themes were obtained for social and cultural impacts of Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project using the three-stage coding approach. The following is a detailed description of each theme.
5.1. Impacts on visual/symbolic texture
The Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project will invoke certain changes, albeit small, in the visual/symbolic texture of urban space. The project may affect the historical recollection of citizens regarding Shariati Street and its surrounding spaces and signs, arousing confusions about the identity of the area. On the other hand, the project may well lead to the restoration and construction of a new collective identity. The project can also influence the memory of citizens in two ways; acting to cause disorders and unrest in citizens’ recollection of the area or inspiring a new system of thought and memory among the newer generation. In addition, the project may act to disturb the visual symmetry, or rather intensify the current visual asymmetries in both Shariati Street and the greater 18th district, or on the other hand proceed to eliminate such irregularities. Hereon, these issues will be investigated under the theme of impacts on urban visual/sign textures.
As explained in the theoretical section of this study, collective memory is defined as the type of memory which takes form inside a social group with shared mentalities of the past and is more or less specific to that group. In other words, collective memory seeks to find a common “source” or “fate” amid the psychological projections of a certain social group (Lynch, 1995 quoted from Fakouhi, 2004: 259). The first sector of the 18th Municipal District of Tehran, particularly Shariati Street, is reminiscent of numerous individual and group-based activities of the citizens of Tehran. These collective memories have become an inseparable part of the identity of this area. Shariati Street, as a metalanguage expression, is host to a variety of senses and symbols which together form the concept of the “urban space of Shariati Street”. Changes in the urban space of Shariati Street and the surrounding area induced by free social contracts would hinder the historical recollection of the area, throwing it into a world of disarray.
Perhaps the most important issue in relation to urban visual/sign texture is to semanticate and legitimize space. In other words, in saying that Shariati Street must belong to the residing citizens, lies the notion that citizens, through interacting with the area, define their identities and consider themselves parts of the area. One of the interviewees had this to say:
“I have been driving through this street for as long as I can remember and I’ve come to favor this area over any other. As I said, I’ve become accustomed to this area, and despite its many issues and complications, I am still fond of it. I have great memories of the street, memories from my younger years. I feel that if I were to go somewhere else I wouldn’t be able to take any of these sentiments or memories with me.”
As is clearly sensed from this extract, Shariati Street and its surrounding environment bring back many memories and experiences for people who have in certain ways come into contact with it. These individuals gain a meaningful identity from the area and form their own identities accordingly. The social living of people in Shariati Street alone could greatly contribute to a greater collective memory. However, this is not to be construed as a widespread phenomenon. i.e. looking back on individuals who share a meaningful relation with the area, we see a group of elders or middle-aged people who have long been in contact with the area and a lack presence of younger generations. One of the interviewed adolescents stated:
“... not at all. Do we even have symbols here? Take a look at the other regions, everyone seems to have a symbol of their own. To tell you the truth, not only do I not feel any meaningful connection with this place, I actually hate it. It has no meaning for me whatsoever. ”
As is evident from this opinion, Shariati Street and its surrounding environment are severely lacking in terms of symbolization. One can easily sense the absence of meaningful symbols which would appeal to the next generations. The previous generation often got their identities from the spatial features of the area, however the young generation of today feel the scarcity of relevant symbols and implements.
5-2 Impacts on social texture:
The urban space of Shariati Street can be seen as the product of social interactions between various cultural and societal groups. In other words, urban spaces are formed by the presence of social actors and their relations within the visual texture and are not only limited to aesthetics. Social interactions in urban spaces commonly take place within sidewalks, parks, green spaces, cultural shops, cinemas, and ... . As mentioned in quantitative analyses of current conditions of the area, Shariati Street and its surrounding environment are severely lacking in terms of visual prowess. The sidewalks are deprived of required capacities for social interactions, i.e. no one takes a “break off” their daily activities to just stop and take in the environment. No green spaces or parks could be seen within or in the vicinity of the area, and therefore any interactions that require such environments would naturally be moved to more proper spaces. The unsightly deformed spaces and visual and noise pollution also add to the ongoing hindrances to social interactions and social gatherings. Here is an opinion by a business owner:
“I can’t find a place where I can sit down and have a talk with my friends. The irritating noises from cars and heavy traffic and the substantial number of onlookers won’t allow for talks. If the streets and sidewalks were widened and the street vendors and beggars were collected from the streets, the street would become much more appealing and as a result social interactions will start to pick up”.
The Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project could indeed be beneficial in this regard, provided that it is implemented systematically and in an ordered fashion. Although the project has neglected to consider all related issues, its implementation can indeed help improve social interactions. Aesthetic measures would most probably attract further presence of civilians in streets and sidewalks, which in turn could promote social interactions. This is not to say that the increased presence of citizens alone can improve social interactions, rather, in order to achieve this goal, various other prerequisites must be satisfied including those relating to aesthetics, reduced noise and visual pollution, and ... . The following is a comment made by one of the interviewed citizens:
“Nobody’s going to gather in sidewalks, because we don’t have any good ones. Instead they just walk around the streets. I think a lot of these problems would be amended if the sidewalks were properly restored.”
“See here, every single persons’ nerves are shot. Well, a lot of this springs from the fact that nothing here is right. You can’t stand and talk to a person for 2 minutes. There’s no place to talk for God’s sake.”
According to the interviews, it appears that the project would in general benefit the public by increasing social interactions among citizens. Beautifying the sidewalk alongside certain measures for reducing visual and noise pollutions can significantly help increase the presence of citizens in sidewalks, which in turn helps promote social interactions. Nevertheless, as previously mentioned, this is only one side of the coin. It is not fair to expect that the implementation of this project alone would revolutionize the extents to which people socialize with each other, seeing that a variety of other factors are at play here.
Social participation is another fundamental factor that fall within the social and cultural impacts of the proposed project. In consideration of the fact that most urban development plans aim to improve citizens’ living conditions, public participation could assist in both improving the quality of such projects as well as heightening a sense of belonging and attachment to space among citizens. Despite the significance of public participation, as evident from statistical and quantitative analyses of the project, the majority of the study population show no interest in participating in this project. In answering to why they refused to participate, the citizens reiterated that they were not consulted with on any matters relating to the project, its quality, site, and ... prior to any other endeavors. Most of the interviewed civilians confirmed this and stated that not one question was asked of them regarding the project. Here is a comment by one of the interviewed shopkeepers:
“Under no circumstance are we consulted with. We seem to be of zero importance to them. They just do what they see fit regardless of what we might have to say”
Another important factor to consider is the current distrust in institutions, which has caused people to lose their confidence in executive institutions. This is the bitter truth as told by the citizens who have lost their confidence in municipal institutions and organizations and believe them to be the actors of their own personal wills and wants. Put differently, citizens feel discontented about being pushed to the sides and neglected by municipal organizations and find this to be one of the most important reasons for their disaffiliation. They feel that their opinions are of no value to the authorities and so discard such actions as exclusive to the municipality, refusing to sign on for any sort of participation. Here’s is a comment by one of the interviewed business owners:
“Nobody trusts the municipality anymore. They’ve told so many lies and made us the subjects of so many swindles that we’ve lost all faith in them”
Overall, disaffiliation of citizens in past projects is one of the main reasons why citizens refuse to take part in any similar future projects. Additionally, lack of trust in urban institutions, particularly the municipality, doubts as to whether their opinions would in fact be considered if they were to participate, and the rather undesirable background of municipal activities by such institutions, all contribute to the unwillingness of citizens to participate in the Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project.
Another fundamental factor with substantial social and cultural impacts is security. The current state of security in Shariati Street is in its best state undesirable, at least during night hours. One of the main contributors of this is the vulnerable state of the street. The construction of the Shariati sidewalk would decidedly improve the current state of security. Here is an extract from an interview with a safety expert:
“Honestly, the street is not in a superior state as concerns security. The nights are quite insecure. However, the construction of the sidewalk would, at least in my opinion, improve the nightlife of the area and naturally, increase security”.
Street vendors are another influential factor on the implementation of the project. Currently, street vendors have occupied the greater share of the area (both social and asocial) of the street. Unorganized operation of street vendors has brought about major changes, including influxes into the street. According to one of the municipal experts of the 18th district of Tehran:
“The chief difficulty of the area blockage starts from Yaran Street. This problem will only be solved if the street vendors are cleared of the area. The problems would double if the new sidewalk creates the space required for the operation of street vendors. Problems including related to: commute, constructions within the alley, and overcrowded customers. In other words, the new sidewalk would actually increase the ongoing commotions. In my opinion, judicial measures must be put to work in order resolve this issue. One other notable issue is the uncontrolled rise in the added-value of the shops as a result of sidewalk construction. My suggestion: thorough purging at the hands of judicial authorities”.
As can be seen, institutionally-wise, this expert is rather pessimistic about street vendors. This pessimistic perspective would only add to the social skepticism about street vendors following the implementation of the project. We will now look at what one of the interviewed street vendors had to say about the project:
“They only want to get rid of us. The project is just an excuse. They think of us as parasites that must be eradicated. I think conditions would only get worse for us”
5-3 Impacts on economic texture:
The economic texture of Shariati Street, comprises of shopkeepers, business owners, customers, and low-wage operators such as street vendors and ..., as well as encompasses issues relating to economic value of the area, economic status of various social groups, economic security, etc. This economic texture could undergo potential changes resulting from the Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project. The two main targets of these changes are the economic-social groups of shopkeepers (business owners) and the marginal groups including street vendors, beggars, and ... .
Business owners are among stakeholders highly effected by the economic by-products of implementing the project. The highest profits will be made by shopkeepers whose location of business are within the vicinity of the project site, i.e. Shariat Street. Albeit these groups may suffer certain temporary economic difficulties during the course of the project’s implementation (temporary low customer rate), in the long-term, they will benefit the most. According to one of the interviewed business owners:
“The number of residents in the area tend to be on the lower side, whereas business owners, street vendors, and customers are high in number. The project would however have positive outcomes for shopkeepers and workers whose businesses are closer to the project site. Sales rates would go up and the surrounding spaces of the street would become more crowded, which in the end is to the benefit of business owners and shopkeepers”
According to interviews, the bodies which seem to benefit the most from the project are street vendors. Beautification of Shariati Street would increase the presence of civilians about the street, which in turn would increase sales rate of street vendors, granted that the street vendors are not cleared from the area or organized. Although according to municipal experts this project seeks in part to prevent the ingress of street vendors into the street, the existing business owners and shopkeepers believe that ultimately, the street vendors would make the most profit out of the project. One such business owner commented that:
“I believe that street vendors will benefit the most. The claims made about how they will be organized or cleared from the area are merely words. When you build an attracting environment, the people will want to see it and so the population of the area would grow ... it’s unfortunate for the government to make such expenses only to find that street vendors are operating on the new sidewalk and street. I’m not saying we should get rid of the street vendors, I’m merely suggesting that certain spaces be allocated for their operation ... so long as these conditions are not met, the construction of the new sidewalk would be futile”.
This of course is the standpoint of the opposing social and economic groups as well as municipal experts. The street vendors themselves are of a totally different opinion. They believe that the project would actually hinder their current status instead of having positive results. Here is what one of the interviewed street vendors had to say:
“Positive outcomes? No way! if anything, it’s all negative. Our conditions will never improve. They may get worse, but never better... all that will happen is that we would have to bribe the officers more so they let us go on with our business. In the end it’s nothing but detrimental”
As can be seen, the viewpoints of the street vendors, as a marginal economic group, are in complete contrast with the views of business owners and municipal experts. Members of this marginal group believe that the project would only be detrimental to them, while the opposing side agree that the project would bear the most economic benefit for street vendors, since following the implementation of the project, the area would become much more appealing, ergo increasing the number potential customers who often prefer to buy from street vendors rather than stores.
Another concern of business owners in the area which has made them distrustful towards the executive bodies of the project, is the infliction of certain damages during the course of the project which are most likely to go unresolved after the project has been completed. These damages are quite varied and can be found in the transcripts of the interviews. For example, one of the business owners stated that:
“Well you see these guys are going to come and demolish everything. It’s natural that our shops will also suffer certain damages. And you think that after this is all done they will compensate us? Absolutely not, they don’t care about us. This is what the municipality has always done”
As evident, part of the concerns relate to the damages caused by careless behaviors of the authorities during the implementation of the project, while another more frequent part of the concerns are related to lack of reimbursements on part of the government upon the infliction of damages. Another business owners comments in this regard:
“You see, the municipality is going to come and demolish everything. And not only do they not reimburse us for these damages they go so far as to insult us. I’ve seen this happen before”.
Generally speaking, the project has both positive and negative consequences for the existing economic and social groups in the region. Street vendors believe that the project will hinder their current economic standing, whereas the opposing group, comprised of business owners and municipal experts, believe that the project will in fact be to the benefit of street vendors. Shopkeepers whose location of business are situated at areas close to the project site may suffer from temporary difficulties, but will ultimately reap large profits.
5-4 Impacts on environmental texture
Environmental texture is one of the most important aspects of any urban space, which is subject to tremendous changes induced by development projects. The environmental texture of Shariati Street covers a variety of issues relating to noise pollution, uncontrolled traffic congestion, visual asymmetries, environmental pollutions and ... . The Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project could affect the current environmental status of the area in both a direct and indirect manner. The sphere of influence of the project extends to improving health and living conditions of the street and its sidewalks, reducing traffic congestion, alleviating noise and environmental pollutions, and consequently promoting spatial and human sustainability. Noise pollution are among the main concerns of residents who believe it to be a violation of civil rights. These individuals are even reluctant to walk in the streets, which in its own way could diminish the sense of belonging and attachment to space. One of the residents of Shariati Street mentions:
“We have no peace here. The crowdedness of the area aside, noise pollutions have brought us to our knees. From around 4-5 pm, we here the bellows and clamor of the street vendors. The municipality doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it either. As a citizen, I have the right to walk around a peaceful and quite place, yet all I see around me is congestion and commute of an unfit strata”.
Another shopkeeper had this to say about the ongoing state of noise pollution:
“I have been working here for years now and I’ve become accustomed to the noise and rackets. I’ve succumbed to several mental stresses. Nobody seems to care. They honk their horns for whatever reason. All you can hear is the blaring of cars horns. Even when I go home the situation is the same. I still here the loud beeps of cars till late at night. We’ve become trampled under the blares of the cars”
As can be seen from this extract, the current environmental texture of Shariati Street is rather ill-suited, especially in regards to noise and visual pollution. The proposed project could help improve this situation. Here is another comment made by an interviewee:
“As I said, the situation is severely bad. However, if the project succeeds in reducing the number of cars in the street, things will get better. The sidewalk you mentioned could in my opinion be of great help in improving the situation, especially if cars aren’t allowed to pass through”.
All things considered, the project could improve the aesthetics of the street, which in turn could help reduce the operation of vehicles in the street and encourage the presence of pedestrians. However, in its current footing, the environmental pollution of the area is significantly high, provoking civilians to park their cars at locations nearest to their work area, which in turn increases traffic congestion and environmental pollution in Shariati Street. Overall, the proposed project has the potential to improve the environmental status of the region, especially Shariati Street.
5-5 Impacts on aesthetic texture
The aesthetic texture of the 18th Municipal District of Tehran, particularly the first sector of the district and Shariati Street, are among other elements which are susceptible to changes resulting from the implementation of the Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project. Aesthetic texture extends to concepts of aesthetic qualities of space, nightlife, status of visual and noise traffic, recreational facilities proportionate to neighborhoods, and coordinated urban spaces, which are all prone to changes resulting from the implementation of the proposed project. The most important matter in this regard is improving the aesthetic quality of the region. According to field observations, the current aesthetic quality of the area, particularly Shariati Street, is somewhat unsuitable. There is no coordination between arrangements of small spaces and the nightlife is rather barren and inapt due to a lack of security. The appearance of the area stands out most among other aesthetic issues. In addition to economic and social upshots, the proposed project could also influence the current aesthetic circumstances of the area. Below is an extract from an interview with two business owners of the study area:
“Everything here is messed up. What you call aesthetics, doesn’t even exist here. Just take a look at the cars. See how they drive. This what the street is like all the time. There’s no order”.
“If what you say about the sidewalk is true, then yes, I do believe the current conditions will get better and Shariati Street will become more appealing. But at the moment, there’s no element of beauty going on here. Everyone is trying to escape. If the conditions improve, it will be to my benefit as well. My business will get better”.
One of the project experts said:
“Sure. There’s visual pollution about the place, which of course is not in the jurisdiction of environmental experts. The exterior has certain problems and we’re currently focusing on that. The area is also suffering from environmental pollutions, for instance during the days we see a lot of waste gathered in the area, and of course there’s the issue of air pollution, which is everywhere in Tehran. The per capita green space is also extremely low, which again is not within our jurisdiction ...”
In addition to impacts on aesthetic features, the project also helps promote nightlife in the area. There are many reasons behind why the area is currently ill-suited for nightlife including the inappropriate appearance of the area, which has engendered vulnerable spaces that in turn lead to insecure nightlife and low rate of commute (less than average). Here is a comment by one of the interviewed residents:
“It’s hard for us women to come out here at night. Not that it’s impossible, it’s just that after a certain hour, it’s hard to come and go, at least for us women. At any moment a mugger or purse snatcher might jump up and hurt you. Just take a look at these alleys. There’s next to no illumination. How can I feel safe going through this place? Even if there’s no threat, people are still afraid of the dark. I hope the sidewalk which you’re talking about will be able to help improve these conditions, so that the sidewalk would become an excuse to improve and somewhat beautify the surrounding environments as well ... everything would be much better if the area were more appealing and secure and had better lighting. But at the moment, I’m honestly terrified of the conditions.”
These predicaments were only part of the issues relating to the aesthetic texture of the area. There’s also the additional factor of visual traffic induced by inappropriate semantic and non-semantic signs in the street. The current sign post installments are not compatible with the aesthetic features of the street. This, in conjunction with the negligence of the people and authorities towards installment of placards and various other signs and images, have greatly contributed to the current visual traffic of the area. The ongoing noise from the large number of cars have also been to the disadvantage of the spatial aesthetics of the area, which is highly dependent of physical and symbolic presence of civilians. The Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project could help improve the physical appearance and atmosphere of the area as well as reduce visual and noise traffic, implicitly.
5-6 Impacts on pedestrian texture
Walking is the most natural, oldest, and essential form of movement among human beings and is considered the most important facility for various tasks including sightseeing, daily activities, inducing a feeling of excitement and enthusiasm about life, exploring and discovering the various attractions and values of the environment. Walking is also essential to our understanding of a spatial identity and a sense of belonging in space as well as perceiving the various qualities of space. Sidewalk construction not only affects the structural appearance of cities, but also engenders new changes in urban quality of life as well as how people behave socially and culturally. It also proposes new methods and approaches to resolving various urban issues and has brought about an in-depth changes in the theories and methods of urbanism, particularly regarding the organization of urban spaces. All such changes and procedures are summed up as the pedestrian texture of an area. This texture is of course highly dependent on public transportation and commute. In other words, the pedestrian texture can only be developed if the corresponding transportation and commute texture has already evolved. The Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project is considered a new step in this regard. The most important thing to consider is the extent to which the project would impact the presence of vehicles in streets as well as how it would affect public transportation. According to the conducted interviews, the proposed project could only be implemented successfully if the presence of vehicles is reduced in streets. The following is a comment made in this regard by one of the interviewed residents of the area:
“The noise coming from cars is truly exhausting. This is one of the reasons why I prefer to stay home. It really gets on your nerves. What’s more, I’m also suffering from mental illnesses. But if the number of cars were reduced, I’d feel much more pleased and could even go strolling in a park. But even when going to parks, people use their cars to get there first”.
Here is another comment made by one of the interviewed residents about the impacts of the project on developing public transportation and its requirements:
“I believe that sidewalks are truly great. What’s more, the presence of people would increase and everything would get better. But what boggles my mind is how people are going to come and go, especially when there are no proper bus routes metro lines. Well of course they’ll use their cars and probably park somewhere close. And nothing will be solved. It’s better that while constructing the sidewalk, measures are taken to improve public means of transportation. That way, we could say that the project will be a success”
It is evident that the implementation of this project alone is not adequately sufficient for developing pedestrianism and that other measures must be considered on the side lines. The following is a comment made by one of the interviewed experts:
“A study should be conducted in order to locate suitable places for vertical parking so as to resolve conflicts between business owners and residents over parking space. Shariati is a commercial area and the population density is temporary. Parking space is of utmost importance”
Of course, the project does have certain negative outcomes alongside its positive consequences. The following is an extract from an in-depth interview with one of the municipal experts of the 18th district:
“Sidewalk construction in Shariati Street will be carried out from Yaran Street to Taleghani Street. Currently, Shariati Street is the commercial center of the greater Valiasr Township. One of the main targets of problems arising from sidewalk construction are the local residents. The physical impacts of the project must be considered from various aspects. It’s not just the main site that must be considered, rather the greater surroundings must also be taken into account. Sidewalk construction is inherently good, granted that the proper infrastructure exists. Suppose the sidewalk is constructed. The first thing that will happen is blockage. Now suppose a fire breaks out, in order to anticipate this, we need to have a fireman standing on guard 24/7 with hydraulic entry stands to allow specific cars to pass through. There would be a need for ambulances, fire trucks, relief forces, and law enforcement agents ... all these measures have expenses. Secondly, the surrounding pathways will also face certain problems. The new sidewalk would block the path to surrounding allies and streets. It’s worth mentioning that I myself suggested the construction of a sidewalk in Shariati Street about 7 years ago. However, after my last meeting with the Shorayari, I must say that the members were highly against the idea, since there is no adequate parking space and the street is not wide enough, which prevents cars from turning”.
Therefore, it seems that the first step of the proposed project towards pedestrianism is to develop the current status of public transportation and secondly reduce the presence of cars, after which it is possible to decide whether the project would in fact develop pedestrianism or not. One of the social and cultural impacts of the project, as mentioned earlier, is the development and expansion of social interactions in the area, especially Shariati Street. These interactions could themselves help form the platform required for pedestrianism. Therefore, it seems that the area should be looked at from a new perspective on pedestrianism. Here is a suggestion made by one of the interviewed experts:
“I suggest that social institutions come into play in order to increase convergence. This way, certain connections could be made with the cultural aspects of pedestrianism and find out ways through which the area could act as a hub for pedestrianism and thereby be to the benefit of everyone”
Another expert had this suggestion about the project:
“We first need to invoke the required mental thinking and rationale. Just like Istanbul or Ankara, the problem we face in Tehran is related to structure. The common method around the world is to first procure the required infrastructure, upon which the actual pathways are built. But it is the opposite in Iran. Our sidewalks ... ”
The present study investigated the various social and cultural impacts of the Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project in the 18th Municipal District of Tehran. According to the findings, the impacts of the project could be classified into 6 main categories of: social, visual, economic, pedestrian, environmental, and aesthetic.
In overview, what the local urban stakeholders perceived was that the first impacts of the project will be upon the social texture of the area. These impacts range from changes in identity and sense of belonging to the area, promotion of social interactions and communications among social groups in the region and the street, and encouraging group hangouts. The Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project would also affect the visual texture of the area, though not to a large degree. These effects include changes in historical memory, restoring and changing the collective identity of the area, modifications in the memory system of citizens, and changes in the spatial identity of the area. The chief economic outcomes of the project include improvements in the economic status of business owners and shopkeepers of the area as well as increased economic value of the street and the greater area. The environmental texture of the area will also undergo changes resulting from the implementation of the Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project. The environmental texture of Shariati Street encompasses various issues including noise pollution, high rate of vehicular movement, disordered visual signs, environmental pollution, and ... . The Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project has both direct and indirect effects on the environmental texture of the area including improvements in health and living conditions of the street and sidewalks, reduced vehicular traffic, reduced environmental and noise pollution and consequently increased urban and human sustainability. The aesthetic texture of the 18th Municipal District of Tehran, particularly its first sector as well as Shariati Street, are among other factors which will change as the result of implementing the project. The notion of aesthetic texture envelopes various concepts of physical appearance of the area, nightlife, state of visual and noise traffic, compatibility among recreational facilities and the neighborhood, and in general, coordination of urban spaces, which are all susceptible to change upon implementing the project. Pedestrianism is another matter which is highly affected by the project. Pedestrianism, in sum, addresses the final remaining structure after the implementation of the project. Pedestrianism is highly reliant on public transportation. Put differently, developments in pedestrianism could only be made if the required infrastructure for public transportation has already evolved. The Shariati Street Pedestrian Walkway Project would indeed be a step towards pedestrianism. However, one must first consider the extent to which the project would affect the presence of vehicles in the street and influence public transportation. According to the conducted interviews, the project could only achieve success by aiming to reduce the presence of vehicles in the street.
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